The Strange World of Gurney Slade to be released on BD – 30th November 2020

Network have just announced a BD release of The Strange World of Gurney Slade on the 30th of November, with some mouth-watering special features. The press release is below.

On 22nd October 1960 renowned singer and actor Anthony Newley crashed through the fourth wall in his weird and wonderful ATV television series The Strange World of Gurney Slade. To celebrate its 60th birthday all six episodes have been restored in HD from the original 35mm film elements and are now, sixty years to the day since their debut, available to pre-order on a Limited Edition Blu-ray packed full of rare special features exclusively from networkonair.com – this includes streaming of all six episodes via watch.networkonair.com.

This brilliantly inventive and startlingly surreal comedy was unlike anything previously seen on television. Audiences were flabbergasted to see this star on the rise in such an experimental series that deconstructed the fledgling sitcom genre and provided a platform for Newley’s unique stream of consciousness. It was ultimately dropped from its primetime slot after two episodes but not before it managed to take hold in the minds of fans, not least a young David Bowie who’s own breaking of the fourth wall and surreal characters took notes from his fascination and imitation with Anthony Newley and the bizarre Gurney Slade.

Carrying on from where radio’s The Goon Show left off in 1960, Gurney Slade’s influence on comedy was to be felt across the decades that followed – in the late Sixties and Seventies with the surreal sketches of Monty Python ‘s Flying Circus and Marty to the present day Peep Show. The Strange World of Gurney Slade is to television comedy what The Prisoner has since become to television drama – both firmly of its time and spectacularly ahead of it.

The series saw Anthony Newley star as an actor who walks off the set of a banal sit-com and into a fantasy world of his own imagination in a dreamlike odyssey through one man’s personal alternative reality. Talking to dogs, rocks and fairies and dancing with vacuum cleaners it is an unpredictable, absurdist fantasy created by Newley and written by comedy legends Sid Green and Dick Hills (soon thereafter to become key writers for Morecambe and Wise). The series features British stalwarts including Una Stubbs, Anneke Wills, Geoffrey Palmer and Bernie Winters.

This Limited-Edition Blu-ray is brimming with special features including three rare Saturday Spectacular shows from 1960 which acted as a testing ground for Gurney Slade’s internal monologue and feature Shirley Bassey, Peter Sellers, Lionel Blair and more. Also included is a commemorative booklet with contributions from Andrew Pixley, Dick Fiddy and Andrew Roberts and Anthony Newley’s 1963 beat influenced British crime feature film The Small World of Sammy Lee from writer/director Ken Hughes. Released on 30th November it is now available to pre-order exclusively from networkonair.com and includes streaming of the series’ six episodes via watch.networkonair.com – Network’s new streaming platform launched this July.

“Well, it was a noble effort, wasn’t it? You tried. I give you that, you tried. But the public is no man’s fool, you know. The public knows what it wants, and you had no right to even try and suggest something different. Anyway, the public doesn’t like anything… suggestive.”  – Gurney Slade #GurneySlade60

Special Features:

Three Saturday Spectacular shows from 1960 featuring Anthony Newley alongside Shirley Bassey, Peter Sellers, Janette Scott, Lionel Blair and others. These variety specials feature Newley’s initial attempts at building the “internal monologue character” that would eventually become Gurney Slade.

Original Gurney Slade promotional shorts.

Extensive image galleries.

The Small World of Sammy Lee: The classic 1963 British crime film starring Anthony Newley

The Small World of Sammy Lee special features: newly discovered archive film material featuring an alternative ending, textless titles and a promotional interview with Anthony Newley

Commemorative booklet with contributions from Andrew Pixley, Dick Fiddy and Andrew Roberts

Free streaming of the series’ six episodes from today only when you buy the limited-edition Blu-ray set

The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder – Sheer Melodrama (14th May 1969)

British actors browning up is an occupational hazard you encounter when watching television from the sixties and seventies. Today’s episode of Reeder has two prime examples – Michael Bates (as Ras Lal Punjabi) and Leslie Lawton (as Ram Bannerjee).

Bates, of course, would later don the brown make-up once again when he played Rangi Ram in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Bates’ performance in IAHHM is presumably one of the reasons why the sitcom no longer receives television screenings, which is a shame as Ram (as befits a Perry/Croft character) does have certain subtleties.

