Upstairs Downstairs – An Object of Value (15th December 1972)

An Object of Value continues a run of episodes defined by the arrival of an outsider to 165 Eaton Place who has an immediate destabilising effect on the household. Today it’s Lady Marjorie’s recently widowed mother, Lady Southwold (Cathleen Nesbitt), and her companion Miss Hodges (Nancie Jackson) who, almost as soon as they step through the door, begin to put the cat amongst the pigeons ….

Although Lady Southwold is a suitably imposing figure in public, in private she comes across as a fairly genial old soul. Mind you, it’s understandable that she’s rather short tempered once she believes her irreplicable butterfly brooch has been stolen. Miss Hodges is the one who mainly suffers at Lady Southwold’s hands, although you get the sense that her flashes of anger don’t last long (and if Miss Hodges wasn’t such a terrible snob, maybe Lady Southwold would be able to hold her tongue a little more).

If Lady Southwold kicks off proceedings by deciding that she’s been robbed, then Miss Hodges stokes the fire by confiding to Hudson that she thinks (with no real evidence) that Miss Roberts is guilty.

The simmering enmity between Hodges and Roberts is nicely teased out at the start of the episode as is Hodges’ strange limbo-like position. She considers herself to be a cut above the servants and wouldn’t think of taking her meals with them, but whilst she’s present in the drawing room with Lady Marjorie, Richard and Lady Southwold, her menial status is made clear very quickly (she remains standing whilst the others sit, and her comments tend to be politely ignored).

Richard instructs Hudson to make discreet enquires amongst the staff. This is the cue for a ladle of humour (the unfortunate Edward compares Hudson to Sherlock Holmes, unaware that the cat-like Hudson has crept up on him and can hear every mocking word) and also drama (Roberts explodes into hysterics after she decides her position and integrity are under attack).

An Object of Value is one of those self-contained stories, never setting foot outside 165 Eaton Place. Apart from the regular cast (for once, all the servants are present and correct) there’s only four guest actors – Cathleen Nesbitt and Nancie Jackson are both quite key, even if they don’t have a great deal of screentime (Lady Southwold and Hodges exist mainly to kick the plot into action) as is Christopher Biggins as Mr. Donaldson, although his big scene comes right at the end of the episode.

Donaldson is an acquaintance of Thomas and someone who the chauffeur hopes to go into partnership with. Sarah – on Thomas’ bidding – steals a bottle of wine from the cellar, all the better for him to sweeten Donaldson. This action is a little hard to swallow – why would Sarah risk everything, especially since she didn’t seem to benefit? At first I thought that maybe it would be used later by Hudson as an example of Sarah’s untrustworthiness (if suspicion fell on her that she stole the brooch) but as that didn’t happen, we can just take as a spot of colour which enlivens the early part of the episode.

John Alderton gets plenty of good material to work with today. Thomas continues his pursuit of Sarah and eventually gets her into bed although it’s his confrontation with Rose that really stands out. First, Rose finds it impossible to articulate quite why she cares so much about Sarah’s burgeoning friendship with Thomas (although the innuendo is quite plain) and then Thomas roughly manhandles her (demonstrating that beneath his thin veneer of affability that’s won round some of the staff, such as Mrs Bridges, there’s something rather nasty lurking).

When Hudson later asks him to explain who his visitor was, Thomas stands his ground and refuses. There’s strong energy in these scenes with Gordon Jackson and John Alderton – Hudson might be able to browbeat the rest of the staff, but it’s plain that Thomas is an immovable object. Thomas even stands his ground with Richard, although eventually he does concede and explain.

Then an unspoken irony comes into play. Thomas is off the hook because Richard knows that Mr. Donaldson is a respectable man, but that’s only his public face. In private Donaldson is revealed to be somewhat degenerate – pawing Sarah and limbering up for something more, before Thomas bursts in and they slug it out.

We don’t see many fight scenes in Upstairs Downstairs, which makes the Thomas/Donaldson one quite noteworthy. Christopher Biggins isn’t the sort of actor who tends to indulge in a great deal of fisticuffs, so it’s not entirely convincing (although you have to say that recording fights in a multi-camera vt studio never offered the director or actors the same flexibility as single-camera film work did). It’s not a total disaster though, and the pair certainly threw themselves around with abandon as flimsy prop chairs and tables get demolished with alacrity.

After that’s over and Sarah finds herself bonded ever tighter to Thomas (although we still don’t know if he cares for her at all) there’s just time for the mystery of the missing brooch to be solved (no spoilers – but it’s a happy ending).

This is another good script from the always reliable Jeremy Paul. Apart from the smooth-running of the main plot, there’s plenty of incidental moments to also enjoy. Such as Sarah teaching Ruby to read with the baby’s blocks from the nursery and Mrs Bridges instructing Ruby (it’s her day to learn) about the best way to slice a cucumber. I also appreciated Rachel Gurney’s wistful underplaying during the scene where Lady Marjorie confides that she wished she’d known her father better. Gurney delivers the line in such a detached way that it almost feels like Lady Marjorie is referring to a distant acquaintance, rather than one of her closest relatives.

Upstairs Downstairs – Out of the Everywhere (8th December 1972)

The episode opens with a cross-fade from the empty hallway (albeit with a new object – a perambulator – prominent) to the kitchen and parlour, where the servants are all in silent contemplation. Given Upstairs Downstairs‘ large cast, it’s rare for an episode to feature every regular – and so it proves today as Rose and Ruby are absent.

It’s a mystery where Ruby is (not to mention who’s doing her work in her absence) but at least Rose gets a namecheck. Given that Out of the Everywhere sees the return of Miss Elizabeth (complete with her baby daughter) it’s a little surprising not to see Rose, but in her absence, Sarah steps forward to fill the void as Elizabeth’s moral conscience.

