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

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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.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Power

The omens for Power aren’t good. Firstly you have two little words which strike fear into the hearts of many (‘Ben Steed’) and secondly, within the first few seconds a group of hairy tribesmen lurch into view (hairy tribesmen are always one of my least favourite B7 sights). And yet ….

Dicken Ashworth’s Gunn-Sar might appear at first glance to be a typically stereotyped tribal leader (“I am Gunn-Sar, chief of the Hommiks. I rule by right of challenge, which means I’m the biggest, toughest, meanest son of a Seska on this planet”) but there’s much more to him than meets the eye. Ashworth mines the script for comic material and surprisingly for a Ben Steed episode there are some gems to be found.

The way that Gunn-Sar becomes increasingly exasperated at having to repeat his leadership mantra, his duelling (both verbally and physically) with Avon and the revelation that he’d much sooner put his feet up and embroider a nice rug are all nice little character touches. Frankly, I was sorry to see him meet a sticky end.

Gunn-Sar’s relationship with Nina (Jenny Oulton) is something which seems like it’s been dropped into the script specifically to wrong-foot viewers who were aware of Steed’s style. In public Gunn-Sar treats Nina with contempt, but in private there’s a tender bond between them. Gunn-Sar’s public/private facades are an interesting part of the story.

Isolated from the others for most of the script, Avon swans around as if he’s in a Western (which maybe he is). Avon’s easily able to get the better of Gunn-Sar but he meets his match when tangling with Pella (Juliet Hammond-Hill). 

There’s something a little uncomfortable about the way Avon forces her to submit and – as so often with post S2 Avon – then grabs her for a quick snog. Just in case we aren’t following, Steed gives our hero a short speech which reinforces why men are best. “You see, Pella, it’s your strength, and however you use it, a man’s will always be greater. Unfair, perhaps, but biologically unavoidable.”

Slightly icky, but since Pella then levitates a computer keyboard to knock Avon out (Paul Darrow’s shocked expression and his slow descent to the floor are the funniest thing in the episode) it suggests that honours are pretty much even between them at this point. This is another moment where Steed seems to be subverting the male stereotypes from his previous stories (unless I’m just being too generous).

Dayna gets to challenge Gunn-Sar, Tarrant stands around a lot whist Vila becomes increasingly hysterical. All three do their best with what they’re given, but this one is really Paul Darrow’s episode. And what of Soolin? The way she turns up a minute before the end is unforgivable (just what has she been doing for the previous 48 minutes?). It would have been nice had Chris Boucher rewritten the script to give her at least a little something to do.

The Western theme is seen again in the closing minutes as Avon proves to be quicker on the draw than Pella. It’s a shocking moment, which Avon sums up thus. “You can have war between races, war between cultures, war between planets. But once you have war between the sexes, you eventually run out of people”.

If that’s the case, then he shouldn’t have killed her. Oh well. 

Overall Power‘s not as bad as it might have been (even if the ease at which they gain a teleport system beggars belief). It’s never going to be a favourite, but the series did far worse.

Missing Believed Wiped – 25th Birthday Bonanza at the BFI Southbank – 15th December 2018

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Below is the press release for the forthcoming Missing Believed Wiped event at the BFI Southbank on the 15th of December.

The BFI celebrates Missing Believed Wiped (MBW)’s 25th birthday on 15 December at BFI Southbank with a treasure of television riches. Reflecting on the initiative’s successes from the last 25 years in tracking down and screening rediscovered ‘lost’ television classics. The 15 December event will present newly discovered material including top-quality music, comedy and variety titles as well as welcome repeats for much-requested items taking place across two sessions.

We’re thrilled to announce the premiere of the much anticipated Doctor Who animated mini-episode based on the now lost first part of the 1968 Doctor Who story, ‘The Wheel in Space’, starring Patrick Troughton. We are delighted to be joined by a number of special guests including the Indiana Jones of lost archival television Philip Morris, who will be presenting some of the rare television gems he’s recently unearthed, including missing episodes of Morecambe and Wise, Sid James’s sitcom Citizen James and children’s television favourite Basil Brush including the only surviving live performance of The Kinks performing their hit Days. Pop star and songwriter Vince Hill looks back over his distinguished 60+ year career in music plus we also feature a rare performances by Aretha Franklin on British television.

The BFI National Archive has grown to become one of the largest and most important collections of British television in the world. This special anniversary edition of Missing Believed Wiped offers a chance for reflection, looking back at some of the success stories and achievements from the last 25 years, which have deepened our understanding of British TV heritage.