However, subtle is certainly something you couldn’t accuse Ras Lal Punjabi of being. The character is grotesquely over the top, but then – as per the episode title – that’s really the point of the story. Bates’ turn has an air of mockery, but it’s still somewhat difficult to take.

Elsewhere in the episode, a fresh-faced Ken Campbell catches the eye as Tommy Fenalow, an obviously criminal type. The suit and the moustache are both dead giveaways.

The story, such as it is, is not terribly gripping. But, as always, Hugh Burden manages to make something out of it. Reeder’s love for melodramatic theatre (he’s a devotee of the Sweeney Todd type of drama) is a nice little touch. Guy Verney’s direction is also quite noteworthy – he makes good use out of some strong production design (the high angles in the warehouse set, for example).

Having quickly skimmed through the original story, it’s interesting to note that Vincent Tisley’s adaptation was pretty faithful – especially the passage where Reeder explains to Margaret Belman exactly why he enjoys a decent melodrama.

Special Branch – You Don’t Exist (29th October 1969)

You have to feel sorry for Keith Washington. He might be the lead of this episode but that’s not enough to enable him to have his name on the opening credits (even though Jennifer Wilson – who only has a handful of lines – does).

Anthony Skene’s script is an odd one. His sole contribution to the VT era of SB (he’d pen another episode when the series was rebooted by Euston Films in the mid seventies) it’s pretty much crime free. Det. Con. Morrissey (Washington), working for the week at London Airport, has to tell Barbara Cartwright (Mel Martin) that she’s unable to enter the UK. Her country of origin, Rhodesia, isn’t recognised by the British government and so she’s persona non grata.

At first the pair are snippy towards each other, but Morrissey then takes pity on her and decides to give her a whirlwind tour of London (her return flight to Rhodesia isn’t until the next day). These scenes give us an excellent tourist snapshot of late sixties London – we take in fashionable boutiques, familiar landmarks like the Post Office Tower as well as a trip to Madame Tussauds (Barbara is something of a crime expert and is fascinated by the Chamber of Horrors).

There’s also a visit to a glorious VT nightclub where the dying embers of hippydom continue to burn.

This was Mel Martin’s television debut and she’s terribly watchable as the vulnerable Barbara – shocked that the country she’s always regarded as home has now rejected her. Barbara’s something of a dreamer – most of her knowledge of London comes from books and old films, meaning that Morrisey has to tell her that there’s no trams and no pea-souper fogs any more.

An unlikely romance quickly develops between them and just as quickly has to be extinguished. This episode certainly puts a bit of meat onto the bones of Morrisey’s character, although he still remains somewhat unreadable. Quite why he reacts so violently to Barbara’s wish to visit a hip and happening nightclub isn’t clear, for example.

Oh, and there’s also the chance to see Clive Merrison pop up in an early role (nice helmet, sir).

A little drama is generated by the fact that Morrisey is required to give evidence the following day at an important trial which has been unexpectedly brought forward several days. He, of course, is out and about with Barbara and remains totally oblivious to the fact that everyone is running around like headless chickens in an attempt to find him.

You Don’t Exist is certainly a change of pace for the series, but it has a travelogue charm.

Secret Army – Scorpion (1st November 1978)

Major Brandt’s wife, Erika (Brigitte Kahn), is in Brussels for a brief visit. Their interactions later provide the spur which kicks the plot into gear, but before that there’s plenty of nice character development on offer.

Brandt is clearly delighted to see her (something she reciprocates, although in a rather cooler way). This is partially explained by the fact that, as a General’s daughter, she suffers from something of a superiority complex – for example, she has no wish to meet Kessler. A member of the SS is plainly a much lower form of life.

Plot-threads which pay off later in the year are established here. Erika now finds living in Berlin, which is suffering heavy bombing raids on a regular basis, intolerable. Fearful for her own life (and that of their children) she begs Brandt to move them to Brussels. This he declines to do, although he concedes that they should leave the city.

There’s an intriguing moment when she finds a photograph of an attractive young woman in his wardrobe. His mistress? Since we know that he’s a workaholic it would seem not and his protestations of innocence do appear to be sincere. And yet ….