There’s a rare moment of contentment downstairs after Hudson, welcoming Richard and Lady Marjorie back home, passes on the news that Elizabeth has given birth to a baby girl. Although Mrs Bridges can’t resist a spot of gentle chiding – Hudson (as befits a man) failed to ask any further questions, such as the baby’s name or weight ….

Even the sour-faced Roberts joins in the jollification as Hudson agrees (after a moment’s pause) that they can wet the baby’s head with a tot of beer. Although it doesn’t take too long for the peace to be shattered once it’s revealed that Nanny Webster (Daphne Heard) is returning to take charge of the child.

Hudson reacts to the news with barely surpassed dismay, telling Lady Marjorie that he’d thought she might have retired (“you mean you hoped she had” mutters Richard out of the corner of his mouth). Nanny Webster appears, in episode terms, about five minutes later – which is still long enough for a sense of foreboding to begin to build.

It’s interesting that we don’t see the response of the other staff to the news of her arrival, instead there’s a sharp cut to the front door, where – a vision in black – the imposing Nanny Webster, scowling at Hudson, impatiently demands to be let in. That she comes in through the front door, rather than the servant’s entrance, and the fact she’s remarkably outspoken to Lady Marjorie (despairing that she’s not wearing her corset) marks her out as a servant with very special privileges.

This really is Heard’s episode, and she dominates it from her first to her last scene, deftly creating the complex character of Nanny Webster in around forty minutes of screentime. Although Nanny Webster is autocratic and capable of finding fault with everything that Sarah does, there’s no denying the love she has for her little charge. There’s also no suggestion that she’s deliberately cruel or careless, it’s simply that her failing energy means that a disaster seems ever more likely as time goes on.

With Richard and Lady Marjorie urgently called away to Southwold (as always, an excellent plot device whenever characters need to be moved offstage for a while) it falls to Sarah to break the news about Nanny’s incapacity to Elizabeth. This isn’t easy though, as Elizabeth initially doesn’t seem at all bothered.

Elizabeth has tended to be painted as rather selfish and self-absorbed since her debut appearance, and today’s episode carries on this trend. That she seems more concerned about going out to a party or finishing her book than learning about her child hardly paints her in the best light.  It’s quite notable that she only visits the nursery quite late on in the episode, although that might be down to her own awkward relationship with Nanny Webster rather than disinterest in her daughter.

And to give her some credit, eventually she does begin to take more of an interest and although she can make no headway with Nanny herself, she ensures that Lady Marjorie gives her her marching orders. This is an exquisitely played scene between Rachel Gurney and Daphne Heard, in which all of Nanny’s arrogance is stripped away to reveal the real woman underneath (one who accepts that she can’t carry on, but still has her pride – sticking to the fiction that she’s only leaving because the stairs are too much for her).

Also of interest is the final appearance by Ian Ogilvy as Lawrence Kirbridge. It’s very low-key (he slips away from the christening never to return) but it works – in this case, less is more.

A strong episode then, although not one with any shocks or surprises (it seemed pretty obvious from the start that Nanny Webster would turn out to be unsuitable). A pity that both Christopher Beeny and Pauline Collins separately indulge in spots of overacting, but you can’t have everything.

Upstairs Downstairs – Your Obedient Servant (1st December 1972)

If (and it’s a big if) you can accept the central conceit of Your Obedient Servant (Hudson aping his betters) then there’s a great deal to enjoy in this episode. And even if you can’t, Fay Weldon’s script still sparkles.

The opening scene intercuts between Hudson (in his parlour) and Richard Bellamy (in the morning room) both of whom are more than a little irritated by the constant loud banging and showers of dust appearing all around the house. This is due to a new electric bell system which is being installed by a group of workmen (led by Larry Martyn).

Martyn (probably best known for playing the slightly more aged Mr Mash in Are You Being Served?) is an early recipient of some of Weldon’s top notch dialogue.

That the episode begins with Hudson and Richard Bellamy seems apt, as both are required to deal with the same issue – the surprise arrival of their brother – although their storylines conclude in very different ways.

Even before we learn that Hudson has a brother, Weldon provides him with a lovely little monologue (delivered, as always, exquisitely by Gordon Jackson) in which he lectures a slightly baffled Edward. “A brother, in any walk of life, is someone to whom much is owed. The greatest consideration, the greatest formality, no matter how the exigences of fate have led each into different paths, into different fortunes”.

Hudson certainly abides by these words, although it’s more than a little surprising when he leaves 165 Eaton Place without permission and nips out to hire himself a fine suit of clothes (plus a cane and gloves). It’s all part of his plan to ensure that his brother, Donald (Andrew Downie), his sister-in-law Maudie (Marcia Ashton) and his niece Alice (Kim Hardy) believe him to be a gentleman about town rather than a common servant.

The problem is that nothing we’ve seen of Hudson to date has prepared us for this. Extreme pride in his position has always been his defining feature – possibly it would be easier to understand had Donald had been an aggressive or foreboding man, but on the contrary he’s cheerful and welcoming. True, Maudie is a bit of snob (commenting that waiters aren’t people) but it’s hard to imagine Hudson going through all this rigmarole for her benefit.

If Donald is a thoroughly nice chap, then the same really can’t really be said of Richard’s elder brother, Arthur (John Nettleton). Nettleton (in reality some years younger than David Langdon) gets most of the best lines in the episode and delivers them with relish (his description of Hudson – “a furtive looking fellow with whisky on his breath” – is just one of many).

The regulars aren’t forgotten either. Mrs Bridges has several standout moments, the first being when she recalls an early crisis after the cook fell dead over dinner and she had to step into the breach. “I was only the kitchen maid. They wasn’t grateful. They sent the hollandaise back Said it was curdled. Well the look on that poor dead woman’s face. Enough to curdle anything it was”.

