You could always mention the war …

The only thing that surprised me about the recent Fawlty Towers storm in a tea cup is that UK Play hadn’t already been using the edited version of The Germans (snipped – apparently with John Cleese’s approval in 2013 – for BBC repeat showings).

Now this “banned” episode will be back, albeit with a disclaimer at the beginning, which seems fair enougb. And despite what some people think, the issue was never anything to do with insulting the Germans. That’s still perfectly okay …

My preference would always be to have things complete, but in the world of UK daytime cable and satellite re-runs that’s rarely so (although the pitchfork-wielding mob on Twitter yesterday didn’t seem to realise this. Which is probably just as well).

It’s no surprise that programmes originally made for a post watershed slot, like The Sweeney and The Professionals, will be cut for a 9.00 am repeat showing. But it seems that the cheapskates at ITV4 don’t bother to run the unedited version in their late night schedules – it’s far easier just to stick on the edited master again.

Mind you, given the rotten picture quality of both series on ITV4 (they’re also cropped into widescreen as the final indignity) I remain slightly amazed that anyone actually bothers with them.

Other tweaks are more amusing (to me at least). Fletcher might have enjoyed ogling the Page Three girls of The Sun during the seventies, but Porridge watchers today on UK Play are denied this treat – the offending breasts have been pixelated.

Television edits are nothing new. Galton and Simpson approved trims to a number of Hancock’s Half Hour episodes back in the 1980’s for VHS and repeat broadcasting (trimming frames here and there to tighten up the epjsodes). David Croft also oversaw the editing of selected Are You Being Served? episodes for a daytime repeat slot. Alas, these ended up being released in error on the R2 DVDs.

Rewinding back even further, 1976 episodes of Doctor Who (The Deadly Assassin) and I, Claudius (Zeus, By Jove!) were both trimmed for repeat showings. The Doctor Who episode was subsequently recovered and restored, but I, Claudius remains only in its edited state.

That’s incredibly annoying, but it does highlight the fact that content edits are nothing new.

For me, if the originals are available (on DVD, say) then I can’t get too worked up about what the umpteenth re-run on television looks like. Not too many DVDs have been edited for content (The Goodies for example – packed with contentious moments – sailed through unedited when Network released the complete series a while back).

Most edited DVDs fall into the AYBS? camp, cut television masters used because the bods at 2 Entertain (it was almost always 2 Entertain) couldn’t be bothered to find the original versions.

And we haven’t even got into the terrority of actors blacking/yellowing up yet (either for drama or comedy). John Bennett’s turn in The Talons of Weng Chiang continues to infuriate a vocal minority of Doctor Who fans. And a minority of that minority believe that because they dislike it, nobody should ever watch the story again – which is where the fun really begins.

Personally I take each archive programme as it comes. There’s plenty of moments which make me wince or tut, but there’s so many more which still enthral and entertain. And the more you watch from a certain era, the better an understanding of that time you’ll get. Taking the odd moment out of context is where the trouble tends to begin.

I have been watching ….

Taking a quick look at some of the programmes I’ve been watching over the last week or so.

Are You Being Served? – The Old Order Changes (17th March 1977)

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As you might have gathered from the above screencap, this is one of the (many) episodes where the staff of Grace Brothers are required – for a very flimsy reason – to indulge in a spot of dress up.  But by the start of the next episode all of the changes we see have been completely forgotten ….

Doctor Who – The War Games (April – June 1969)

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Continuing my rewatch tribute to Terrance Dicks (following Horror of Fang Rock) with this large slab of 1960’s Who. I’m taking it nice and easy (I’m sure some people have watched all four hours in one go, but that would several steps too far for me). I’m still finding that the story is as good as ever.  Yes it’s pretty leisurely, but every episode or so there’s a notable new arrival (some of whom only stick around for a short time) who ensure that the interest levels are kept up.

As always, I do slightly boggle at the performance James Bree. Possibly both he and Edward Brayshaw (who also delights in chewing the psychedelic scenery) deliberately decided to play things very broad.  Their performances certainly contrast sharply with the more naturalistic playing of most of the human soldiers (such as Graham Weston).

Blankety Blank (1st February 1985)

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Some more Dawson-era Blankety Blank. This edition sees the above lucky contestant walking away with a toolkit (she puts a brave face on it).  What’s notable about the Dawson episodes I’ve seen recently is the fact that the female contestants are all young and personable (in contrast to Wogan times, when you’d also see a few oldsters).  Les doesn’t seem too disappointed though, as it’s fair to say he’s rather tactile with all the lady contestants.

Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? – Strangers On A Train (9th January 1973)

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Okay, it’s slightly contrived that the lights go out just as Bob happens to stumble into Terry’s compartment (and also that they come back on at exactly at right dramatic time) but I think we can cut Clement and La Frenais some slack on this. Especially since the dialogue and interplay between the pair is so sharp right from the off.

I love poor Terry’s lament (he’s still in his thirties at this point remember) about everything that’s passed him by during the last five years (due to his army service). “I missed it all. Swinging Britain was just heresay to me. The death of censorship, the new morality, Oh Calcutta!, topless waitresses and see-through knickers …”

Callan: The Richmond File – Call Me Enemy (10th May 1972)

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Dug this one out for another watch on the anniversary of T.P. McKenna’s birth. Every scene between Woodward and McKenna is excellent (George Markstein’s script gives them so much to work with). A pity Markstein didn’t write any other Callan episodes but some of his other work (especially Mr Palfrey of Westminster) has a very similar feel and is well worth seeking out.

You can read my previous thoughts on Call Me Enemy here.

Shelley – Of Cabbages and Kings (15th December 1983)

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Thanks to Forces TV, I’ve seen a few episodes of Shelley over the last week or so. Odd that they cut out the musical stings on the adcaps (and the picture quality is pretty mushy) so it does make me rather keen to dig out my DVDs for a more concerted rewatch.

Of Cabbages and Kings is an episode that’s always stuck in my memory – possibly this is down to the second half appearance of Fulton Mackay. He plays a friendly down-and-out who obviously sees two fellow souls in Shelley and Malcolm (Bruce Bould).  Shelley tends to work best when the plot is minimal – like this one. Cabbages is simply 25 minutes of three people chatting – a mini-play which works nicely as a snapshot of the depressed eighties (and sadly still seems relevant in today’s depressed times).

European Superstars – 1975

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I’m continuing to chug my way merrily through the available Superstars shows on YouTube. In this one, David Hemery and Malcolm Macdonald are the plucky Brits, hoping to uphold the honour of the nation.

It may not be as well known as Kevin Keegan’s bike incident, but Hemery’s nasty tumble in the steeplechase is an edge of the seat moment (well slightly).  Having watched a fair few of these now, because Hemery often pops up it’s easy to be invested in his fate.  As ever, the dips and squat thrusts make for compelling viewing.