You have to say that his explanation for its presence (the cleaning woman could have left it there) is a bit feeble.

Brandt has already tried and failed several times to infiltrate the escape line with one of his officers. Indeed, during series one it seemed like he was doing it every other week.

He hasn’t attempted it for a while, so I suppose it was bound to happen again. The way that the audience (and Lifeline) learn about it today is a touch contrived though. Brandt and Erika are having an argument in bed and he tells her the whole story (an infiltrator – accepted as genuine by London – will shortly be going down the line). But at that precise moment his cleaning lady happens to overhear the whole thing.

That’s hard to swallow moment number one. Hard to swallow moment number two is the fact she knows that Albert is the person who needs to be told about this straight away. Slightly clumsy plotting then.

Hans Van Broecken (Gunner Moller), Natalie’s uncle (and no friend of Albert), returns. As a German himself, he’s the ideal man to try and identify the spy, but given his loathing for Albert, will he agree? Yes of course, otherwise the plot would have floundered somewhat.

If he’s unsuccessful then there will be some difficult decisions to be made. With nineteen British airman in Brussels, one way out would be to shoot them all. It seems cold-blooded, but it might be necessary in order to protect the line.

Some familiar faces can be found amongst the motley collection of airmen. James Wynn (later to play Sooty Sutcliffe in Grange Hill) is one whilst Harry Fielder (someone with a list of credits longer than several arms) is another. The spy isn’t either of these though – but he’s eventually dealt with by Max, with a horrified Hans looking on.

Hans’ disgust that Max resorts to murder is a little difficult to credit. Did he think they’d just let him walk away? He might not have discovered too much about the escape route, but he still would have been able to identify a number of people (Max and Hans, for two).

As touched upon eadlier, the plotting of the episode feels a little suspect in places. We’re told several times that various airmen have been cleared of suspicion, but it’s not explained how this is done. Considering that the infiltrator appears to be, until the very last minute, a perfectly normal British officer it’s hard to work this out.

Kessler only features briefly, but his scene – a meal with Madeleine (Hazel McBride) – is still a fascinating one. There’s some light shone onto Kessler the private man (he admits to being lonely at times, which is why he’s sought the company of Madeline – he’s decided she’s a kindred spirit). And he almost (but not quite) declares that Brandt is his friend, explaining to Madeline that normally he’d be irritated by the superior attitude of Erika, but given his respect for Brandt he’s content not to make a scene.

Upstairs Downstairs – For Love of Love (5th March 1972)

There’s an odd chronology at work here – the caption tells us that some six months have passed since the previous episode (when Miss Elizabeth stormed out of 165 Eaton Place) and yet all the other evidence (Rose bringing Elizabeth a case of clothes, for example) suggests that only a few days could have elapsed.

Elizabeth continues to rail against the conventions of the society she was brought up in – desperate to help the poor on the one hand and break free from the stifling embrace of her parents on the other – although Rosemary Anne Sisson’s script manages to lob a few well-aimed barbs her way. One minute Elizabeth tells Rose that she’s her friend and the next she’s passed over all her dirty washing (brushing away Rose’s complaint that she’ll never be able to get it past Mr Hudson as a matter of no consequence).

Rose, by keeping secrets from the rest of the staff and her employers, incurs the cold wrath of Mr Hudson. He, of course, knows his place and brings Rose back into line. Elizabeth, by disavowing the conventions of respectable society, is positioned as a disruptive element – breaking the harmony that exists between master and servant. This is a theme that’s been touched upon before and will again in the years to come.

Speaking of disruptive elements, Sarah (yet again) returns – this time as a bawdy music hall star (the toast of Camden Town). A pity that the budget didn’t run to filming in a real music hall, but Sarah’s big number (set to the UpDown theme music) is certainly a talking point. Sarah’s relationship with James picks up steam here, although the real pay off won’t occur until series two.

Introduced in the previous episode, the effete poet Lawrence Kirbridge (Ian Ogilvy) continues to loll about, dispensing bon mots in the style of a cut-price Oscar Wilde. A little of Lawrence tends to go a long way, but there is one small moment when his public image wavers and we get to see the real man beneath (a much less confident and far more real person).