Later she passes over her life savings – thirty pounds – to Hudson. That she’s content to do this (asking no questions) is remarkable. She has total faith that Hudson will be able to repay her one day and hopefully he did so. If he ended up squandering all his savings (not to mention hers) just to entertain his brother for a few days then it would leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Roberts was probably the regular who always had the least to do (although Patsy Smart could work wonders with just a look or a disapproving purse of her lips). Today she’s given a nice monologue in which Roberts recalls how an early love of hers was chased away by her disapproving parents. It’s just a short speech, but it lays bare her lonely and unfulfilled life since.

Despite Arthur’s general waspishness, there are occasional signs that a rapprochement with Richard might be on the cards. But it’s quite telling that Richard eventually spurns him after he attempts to embarrass Hudson. And although Hudson fears for his position when Richard encounters him and his brother eating in the same swanky restaurant as he is, the viewer – no doubt knowing that the series wouldn’t be foolish enough to let Gordon Jackson go – will be one step ahead of Hudson and secure in the knowledge that the master/servant balance will shortly be restored.

A slightly strange episode then, but one that zings with such excellent dialogue that I’m prepared to cut it a great deal of slack. Other things to report – Edward attempts to smoke a pipe which doesn’t go down well with Hudson (“tobacco slows the nervous reflexes and yours are quite slow enough! Put that abominable instrument away and lay out two trays”) and a new parlour maid, Violet (Angela Savy), appears out of nowhere and is never seen again after this episode.

Upstairs Downstairs – The Property of a Lady (24th November 1972)

Lady Marjorie’s past indiscretion comes back to haunt her ….

The lack of a writing credit on the episode is a sure sign that its genesis was a troubled one (and indeed, that was the case – Peter Wildeblood was incensed that his script was so heavily written and asked for his name to be removed).

There aren’t too many outward signs of any production travails though – even if the story (despite a dollop of location filming) feels quite enclosed and restricted. It’s notable that it has a very small cast with only six regulars (Thomas, Sarah, Mr Hudson, Rose, Lady Marjorie and Richard Bellamy) and a sole speaking guest actor – Desmond Perry as Michael Dooley, a fast-talking Irish ex-soldier with blackmail on his mind.

Dooley claims to have been batman to Captain Charles Hammond, an officer who fought and died on the North West frontier of India. In Dooley’s possession are a tranche of letters of an intimate nature exchanged between Hammond and Lady Marjorie (see the series one episode Magic Casements). Although why he should want to take these missives to a war zone is anyone’s guess.

Whilst Dooley isn’t exactly the most three-dimensional character, Perry gives a very effective performance, deftly altering Dooley’s tone from deferential to implacable whenever he spies that he’s gaining the upper hand. Initially turfed out of the front door of 165 Eaton Place by Hudson (who seems equally appalled that he’s a beggar and an Irishman) he finds a more ready confidant round the back, where Thomas is tending to the motor car.

Of course, the poor hapless Dooley never realises that in Thomas he’s run into someone who’s far more devious and underhand than he is ….

This is really John Alderton’s episode. He plays the episode’s two key scenes (Thomas approaching independently both Lady Marjorie and Richard to inform them of Dooley’s blackmail) very well. When Thomas pulls over the car to have a private word with Lady Marjorie, there’s some excellent byplay between the two – Lady Marjorie’s initial disdain turning to panic which is soothed by Thomas’ level-headed support (even though the audience – by now fully primed about his character – knows that he’s on the make).

Having acquired £200 (after her Ladyship pawns her jewels) Thomas then collects the same sum from Richard. Thomas correctly assumes that neither would dream of speaking to the other about the matter, allowing him to make a tidy profit.

And given that Dooley – asking for £200 – is eventually bundled out of the mews after handing over the letters with nothing to show for it, Thomas is able to walk away with all £400. Or is he?

There’s no getting around the fact that the wheels come off towards the end of the episode. Thomas talks Sarah into impersonating Lady Marjorie and together the pair bamboozle the unfortunate Dooley. To give her credit, Pauline Collins was less mannered and arch in this scene than I was expecting, but it still feels a little off.

Possibly the script in its original form had a little more bite, but I still enjoyed the delicate hypocrisy displayed by all the characters (except Rose, who remained in total ignorance). When talking to Lady Marjorie and Richard, Thomas’ true feelings are kept discreetly veiled as befits a good servant – but there’s no doubt that all parties know exactly what the truth is (but are compelled, for forms sake, to maintain an air of decorum).

The same goes for Hudson as he discusses the matter with Thomas. When they’re together, Hudson pours scorn on Dooley’s claims but after Thomas leaves it’s plain that Hudson is perturbed.

Sarah makes Thomas give all the money back. That Thomas does so (albeit receiving £10 from Lady Marjorie and £20 from Richard) is hard to swallow. What was there to stop Thomas pocketing some or all of it and not telling Sarah? This sudden burst of conscience seems more than a little out of character (especially since she could never have spoken to Lord or Lady Marjorie to discover the truth) but his duplicitous nature is restored when out of his £30, he only gives Sarah £3!

The Property of a Lady feels a little stretched – the plot is decent enough, but it’s quite a basic one to fill a 52 minute episode. Maybe an unconnected subplot would have given it a little more impetus.

Upstairs Downstairs – Guest of Honour (17th November 1972)

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Only the King of England, Edward VII ….

There’s a neat switch around halfway into this episode. Up until that point the focus – not surprisingly – has been on the Royal visit (first the preparations and then the arrival of his august Majesty).