Missing Believed Wiped has been spearheaded by Dick Fiddy, BFI Archive Television Programmer, commenting on this milestone he says, “Over the last 25 years our events have showcased some of the most important finds to have been located and returned to official archives. Tracking down these ‘lost’ treasures has been a joint effort between the BFI, many individuals and organisations. One of our most impressive discoveries in recent years consisted of 100 hours of very important missing single UK plays, including the 1965 version of Orwell’s 1984, and now held by the BFI National Archive. Such finds energise the quest and inspire us to continue the search to plug more gaps in the British television archives”

Session 1:

‘Music and More’ 15:15, NFT1, BFI Southbank

Celebrating his 60th year in showbiz, Vince Hill, the multi-million selling recording artist and star of BBC TV and radio, best known for his 1960s mega-hit ‘Edelweiss’, will introduce Vince Hill at The Talk of the Town (BBC 1969), the prime time BBC TV special filmed at the popular ‘Talk of the Town’ nightclub at London’s Hippodrome. Unseen for nearly 50 years since its original transmission, the 16mm film came from Vince’s personal collection. He made the discovery when searching through metal canisters in his lock up. This special affords a snapshot of Vince Hill’s live show of the time, when he was performing sell out shows up and down the UK, as well as starring in his own BBC Radio series, and appearing as a regular star at London’s Palladium. Vince had already made his name with several big UK chart hits and Vince Hill at The Talk of the Town features the only surviving performance of ‘Edelweiss’ on BBC TV. Vince Hill kindly donated the 16mm film to the BFI National Archive.

On rediscovering the film and presenting it at BFI Southbank Vince Hill said, “I’m thrilled that my 1969 BBC TV special at the legendary Talk of the Town is to be screened at the BFI’s Missing Believed Wiped, performing at such an iconic venue was a career highlight. I was surprised to rediscover the original film earlier this year in my lock up. I feel immensely proud that a new audience will have a chance to see the film after all this time and that the BFI have taken the film into their prestigious archive for safe keeping.”

Alongside this we are thrilled to announce the premiere of a brand new 10 minute animated Doctor Who mini-episode based on the now lost first part of the 1968 Doctor Who story, ‘The Wheel in Space’, starring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor and Frazer Hines as Jamie. This newly announced mini-episode, produced by Charles Norton and directed by Anne Marie Walsh who will introduce the BFI Southbank screening, will be included on a future BBC DVD release next year.

Back by popular demand, the infamous Stars and Garters segment that proved such a huge hit at our 2016 event. We also sneak in a very special – once missing – clip from It’s Lulu (BBC 1970), having previously screened the full episode at MBW in 2007, it is included here as a tribute to The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin singing ‘Spirit in the Dark’.

Session 2:

‘Philip Morris Presents’ 17:45, NFT1, BFI Southbank

Helping the BFI celebrate the Missing Believed Wiped’s special anniversary we’re delighted that the legendary CEO of Television International Enterprises Archives (TIEA), Philip Morris, is able to join us at BFI Southbank to introduce a specially selection of rediscovered classics drawn exclusively from the TIEA Archive holdings. An archive television archaeologist who has traveled the world to track down missing episodes, Philip’s never say die attitude has helped him over the years recover a wealth of ‘lost’ British Television, many found in small television stations in far flung places and return them to television archives in the UK. TIEA also assists television stations around the world to preserve their archives and digitise their back catalogue for future generations.

Among the clips and shows featured in this session are appearances from MBW favourites, Morecambe and Wise. In 2011 Morris discovered a badly deteriorated early missing episode from the first BBC series of The Morecambe and Wise show (1968) in Nigeria. Sadly unplayable, the BBC and researchers at Queen Mary University of London were able to recover some images through cutting edge lasers and X-Ray microtomography. There was existing evidence that two other shows from the first series had been sent to Sierra Leone as audition prints from London, however research found that all Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) holdings had been destroyed during the civil war in the 1980s and they were long thought lost. The ‘lost’ episode from the first BBC series of The Morecambe and Wise Show (Series 1, Episode 5, BBC TX 30/09/1968) which MBW are screening was recovered by Philip Morris, who found the two episodes in a derelict cinema in Sierra Leone.

The programme also features Basil Brush in the earliest surviving episode from the first series of The Basil Brush Show (Series 1, Episode 3, BBC TX28/06/ 1968). Located in Nigeria a few years ago, the last five minutes, featuring a barnstorming performance from The Kinks, was missing until recently. Now restored and complete, this episode contains the only surviving live performance of ‘Days’, as The Kinks Top of The Pops performance had been wiped by the BBC. Missing Believed Wiped are also excited to screen a rare episode, ‘The Day Out’, from the third and final series of Citizen James (Series 3, Episode 6, BBC TX 05/10/1962). Sid James’s hilarious BBC sitcom ran from 1960-1962, following the exploits of Sid’s scheming charmer, guest starring Liz Fraser, the late Carry On actor who recently died in September, as the object of Sid’s wandering eye. This ‘lost’ episode was recovered from Monaco Television, in an old store room during a clear out of their premises.