Plot-threads in this first series tend to be rather disjointed. In the last episode Elizabeth was infatuated with Lawrence but he only viewed her with indulgent indifference. Now the pair seem to be in love and marriage may be on the cards.

Except that Elizabeth is insistent that there’s no way she’d submit to such an old-fashioned concept as marriage. That is, until after the second ad break when we see her sorting through her wedding presents. Hmm.

Having spent most of the episode reacting with horror at Elizabeth’s actions, Richard and Lady Marjorie are later gifted a few nice comic moments. Slowly warming to the possibility of welcoming Lawrence into the family, Richard can’t help but critique Lawrence’s latest poem whilst the pair visibly cheer up once they realise that he comes of good Tory stock.

There’s plenty of other good character touches scattered throughout the script – Rose’s reminisces of how she sat with her dying mother all night (and how Lady Marjorie also kept vigil with her) or the way Rose gives the cheeky young Edward a hard slap, for example.  A favourite of mine is the arrival of Sarah at the wedding, loudly mixing with the nobs downstairs whilst the servants (kept well out of the way in the upper balcony) look on with a mixture of amazement and horror. Hudson, of course, is horrified ….

Undermind – The New Dimension (22nd May 1965)

Drew Heriot (Jeremy Wilkin) and his sister-in-law, Anne (Rosemary Nichols), continue their quest to locate the “underminds” – brainwashed individuals intent on destabilising the country by whatever means necessary ….

A somewhat forgotten series (despite the fact it’s been available on DVD for a few years) Undermind certainly has some points of interest – not least the fact that it’s nice to see Wilkin (one of those actors who spent most of his career in supporting roles) take the lead for a change. Rosemary Nichols (later to play the third banana in Department S) also gets plenty to do, today’s episode especially.

The series’ writing team was a strong one. It was created (or evolved, according to the credits) by Robert Banks Stewart, with the likes David Whitaker, Bill Strutton, Hugh Leonard and Robert Holmes supplying episodes.

In this episode, Drew’s name is discovered on the client list of a murdered prostitute (along with the names of a great many influential men). Given that the Profumo affair would have been very fresh in the memory at this time, the character of Mr Beymer MP (Derek Francis) has an obvious satiric touch. He may profess to be an upright public servant, but it’s plain that there are some skeletons lurking in his closet. Francis gives a nice performance, although his stick on beard is a little distracting.

Best turn of the episode comes from Patrick Allen as Fenway, a shadowy type who gives Drew an intense grilling. At first it looks as if Fenway might be part of the undermind conspiracy, but he’s simply doing his job – ensuring that public confidence in the establishment isn’t destroyed. This is certainly a theme that’s as topical today as it’s ever been. Garfield Morgan, as Fenway’s no 2 (the suspiciously named Smith) also catches the eye, due to his habit of wearing dark glasses indoors.

Anne is very proactive today, posing as a former call girl in order to investigate a shady employment agency. She does pretty well, although it’s an initial shock to see the previously straight-laced Anne transformed into a short-skirted woman of easy virtue.

David Whitaker’s script does drag a little, so I can only give The New Dimension a cautious thumbs up. And that’s similar to my feelings of the series to date – three episodes in and whilst I’m happy to return for another installment next week, the series has yet to really grip me.

Grange Hill – Series Nine and Ten. Eureka DVD Review

Series Nine

Just Say No.

For many people, series nine is peak Grange Hill, thanks to the absorbing storyline which chronicles Zammo’s descent from loveable scamp to duplicitous heroin addict.  It shouldn’t be forgotten that introducing such a theme into a children’s series was a somewhat risky move – but it’s done in a very effective and obviously moral manner (certainly no-one could claim that GH was glamorising drug use).

What surprises me though, when reviewing the series, is the way several obvious dramatic beats are missed. I’m not sure if this was because the production team were being extra careful not to foreground this plot too much or whether it was the choice of incoming producer, Ronald Smedley.

The first few episodes set up a mystery – Zammo is acting a little oddly (plus his relationship with Jackie is desperately floundering) – but after that point we rarely return to the fifth formers en masse, which means that we’re denied any scenes where they express their worries about him. The audience is also not privy to moments when key figures like Jackie learn that Zammo is an addict.