Hudson is the first to learn the news and he immediately makes haste for the kitchen where he (eventually) tells Mrs Hudson. To begin with he amuses himself by discounting her many suggestions as to who the honoured guest might be (Mr Asquish and Mr Balfour are just two of the names she suggests) before he finally puts her out of her misery.

Hudson then displays a slightly surprising cynical edge to his character. No doubt if the younger servants were present he would have held his tongue, but with only Mrs Bridges there he’s quite comfortable in admitting that whilst he respects the institution of monarchy he has certain reservations about the person of the sovereign.  He then comments that he’d sooner have a Stuart on throne, before shrugging and stating that “we’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got”!

The King himself (played by Lockwood West) turns out to be a rather uninteresting fellow and his fellow dinner guests aren’t a great deal better. This has to be a deliberate touch – but just as the first pangs of disappointment for the viewer might be kicking in, the unexpected arrival of Sarah gives the episode new impetus as it sharply changes direction.

Sarah, pregnant with James’ child, has run away from the bucolic seclusion of Southwold and – by a feat of remarkable timing – goes into labour just minutes after she steps through the back door of 165 Eaton Place. There then follows some strange pantomimic scenes as the staff – aided by Lady Marjorie – attempt to spirit Sarah upstairs (all the while hoping that their guests don’t spot that anything is amiss).

The obvious question to ask is why they take her up the main stairs rather than the servants’ back stairs? The obvious answers would be that had they done so the episode would have fallen a little flat not to mention running about five minutes shorter.

When it’s all over, Rose returns downstairs to tell the others that Sarah’s all right and the child was a little boy. The use of the past tense makes it plain what’s occurred and Hudson – after a beat – comments that it might have been for the best (in series terms I’d agree, as Sarah is now freed from any familial obligations).

It’s quite striking that both Hudson and Mrs Bridges (neither of whom have been that sympathetically inclined towards Sarah in the past) now seem to have rather more consideration for her. Although Hudson can’t resist opining a homily about how Sarah is a good example of the dangers which occur when you attempt to exceed your station in life.

It’s left to the ever mournful Roberts to cast a late discordant note. The other members of staff are happy for Sarah to take her meals with them, but Roberts most certainly isn’t. She begins by labelling her a “slut” before launching a fuller tirade.

She’s a stuck-up, lying minx! Huh! Thinks she’s better than all of us… puts on airs! Gets Captain James into such trouble that he has to be sent to India. Then she thinks she can walk in here as though nothing has happened!

But eventually, seeing that hers is the minority opinion, Roberts relents and a delighted Rose is able to tell Sarah that she’s been welcomed back into the “family”. It’ll be just like old times, Rose says, although this time Sarah will need to behave. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that score though ….

Guest of Honour is an interesting episode. One of the best remembered from the entire run of Upstairs Downstairs, as touched upon before it’s very much a game of two halves. The upstairs portion seems to be the bit that most people remember, which is surprising as nothing really happens. Once again downstairs is where all the action is.

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.

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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).

The Real Coronation Street by Ken Irwin

I’ve recently added this slim, but fascinating, volume to my collection. Published in 1970, Ken Irwin meets the cast and gently dishes the dirt – if it’s gossip you want then you’ve come to the right place.

It’s not really a salacious read though – Irwin (despite his bumpy relationship with the series) clearly had affection for the majority of the cast. Famously, as the Daily Mirror’s television critic, he predicted, after the first episode, that the series was doomed to failure. Like the Decca executive who told Brian Epstein that “guitar groups were on the way out”, Irwin’s comment was something he had to spend the rest of his life living down.

Even in 1970, he wasn’t predicting that the series would run for ever – the final chapter in this book suggests that another ten years might just be possible though ….

With 32 chapters across 173 pages, The Real Coronation Street is a very dippable tome. After briefly detailing the creation of the series, the book then tends to focus on one actor per chapter – with Irwin crafting brief but incisive portraits of his subjects (his experience as a newspaperman was clearly put to good use here).

Virtually all the cast members you would hope to have been interviewed – both past and present – make an appearance. Some familiar stories – the senior actors’ reluctance to interact with guest performers and the way they jealously guarded their rehearsal room chairs – are given an outing.

Frank Pemberton’s chapter (Tragedy on the Way to the Dole) catches the eye. Pemberton (Frank Barlow) was axed from the series in 1964 and the following year suffered a stroke which severely limited his mobility. Talking to Irwin, he still wistfully hoped for an acting job where he could sit down all the time. He did make one final Street appearance (in 1971) but sadly suffered another stroke shortly afterwards and died at the early age of 56.

Sandra Gough (Irma Ogden/Barlow) is another who had a more than interesting relationship with the series as she found herself cold-shouldered by some of her fellow cast members due to her strident Christian views. It’s notable that Irwin doesn’t name names – but, given that he didn’t want to burn his professional boats, you can’t really blame him. Gough would abruptly exit the series (she was fired in 1971).

Illustrated with a selection of photographs that were mostly new to me, if you can find a decently priced copy then I’d strongly recommend adding The Real Coronation Street to your library.

Back to May 1986 (19th May 1986)

The repeats just keep on coming, although many of them (like The Rock ‘N’ Roll Years) are very welcome. It’s difficult to articulate today quite how magical this series was back then – when history (news, music, entertainment) wasn’t available at the click of a button, these half hour digests were windows into vanished worlds.

Today’s episode, 1963, was – of course – notable for the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but for a generation of young Doctor Who fans it meant we could enjoy a clip from An Unearthly Child. With the Five Faces repeat from 1981 a distant memory and the VHS release still four years away, it was like gold dust ….

Moving over to BBC2, there’s another chance to see The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. And on ITV’s there’s a re-run of Edward and Mrs Simpson, now stripped over three evenings. As it was originally broadcast in seven parts, it looks like it’s been trimmed down to fit six one-hour slots.