On the news of this recent discovery of Citizen James, Reina James, Sid James’s daughter said, “It’s wonderful that Missing Believed Wiped is giving audiences a chance to see Sid as Citizen James again in this ‘lost’ episode. And Liz Frazer too – they’re fantastic together. It’s a real treasure”

Tickets for both Missing Believed Wiped sessions on 15 December go on sale to BFI members on 6 November and the general public from 13 November, with joint ticket option available for both sessions.

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My 2018 DVD wishes

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Inspired by a post over at LouReviews, I’ve been having a ponder about which unreleased television series I’d like to see pop up on shiny discs. And this is what I’ve come up with ….

Z Cars

Acorn, before they sadly stopped releasing archive titles, did issue a selection of early seventies episodes – but the original run from the sixties (Barlow, Watt, Fancy Smith, et al.) remains out of circulation. Given how ground-breaking the series was, it’s difficult to understand why Z Cars remains so under-represented on DVD. A few have been repeated over the years, a few more are available on YT, but most of the surviving episodes are simply gathering dust.

Blood Money/Skorpion/Cold Warrior

Possibly I’m the only person hoping these three series (all starring Michael Denison as SIS agent Captain Aubrey Percival) eventually resurface, but it’d be nice to think that there’s a few other people out there who’d also buy it! If you didn’t know they were produced by Gerard Glaister, then a glance at the cast lists (Juliet-Hammond Hill, Stephen Yardley, Bernard Hepton, etc, etc) might give you a clue. Simon May penned the title themes, which is another pointer ….

The Secret Servant

A three-part adaptation of Gavin Lyall’s novel, featuring Charles Dance as Harry Maxim, The Secret Servant was originally broadcast in 1984, repeated in 1987 and then vanished. Adapted by Brian Clemens, my memory of the 1987 repeat is that it was a more than decent spy thriller with a muscular turn from Dance.

Pulaski

Another of those series which has dropped off the radar somewhat (only thin pickings on YT, alas) Roy Clarke’s 1987 series starring David Andrews as Larry Summers (who plays the wisecracking PI Pulaski) should be worth a release. Co-starring Caroline Langrishe, it might not have set the schedules alight back then but I’ve a feeling that it’s probably aged quite well. Ace theme by the Shadows as well.

Blankety Blank

No really! I’ve previously praised the series here and those comments still stand. It’s just great fun, packed – especially in the early years – with some top guests and is high on rewatch value.

Spycatcher

I’m not sure how many episodes of this WW2 psychological series, starring Bernard Archard as Lt. Col. Oreste Pinto, exist but one featured in the BBC Archive Trial a few years back, so hopefully there’s enough remaining to make up a decent set. The episodes were re-recorded for radio (these versions remain easily accessible) and whilst the visuals might not add a great deal, it would be nice to see some of these stories in vision.

Moonstrike

Another Gerard Glaister series. Despite its science fiction name Moonstrike was set during WW2. Glaister, of course, would later mine this era very successfully in both Colditz and Secret Army, so it would be fascinating to see how this series (broadcast in 1963) compares.

Of course this only scratches the surface – restored versions of At Last The 1948 Show and Do Not Adjust Your Set would also be high on my wants list as would the black and white Dixon of Dock Green‘s. The BBC work of Les Dawson, Mike Yarwood and (provided the rights can be negotiated) Dave Allen would also be welcome.

That’s one of the problems with wish-lists of course, once you start it’s difficult to stop …

Big Finish on Spotify

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A generous section of Big Finish’s back catalogue is now available to listen for free on Spotify.

This includes various releases from Doctor Who, and associated titles like Dalek Empire, Jago & Litefoot, Counter Measures, UNIT, Iris Wildthyme and Charlotte Pollard.  There’s also plenty of Non-Who audios to enjoy, such as Blakes 7, Survivors, The Avengers, Sherlock Holmes and Dark Shadows.

Pages from Ceefax (and other Teletext providers)

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I’ve been spending some time happily navigating around this website, which has archived pages from Ceefax and Oracle, as well as other teletext providers.  Each link takes you to a specific day, with all the pages accessible for viewing.

You may need to try a few browsers to find which one works best (I couldn’t input page numbers with IE, but everything worked fine with Firefox).  Navigation is simple – use the number buttons to input the page number you want, whilst the cursor keys left and right cycle you through the pages (if there’s more than one available on that page).

For anyone who used the service, there’s an undeniable nostalgic rush in viewing this relic from a bygone age.  Lovely stuff!

BBC Genome – Every listing from the Radio Times (1923-2009) now available online

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Just launched by the BBC Is Genome.

Every entry from the Radio Times between 1923 and 2009 is available to browse. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to go straight to the day I was born to find out what programmes were broadcast.  Top of the Pops, All Gas & Gaiters and Z Cars were all part of the evening schedule. Not a bad line-up!

For the researcher, as well as the more casual browser, this looks like a fascinating resource.

It’s very much in Beta mode at the moment and there are numerous typos (due to the scanning software). But this is an open resource and people are encouraged to submit their corrections and amendments, so that over time the accuracy should improve.