And whilst Roland is the first character on-screen to learn the truth (thanks to the memorable episode fourteen cliffhanger) we don’t witness him telling the others, which is yet another surprising moment of potential drama missed.

‘Grange Hill Copyright: BBC’

That’s not to say that Zammo’s travails don’t generate any scenes which linger in the memory. As touched upon, the end of episode fourteen – showing an unconscious Zammo – is a classic moment (although it’s a pity that the jaunty theme music crashes in rather too suddenly).  Whilst the end of episode eighteen – Mrs McGuire cupping the face of her mute son, pleading with him to tell her that he’s not an addict – still carries an emotional punch.

The twenty third episode (a now slowly recovering Zammo is visited by Miss Booth) contains another key scene. Although Zammo initially displays a cheerful façade, it’s not long before a strong feeling of isolation and despair begins to seep through. Miss Booth, unable to comfort him, stands awkwardly by as Zammo’s tear stained face looks out of a rainy window.

Throughout these episodes, Lee MacDonald is always on top form. It must have been a daunting role to take on, but he’s never less than totally compelling.

Although Zammo’s slowly dawning realisation that the drugs don’t work is this year’s main theme, there are several others of interest. Such as Fay’s growing relationship with Mr King (David Straun). It’s done in a very chaste way (there’s never any suggestion that they progress beyond holding hands and taking walks in the park) but this is still enough for Mr King to lose his job. Plus there’s an entertaining power struggle between Mrs McClusky and Mr Bronson, which manages to enliven several episodes.

The influx of new characters – Georgina, Helen, Imelda, Ant, Danny – prove to be something of a mixed bag. Ant Jones takes over Zammo’s role as Mr Bronson’s chief irritant (and possibly the irritant of many watching at home as well). More positive is the arrival of Imelda – the series hasn’t had a decent bully since Gripper departed under a cloud in 1983 (plus Imelda is the series’ first long-running female bully).

Series Ten

Harriet the Donkey.

Three words which are guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of Grange Hill fans of a certain age. It’s all Sir Phil Redmond’s fault (he was the writer of the 1985 Christmas Special – included in this set – which introduced her in the first place).  But whilst Harriet was fine as a one-off guest star in a light-hearted Christmas episode, the audience’s goodwill was probably sapped after she became the focal point of an interminable storyline during series ten. Scraping around for positives, the endless adventures of Harriet does give George A. Cooper a little more to do (which is always welcome – he’s the sort of actor I could watch all day).

When the series began, storylines were concluded in a single episode. After GH was renewed for a second series, the show began to take on a soap format, allowing plot-threads to breathe over multiple episodes. Sometimes this was to the series’ benefit – Gripper’s relentless hounding of Roland during series five needed to be drawn out, otherwise the boy’s apparent suicide attempt would have had far less impact – but by 1987 certain storylines (like Harriet) were being allowed to run on far too long.

‘Grange Hill Copyright: BBC’

Elsewhere, another of this year’s long-running storylines – featuring Mr Scott (Aran Bell) – was much more successful. GH had already shown teachers (Mr McGuffy, Mr Knowles) receiving a hard time from the pupils, but their travails tended not to last more than a few episodes. Mr Scott’s problems are different as Imelda has marked him out for maximum vengeance, so he has to endure a slow torture across multiple episodes.

But even after she’s expelled, his problems continue. Fast forward to episode seventeen and he’s struggling with his class over the register (“the register is a legal document and must be taken twice daily”).  Trevor – growing more truculent and annoying as each year passes – steps up to be his latest tormentor.

By the end of the series, an uneasy peace has broken out between Mr Scott and N3. It’s a pity that he didn’t return for series eleven though – as it means we’re denied the pay-off (could he have actually transformed himself into a respected teacher?) to the question that the series spent the best part of a year developing.

Banksie had been one of the characters to suffer most during series nine. The rivalry he enjoyed with Zammo had been a key part of series eight, but come the next year Banksie virtually turned invisible.

He’s given much more to do this year, via a storyline that chips away at his hardman image. Banksie is given a work experience placement at Hazelrigg School, a place that caters for children with disabilities. As expected, he initially reacts with disdain (muttering that “clearing up after a bunch of weird kids” will be embarrassing) but over time he comes to appreciate both the place and the people, especially after forming a friendship with the wheelchair-bound Lucy (Leah Finch).