Rather like, Winston Churchill – The Wilderness Years, it has a supporting cast to die for. If the likes of Nigel Hawthorne, Peggy Ashcroft, Marius Goring, Cherie Lunghi, Kika Markham, John Shrapnel, Maurice Denham, Geoffrey Lumsden, Patrick Troughton, Patricia Hodge, Wensley Pithey, Gary Waldhorn and Hugh Fraser doesn’t get the pulse racing then you’re probably reading the wrong blog …

Back to April 1977 (29th April 1977)

Drawing a blank with the BBC channels, but luckily ITV is a pretty happy hunting ground today.

First, there’s a repeat of The Ghosts of Motley Hall. You can’t fault the cast (Arthur English, Peter Sallis and Freddie Jones amongst others) plus you’ve got scripts from Richard Carpenter, so we should be set for an entertaining half hour.

At 7.30 pm on London there’s an episode of Backs to the Land (Alarms, Excursions and Day Trips). This DVD’s been sitting on the shelf for a while, so this is a good opportunity to dust it down and take a look (David and Michael Troughton featured in the first series playing – not surprisingly – brothers).

After Hawaii Five O, the main drama of the evening will be Raffles. Mr Justice Raffles is tonight’s installment – John Savident (on excellent form as an odious moneylender) and Charles Dance guest in an episode from towards of the end of the series. Like the majority of the episodes it was adapted by Philip Mackie, which is an extra incentive to watch (two of Mackie’s previous serials, The Caesars and An Englishman’s Castle, are currently sitting on my tottering pending rewatch pile).

Back to April 1977 (27th April 1977)

First stop is The Peacemaker, an episode from the third and final series of Survivors. Written by Roger Parkes it was the first of three scripts he contributed to series three (having already penned two episodes the year before). Parkes had an interestingly varied career – beginning with ITC series like The Prisoner and Man in a Suitcase before plying his trade during the seventies with the likes of Doomwatch, Crown Court, The Onedin Line, Blakes 7 and Z Cars (amongst others).

The M*A*S*H boxset has been sitting on my shelf for a number of years, so I might as well dust it down in order to enjoy a repeat of Check-Up.

Over on ITV there’s a repeat of Bless This House. The Frozen Limit is the episode in question (in which Sid and Jean buy a fridge freezer with the inevitable hilarious consequences).

For more light relief there’s Coronation Street. In today’s episode Alf, Fred, Renee and Mavis go fishing and have a day to remember. Renee ends up in the river (the stuntperson performing an athletic forward roll) and Mavis gamely jumps in to save her.

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.

Back to April 1979 (4th April 1979)

During the next seven days I’ll be sampling April’s schedules between 1979 and 1985. As before, I’m only going to choose programmes that I can actually source from my archive, so anything which looks intriguing but I don’t have will have to be sadly passed over. Let’s dive in ….

BBC1 offers a repeat of Happy Ever After which is followed by a repeat of Accident (no doubt the high preponderance of repeats was irritating certain viewers).

Accident has reached episode two, Take Your Partners. It’s an interesting series, which focuses on the ramifications of the same event (a multi vehicle accident) from different perspectives. This gives it a similar feel to Villains (LWT, 1972). There’s no shortage of good actors across the series’ eight episodes and this was one of three directed by the always reliable Douglas Camfield.

Over on ITV, there’s chicken issues in Coronation Street (a short-lived but nevertheless amusing plotline which sees an initially reluctant Hilda transformed into a doting fowl lover). Later I’ll be crossing over to BBC2 for the start of a new series – Q8. By this point, Spike Milligan’s idiosyncratic sketch show defies any sort of description – but, if you’re in the right mood, there’s usually some nuggets of gold still to be found.

Annie Walker’s Greatest Hits

As it’s the anniversary of Doris Speed’s birth, I’ve been mulling over some of my favourite Mrs Walker moments (everyone needs a hobby). This isn’t an exhaustive countdown but hopefully it’ll be of interest. Please feel free to add any I’ve missed on the comments section.

10. 14th July 1976 – Hilda unveils her muriel.

09. 8th May 1978. Mrs Walker, returning from holiday, is appalled to learn that someone’s pinched her car. And as for Fred’s choice of alternative transport …

08. 19th October 1977. The regulars throw a party to mark Mrs Walker’s forty years at the Rovers.

07. 11th October 1978. Mr Garfield from the Weatherfield General is revealed to be a lowly hospital porter rather than a consultant. Mrs Walker, who has benefited from his healing touch on her bad back, isn’t best pleased to learn the truth …

06. 1st November 1976. Mrs Walker broaches the wages issue with Betty and Bet. It’s not good news.

05. 6th June 1977. It’s the day of the Jubilee parade and Mrs Walker assumes the role she was born to play.

04. 4th August 1976. Mrs Walker crosses polite swords with her arch enemy Nellie Harvey (Mollie Sugden) for the final time.

03. 10th January 1979. Setting Mrs Walker up for a comic fall was something that happened again and again over the years. This one – Mrs Walker discovers that the artwork hanging on her wall was painted by Hilda – is an excellent example.

02. 7th November 1977. A lovely dramatic moment for a change, in which Mrs Walker confronts her feckless brother (played by Derek Francis). Although she had been a widow since 1970, Jack’s presence – thanks to his prominent photograph in the sitting room – tended to be felt on many occasions.

01. 21st September 1977. Another classic moment where Bet takes sadistic delight in puncturing Mrs Walker’s pretensions. The slowly sinking realisation that her monogrammed carpet hails from a bingo hall clearly cuts like a knife …

On this day (21 January)

Spyder Secures a Main Strand, the first episode of Spyder’s Web, was broadcast on ITV in 1972.