The moral of the story – disabled children are still human beings – isn’t maybe delivered with a great deal of subtlety, but it still works, especially when others – such as Banksie’s girlfriend, Laura – are shown to be less tolerant. Making her react in this way was a good touch, especially since Laura had previously been positioned as a positive and welcoming person.

Another key series ten storyline sees a large part of the school revolting (as it were). Clashes between the pupils and the autocratic Mrs McClusky have played out several times over the past decade (although this is the last large-scale demonstration of pupil power mounted by the series). It possibly won’t surprise you to learn that Mrs McClusky – calmness personified – wins the day. Although Gwyneth Powell would remain with the series for a few more years, she’d rarely take centre stage like this again.

For some reason Eureka weren’t able to supply me with a complete set of review discs, but what I have seen – a disc apiece from both series nine and ten – looks fine to me. Some previous GH releases suffered from ‘filmising’ (most notably on the original BBC releases of the first four series) but there’s no issues on the episodes I’ve been able to sample.

Grange Hill – Series Nine and Ten might be a bit of a mixed bag, but the two series are still strong enough to come warmly recommended.

Grange Hill – Series Nine and Ten is released by Eureka Entertainment on the 19th of October 2020. It contains 49 episodes (2 series x 24 episodes plus the 1985 Christmas Special) across eight discs and has an RRP of £34.99.

The Main Chance – With All My Worldly Goods (23rd July 1969)

The final episode of the first series, With All My Worldly Goods has an abrupt opening – an irate Main insistent that he won’t defend George Mynter (Brian Oulton) on a charge of murder. This turns out to be the secondary plot of the episode, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

Both Henry and Margaret Castleton view Mynter with a bizarre indulgence – he may have viciously bludgeoned his wife to death, but since he’s a pillar of the community and apparently was provoked (returning home to find his wife in bed with another man) they’re prepared to give him a free pass. This is a little difficult to swallow ….

In Outlon’s handful of scenes he manages to exude an air of Crippin-like menace. There’s no closure to the case, but it seems more than likely that Mynter is insane (possibly he fabricated the story of another man in the house). This leaves Main and Margaret (who’s acting for him) with a serious dilemma – given Mynter’s glowing record of public service it’s possible he might only have to serve a token sentence, but  do they have the right to get him off so lightly?

The main plot of today’s episode initially seems a little unpromising. I find it difficult to be too concerned about the business travails of the wealthy Tim Cowley (Richard Wyler), partly because Wyler offers a somewhat wooden performance. The fact that he and his wife, The Hon. Fiona Cowley (Elizabeth Shepherd), then engage in a rapid and bitter divorce is more interesting, but the real bombshell is yet to come.

In open court it’s revealed that Cowley has been having an affair with Julia (Kate O’Mara), David Main’s estranged wife ….

It’s strange that Julia didn’t feature more during the first series (this one certainly gives her the most to do). What’s also odd is that by the end of the episode it seems plain that she still wants to be involved with him (even if they can’t live together). But With All My Worldly Goods would prove to be O’Mara’s swansong – possibly she felt that the character was unlikely ever to add up to much or maybe this decision was taken by the production team.

With Neil Wilson and Hamilton Dyce both appearing, this is almost like a dry run of Spearhead from Space (well, sort of, there’s no meteorites or shop-window dummies).  It’s also good to see David Lodge again (playing Det. Sup. Guthrie).  Guthrie’s sometimes strained relationship with his old pal Sidney Bulmer (the always immaculate John Arnatt) is something that could have been developed a little more.

If the episode is a bit of a slow burn to begin with, then the final twenty minutes or so (Main goes off the rails, gets drunk several times, beds a lovely young lady and defends himself against a charge of professional misconduct) is definite recompense.

Revisiting series one has been rewarding, so now it’s onwards to series two and colour ….

Currently Watching (6/10/20) – Special Branch and The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder

Special Branch – A New Face (22nd October 1969)

Today’s episode sees Tom Chadbon and Nicola Pagett play a couple of student revolutionaries. Sean (Chadbon) is the type to crack heads, smash windows and apologise (or not) later whilst Margot (Pagett) is a more peace-loving type, but equally keen that the voice of youth should be heard on the streets.