Spyder’s Web is a rum old thing. Running for just 13 episodes, it’s a spy series which owes a certain debt to the likes of The Avengers and James Bond. It possesses a tone that can vary from bizarre and light-hearted to grim.

Starring Patricia Cutts, Anthony Ainley and Veronica Carlson, there’s some familiar names on the writing front (Roy Clarke, Robert Holmes, Alfred Shaughnessy with Malcolm Hulke as script editor). Not everything works although Clarke, who wrote five scripts, tended to deliver.

A pity that most of the series now only exists as black and white telerecordings (altough of course that’s preferable to them not existing at all). Having not seen it for a while, I feel in the mood to give it another spin.

By Order of the Fuhrer, the first episode of Enemy at the Door, was broadcast on ITV in 1978.

Enemy at the Door is an interesting series. At first glance it looked like it was ITV’s attempt to copy the BBC’s Secret Army, but the differences between the two become quickly apparent.

Secret Army saw a regular stream of Allied airmen sent back home to Britain. This was the motor that drove the series – the constant underground struggle by a group of Belgian patriots against their numerically superior German overlords.

Enemy at the Door, by virtue of the fact it was set on an island (Guernsey), could never duplicate this – instead it concentrated on the uneasy alliance forged between the islanders and their new German masters. For example, as time goes on the audience is invited to ponder whether Dr. Philip Martel (Bernard Horsfall) is just doing his best for his fellow islanders or if he’s an active collaborator.

An extra layer of drama is generated by the fact that the likes of Major Richter (Alfred Burke), Major Freidel (Simon Lack) and Oberleutnant Kluge (John Malcolm) are portrayed as reasonable men rather than monsters. Of course you also need the balance of an icy and implacable German – Hauptsturmfuhrer Reinicke (Simon Cadell) is on hand to deliver this.

As a pre-watershed series, Enemy at the Door shies away from anything too graphic but the stories still manage to be nuanced and downbeat. With scripts from the likes of N.J. Crisp (no stranger to this type of drama) it’s a series that still packs a punch today. If you’ve not seen it, then it’s worth tracking down the DVDs or keeping an eye out to see if Talking Pictures TV re-run it.

On this day (16th January)

Hazell plays Soloman, the first episode of Hazell, was broadcast on ITV in 1978.

Based on the novels by Gordon Williams and Terry Venables (writing under the pseudonym P B Yuill) Hazell was a series that I’m always surprised didn’t run longer (it clocked up 22 episodes between 1978 and 1979).

Although Williams and Venables thought Nicholas Ball was a little too young to play the title character, he’s always a strong presence at the centre of each episode, more than holding his own against a diverse group of decent guest actors (not to mention Roddy McMillian as Hazell’s nemesis, ‘Choc’ Minty).

Employing the sensibilities of 1940’s American private eye thrillers (such as laconic narration) transported to a late 1970’s London setting was one of those nice touches which signaled that the series was attempting to do something a little different. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t a Euston Films production – instead it uses the more traditional VT for studio, film for location mix which makes it look a little old-fashioned compared to The Sweeney, The Professionals or Minder.

Maybe it was the emergence of Minder in 1979 which curtailed Hazell‘s run. If you have one series dealing with London’s criminal lowlife, do you really need two? Also, there were some suggestions that Nicholas Ball refused to make a third series if it wasn’t shot on film.

This opening episode was based on the first novel and boasts an impressive guest cast (Jane Asher, Fiona Mollison, George Innes, Patsy Smart).

The Infinite Variety, the first episode of Life on Earth, was broadcast on BBC2 in 1979.

Although David Attenborough had been making wildlife documentaries since the 1950’s, Life on Earth was a groundbreaking production – utlising a variety of innovative filming techniques to present breathtaking images of the natural world never before seen on screen.

Having said that, possibly the series’ most enduring moment was Attenborough’s encounter with a group of mountain gorillas (which was certainly easier to film than sequences which necessitated hundreds of hours of patience to capture just a few seconds of screentime).

For those in the UK, or who are able to access it, the complete series is available on the iPlayer whilst there’s a radio documentary reuniting key members of the production team available here.

On this day (6th January)

The first episode of Dick Barton was broadcast on ITV in 1979.

Tony Vogel is the square-jawed Barton, doing his best to deal with some beastly villains (foreigners naturally) whilst also rescuing the odd damsel in distress. Played entertainingly straight, Dick Barton has to be an oddity – offhand I can’t think of many UK drama series made in 15 minute episodes.

Swiftnick, the first episode of Dick Turpin was broadcast on ITV in 1979.

Two Dicks making their debut on the same day …

Richard O’Sullivan is good value as the dashing highwayman in Richard Carpenter’s extremely loose retelling of Turpin’s life and crimes. It’s easy to see this as something of a training ground for Carpenter’s next outlaw based series (Robin of Sherwood) although the fact each episode only runs for 25 minutes does mean that there’s not much time to develop characters and stories.

Michael Deeks no doubt got some teenage hearts fluttering as Swiftnick whilst Christopher Benjamin (Sir John Glutton) and David Daker (Spiker) both seem to be enjoying themselves as the villains.

A pity that the film prints are so mucky, but – notwithstanding the series’ brisk running time – Dick Turpin still entertains today.

What I Don’t Understand Is This …, the first episode of The Beiderbecke Affair, was broadcast on ITV in 1985.

Alan Plater’s serial is one that I’ve rewatched a fair few times over the years and it still shows no sign of losing its sparkle. Which no doubt has something to do with the combination of that cast (James Bolam, Barbara Flynn, Terence Rigby, Dudley Sutton, etc) and that script.

The two sequels are also watchable, but never quite hit the heights of Affair.

The Dead of Jericho, the first episode of Inspector Morse, was broadcast on ITV in 1987.