To begin with, it looks like the episode will revolve around Special Branch’s attempts to keep them under control, but the plot soon changes direction after it’s revealed that a new recruit to the cause, Peter Harris (Andrew Bradford), is the son of a senior Special Branch detective ….

As usual, Det. Supt. Eden (Wensley Pithey) stomps about the office in a thoroughly bad mood whilst Det. Chief Insp. Jordan (Derren Nesbitt) entertains himself by giving the hapless Det. Con. Morrissey (Keith Washington) a hard time. And Morrisey is being particularly hapless today, faffing around with a typewriter much to Jordan’s disdain.

Today Morrisey seems to be mainly used for comic relief, for example later on he gets into a discussion with Eden about pipes and tobacco (ending when Eden pinches some of Morrisey’s tobacco!)

Elsewhere, Morris Perry is his usual polite and deadly self as Charles Moxon, the liaison between Special Branch and the security forces, whilst the likes of John Levene and Frances Tomelty can be seen lurking in the background.

Was Harris genuinely interested in student power or was he simply along for the ride (and a relationship with Margot?). His true motivations aren’t made clear, although by the end of the episode he’s become estranged not only from his parents (decent types, keen to maintain the status quo) but also from his new revolutionary pals (who are convinced that he’s a police informer).

The actions of the Special Branch (raiding Margot’s home and forcing her and her friends to submit to humiliating personal searches) convinces both Margot and Sean that the innocent Harris has sold them out. Since Morrisey and Det. Sgt. Helen Webb (Jennifer Wilson) don’t seem to find anything, was the whole exercise designed simply to create this impression?

If so, it worked – although the unfortunate side-effect is that the students, already convinced that all police are fascist pigs, now have their prejudices confirmed ….

The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder – The Green Mamba (7th May 1969)

Mr Reeder crosses swords with crime kingpin Mo Liski (Joe Melia) ….

Complete with a flower in his buttonhole and a spiv moustache, Liski attempts to radiate menace, but you know (even though we’re just three episodes in) that the mild-mannered Mr Reeder will be more than a match for him.

Melia, as you might expect, gives an entertaining performance as does Hugh Burden (their sparring relationship is the episode’s highlight). A number of familiar faces pass through – including Harry Towb, Hildegard Neil and Pauline Delaney. Towb has a cough and a spit role as Sullivan, a low friend of Liski, whilst Hildegard Neil has the slightly more substantial part of Marylou Plessy. Neil is delightfully vampy as the wife of a forger sent to prison by Reeder. She vows vengeance, but ends up in the clink herself, once again thanks to Reeder.

Pauline Delaney sports an outrageous French accent as Madame Lemaire, although there’s a reason for this (she’s only a faux Frenchwoman). She attempts – on Liski’s instructions – to lure Reeder into an illegal drinking and gambling den, but Reeder (of course) remains several steps ahead. I do like the fact that the gambling club only seems to play one record  (the theme to The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder).

All the threads of the convoluted plot tie themselves together in the end, with the result that the unfortunate Liski will be out of action for a considerable amount of time, thanks to the mamba-like Mr Reeder.

One rather odd thing about the episode is that several times a newspaper story (concerning a jewel robbery) is prominently displayed on screen long enough to make it clear that all the words, apart from the headline, are gibberish. Hard to believe it was a genuine mistake, so presumably it was some sort of obscure in-joke.

Currently watching (5/10/20) – Secret Army and The Caesars

Recently I’ve attempted to put a little more order into my archive television viewing by selecting ten programmes and watching an episode from them once a week, between Monday and Friday.

Currently they are –

Monday – Secret Army S2 and The Caesars

Tuesday – Special Branch S1 and The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder

Wednesday – The Main Chance S1 and Undermind

Thursday – Upstairs Downstairs S1 and The Brothers S1

Friday – Public Eye S4 and The Biederbecke Affair

Every so often I’ll record a few brief impressions of the episodes I’ve recently watched, and possibly in the future I might want to revisit one or more of these series and examine them in more depth. So to begin ….

Secret Army – Not According To Plan (25th October 1978)

We’re five episodes into the second series, which means that  the reformatting of the series (moving Lifeline’s base of operations from a dingy café to a rather plush restaurant where Albert can conveniently overhear Nazi bigwigs chatting about important matters) is now complete.