I’ve always been rather fond of the opening sequence in which Morse (very briefly) seems to be channeling Jack Regan. Was this done deliberately in order to wrong foot the viewers about the type of series this was?

The format of Morse would point the way ahead for the next generation of television policeman, many of whom were also given a generous two hours to solve each crime. This wasn’t always a good move though (indeed, some of Morse’s later adventures would have been twice as good had they been half as long).

The early episodes, based on Dexter’s books, are all pretty strong though. Mind you, a fair amount of retooling has been done – the less charming aspects of Dexter’s Morse (such as his lechery) were excised, so anyone who reads the books after watching the series tends to have something of a shock.

The Dead of Jericho is a convoluted tale, which makes it surprising that it was chosen as the lead-off story. But Anthony Minghella’s adaptation captures the essence of the original and the guest cast (including James Laurenson, Gemma Jones and Patrick Troughton) all impress.

Today’s a busy day for television debuts – as there’s also the likes of Mr Aitch (the wiped and forgotten Harry H. Corbett sitcom written by, amongst others, Galton & Simpson and Clement & La Frenais), Rentaghost, The Shadow of the Tower, Alice In Wonderland (1986, Barry Letts overdosing on CSO), The Shillingbury Tales and Hannay.

On this day (2nd January)

Four of a Kind, the first episode of Z Cars, was originally broadcast on BBC Television in 1962.

So it’s the sixtieth anniversary of Z Cars (looks in vain for BBC4 documentary and extensive repeat season. Ho hum).

This opening episode hits the ground running by deftly establishing the differing personas of the four policeman selected for the new crime patrols (Lynch, Steele, Smith, Weir) and their two bosses (Barlow, Watt).

It’s true that broad brushstrokes are used though – Lynch is a garrulous Irishman, Steele might knock his wife about but we’re assured he’s a good chap really, Fancy is a ridiculously confident Teddy Boy and Jock … ah poor Jock (he very much gets the short end of the stick in this debut episode, only being called upon to mumble a few incoherent words).

Fare Forward Voyagers, the first episode of Manhunt, was originally broadcast on ITV in 1970.

The premise of the series is simple – Nina (Cyd Hayman) has vital information about the French resistance networks. The Germans desperately want it, but so do the British – which means that Jimmy (Alfred Lynch) and Vincent (Peter Barkworth) have to somehow spirit her out of occupied France and back to London.

Rewatching this opener, it’s impossible not to nitpick a little – how did Nina escape after the Germans gunned down every other member of the Paris resistance cell? We’re never told (and given how hysterical she is for most of the episode, it’s difficult to see how she could have gone more than a few paces).

And why are the Germans so trigger happy? If they hadn’t massacred everyone, then Nina wouldn’t be such a valuable property.

All of the three regulars have a tricky time in this episode, as their characters are so extreme – Jimmy’s a wisecracking RAF pilot, Vincent’s a cold-hearted killer and Nina’s little more than a bundle of nerves. Putting the three of them together seems like a recipe for disaster, but hopefully they’ll settle down over the course of the next 25 (!) episodes. Given that Secret Army tended to spirit British airmen out of Belgium in a single episode, 26 episodes to get Nina over to Britain seems rather generous ….

The fine guest performances of Peter Copley, Andrew Keir and Yootha Joyce are one of the saving graces of Fare Forward Voyagers. Keir is especially impressive as the doomed Robespierre, a radio operator who sacrifices himself in order to allow Jimmy, Nina and Vincent the chance to escape.

Ringer, the first episode of The Sweeney, was broadcast on ITV in 1975.

Following the Armchair Cinema ‘pilot’ in 1974, The Sweeney burst onto our screens with this effort. Subtle it isn’t (the closing punch up is so ridiculously over the top that I’ve never been sure if it’s supposed to be tongue in cheek or not) but overall the episode is still rather bracing.

Brian Blessed (with a stick on beard) and Ian Hendry are the main guest stars whilst there’s plenty of familiar faces (Ray Mort, June Brown, Alan Lake, Angus Mackay) also present and correct.

The Way Back, the first episode of Blakes 7, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1978.

This dystopian tale of thought control and (thankfully trumped up) charges of child abuse had a surprisingly early evening slot. Fair to say that The Way Back is very much a one-off as the following 51 episodes never recaptured the tone of this opening installment.

Writing (or at least credited for) all 13 episodes of the first series, it’s not surprising that Terry Nation’s at his sharpest here. As time wore on and inspiration began to dry up, his scripts became rather more perfunctory.

Special Branch – Depart in Peace (25th August 1970)

Edward Kirk (David Langton), an ex-colonial policeman, has been invited to return to Kenya in order to give evidence at the trial of a notable Mau Mau terrorist. Despite the best efforts of both Jordan and Inman he flatly refuses, but Moxon isn’t prepared to let the matter rest there ….

Alun Falconer’s sole script for the series, Depart in Peace is something of a slow burn. We eventually learn the reason for Kirk’s reluctance to leave the country, but the episode is in no rush to get there.

Before that point, there’s several entertaining confrontational scenes between Moxon and Inman to enjoy. The friendly relationship between Kirk and Inman is something that Moxon attempts to use to his advantage – indeed, this is an episode where he’s at his most silkily manipulative.

When even Inman can’t make any headway with Kirk, Moxon speaks to a journalist called Sullivan (Brian Marshall). Whilst not mentioning Kirk by name, Moxon drops enough hints to link him to a massacre in a Kenyan village – old history maybe, but possibly it’s the sort of lever that will galvanise the inactive Kirk.

David Langton plays to type as the patrician Kirk (Pauline Letts compliments him as Mary, Kirk’s wife). It seems that their idyllic life – running an antique shop in Surrey – is due to be disrupted by ghosts from their Kenyan past, but the truth is a little more complex.

Their current surface happiness is something of a sham, as it’s finally revealed that Mary is suffering from leukemia and may only have months to live (hence the reason why Kirk doesn’t want to leave the country). What’s remarkable is that she’s totally unaware there’s anything wrong with her. No doubt Kirk thinks he’s doing the right thing by keeping her in the dark, but it’s hard to sympathise with this point of view.

Although Jordan takes something of a back seat today, he does have a few memorable scenes. My favourite is when he partakes of lunch and drinks at Moxon’s club (Moxon asks him if he has a club, Jordan replies “only ones with bunnies”). Inman doesn’t take the news that his DCI has been chumming it up with Moxon very well, although eventually he calms down.

By the end of the episode everything’s been neatly wrapped up – Kirk agrees to go to Kenya and Moxon tries to plant another story with Sullivan (singing Kirk’s praises).  All in all it’s rather a low-stakes sort of story, but the guest playing of Langton and Letts certainly gives the script a lift.

Special Branch – Dinner Date (18th August 1970)

Jordan and Morrissey travel to Frankfurt. They’ve come to collect Selby (John Rolfe), a British national who went missing in East Germany three years ago and has just resurfaced in the West. It seems like a straightforward job, but appearances can be deceptive ….

The return of George Markstein to scripting duties also heralds the reappearance of Christine Morris (Sandra Bryant). Since all of her six SB episodes were scripted by Markstein he clearly felt that the continuing relationship between Christine (now confirmed as a senior KGB officer) and Jordan was something that had legs.

Her sudden return initiates a sharp story shift – before that it seemed that Morris would be the focal point of the episode. Instead he turns out to be something of a MacGuffin, existing purely as an excuse to bring Jordan and Christine back together.

Their first meeting – in Jordan’s hotel room – is an early sign that she holds the upper hand. Having booked the room next to his, she then orders a slap up meal for two and champagne. Although he’s initially reluctant, he drinks the champagne with her and we’re told later that they enjoyed the meal.

The action deliberately cuts from their champagne sipping to Jordan waking up the next morning, so it’s never make explicit what (if anything) happened during the night. But when he picks up Christine’s cigarette lighter from his bedside table the inference is plain.

Today’s DCI Jordan fashion-watch. He sports a rather natty pink shirt and tie combination. And when Christine breaks into his hotel room to take photos of any interesting documents lying about, she pauses to admire his collection of ties hanging up in the wardrobe.

Since this is a Markstein script, you’re never quite sure who to trust. Are the hotel staff colluding with Christine? And then there’s the West German police authorities, represented by Otto Pohl (Frederick Jaeger) and Bauer (John Bailey). Pohl is relentlessly jolly whilst Bauer is clipped and abrupt. Neither play a central role, but both provide some local colour (and it’s always a pleasure to see both actors).

If this was an ITC series then we’d have started off with some stock footage location shots of Frankfurt. There’s no such window dressing here – we just have to accept that the series of studio sets are real German locations.

With Jordan and Morrissey abroad, Inman complains that he’s somewhat short staffed. And indeed, at present Special Branch does seem to be comprised of just those three (along with the occasional silent, leggy female secretary). Morrissey contributes little to the investigation, but seems to enjoy himself offscreen by spending an agreeable evening with an obliging fräulein.

As for the specifics of the plot, was Christine sent to stop Selby returning to Britain or did she have some other purpose? Jordan’s decision to not tell Inman about her sudden appearance is a telling one, as is his reluctance to confirm whether he saw her again (all he will say is that everything will be in his report).

From a few hard looks Inman gives Jordan, it’s obvious that the friendly relationship between him and Christine is a cause of concern. And as she’s due to return later in the series there’s time for this story-thread to be developed further.

Special Branch – Inside (11th August 1970)

Inside (the first episode of Special Branch‘s second series) features another new title sequence (the series’ third) and a new theme tune. The first title sequence was quite stark and downbeat whilst this one is very different (Inman and Jordan strike heroic poses whilst looking intently through their binoculars).  It never fails to raise a smile, although I’m not sure that was the intention.

The episode has quite a straightforward story to tell – Jordan finds himself banged up in Wormwood Scrubs, placed in the same cell as Gillard (Michael Goodliffe), a spy who’s due shortly to be released. Gillard knows the identity of another traitor high up in the British Establishment, but isn’t talking. So if Jordan can gain his confidence, maybe he’ll be able to learn something.

There’s a certain attraction in seeing the dapper Jordan dressed dowdily for once (although he’s allowed to keep his sideburns intact). Don’t worry, the neckerchiefs make a comeback later this series.

Goodliffe’s presence raises expectations, as he was always an actor who caught the eye. Gillard’s a rather taciturn sort of character though, so Goodliffe doesn’t have a great deal to play with (not until the end, when Gillard’s fears for the safety of his daughter opens up some cracks in his previously iron character).

That’s something of a story weakness. Gillard’s daughter, Sarah (Wendy Gifford), is the only thing in the world he cares about and it’s pressure applied to her which eventually forces him to speak to Inman. So Jordan’s undercover prison stay turns out to be fairly incidental, although it’s good fun seeing him pretending to be an irritating wide-boy.

We don’t get to see much of the prison, although at one point Jordan gets his hand scalded by a pre-Gan David Jackson. Although it’s hard to believe that he received that much of an injury as his hand was only plonked in a basin full of hot water (just how hot is the water in prison?).

And remaining in picky mode, we’re told that Sarah is a rather dowdy, unattractive sort. But as she’s played by Wendy Gifford there’s something not quite right there ….

One of those rare stories where Moxon doesn’t spring a last minute surprise on our SB boys, Inside is competent enough but I’d have expected a little more from a Trevor Preston script.