It’s rather jarring that Natalie seems to have obtained a boyfriend, Francois (Nigel Williams), out of thin air. Surely this could have been worked into the continuing plotline a little less clumsily?

Performances are key to this episode. Jonathan Newth (one of those actors who turns up in virtually every drama series of this era) is typically solid as Jean Barsacq, a blind aristocrat who is also a member of the escape line. This might seem a little unlikely, but – as highlighted by a scene with Kessler – it’s also convenient, as he’s obviously unable to identify a suspect for the Sturmbannführer.

Valentine Dyall receives a rare character scene (Dr Keldermans is usually called upon to do nothing more than advance the plot) whilst Michael Byrne gives all he’s got (and then just a little bit more) as the hot under the collar Communist Paul Vercors.

I’ve never quite been convinced by the way that Vercors so readily decides to betray Lifeline. In exchange, Kessler agrees not to execute twenty Communist prisoners, held after a train – coincidentally carrying Natalie and Francois – is blown up.  Since the Communists are supposed to have been carrying out a lengthy reign of terror, why hasn’t Vercors crumbled under this sort of threat before?

Emma Williams catches the eye as the doomed Danielle, sacrificed – in part – to save Kessler’s reputation. It’s fascinating to see Kessler squirming under the intimidating gaze of Oberst Bruch (Leon Eagles). Bruch expresses amazement that Kessler hasn’t been able to smash Lifeline, and suggests he moves to a new position (on the Eastern front maybe).

Capturing Barsacq and shooting Danielle therefore allows Kessler to claim that he’s smashed a key part of the escape route, even if we – and Brandt – know that he’s lying. By this point in the series, Clifford Rose has really become SA‘s main performer – certainly Kessler looks to be the character with the most potential for future development.

The Caesars – Tiberius (6th October 1968)

Whilst The Caesars will always have to live in the imposing shadow of I, Claudius (1976), Philip Mackie’s six-part serial has many strengths of its own. Chief amongst these is André Morell’s wonderfully weary performance as Tiberius. It’s a world away, both in terms of writing and performance, from George Baker’s later turn.  This Tiberius is no deviant – instead he’s an icy-cold administrator, thrust unwillingly into the role of emperor.

Today’s episode (the third) chronicles the downfall of Germanicus (Eric Flynn). It plays out pretty closely to the later I, Claudius episode, with John Phillips offering a similar performance (as Piso) to that of Stratford Johns.

One notable aspect of this serial is how downplayed Livia has been – to date, she’s only had a handful of scenes although today Sonia Dresdel is allowed to bare her teeth (previously, you might be forgiven for thinking that Livia was little more than a nice old lady).

There’s plenty of strength in depth amongst the rest of the cast – Freddie Jones, as Claudius, might not be the central character but he still has a few notable moments. Caroline Blakiston glowers wonderfully as Agripinna, the widow of the unfortunate Germanicus whilst John Woodvine steps up to deliver a few lines in his trademark imposing fashion.

Coronation Street (26th May 1976)

Written by Leslie Duxbury

Sunday morning. The church bells are ringing and an ebullient Fred, waiting at the door of the Rovers, greets Betty and Bet. Mrs Walker is away and Fred appears to have decided to take charge (which is slightly odd as Betty, given her length of service, is senior to him). His latest wheeze is lunchtime sandwiches. He’s convinced they’ll go a bomb with the punters but Betty and Bet aren’t so sure (especially since they’ve been lumbered with making them – well that sort of thing is women’s work after all).

There then follows another tense Ken/Wendy scene. Unlike most of the residents of Coronation Street, who like to indulge in plain speaking, Ken and Wendy spend their time skirting around the issues. This means it pays to be aware of what hasn’t been said (in this case, Wendy has yet to mention that she knows about Ken’s committee fracas, although she still manages to drop discomforting little hints).

Bet is convinced that Fred Gee Gee is empire building – so whilst Mrs Walker is away, his plan for world (or at least Rovers Return) domination begins with a selection of sandwiches. Quite why both Betty and Bet allow him to take charge is a slight mystery, especially since Bet’s never reluctant to slap down anyone who takes liberties. One (rather cruel) possibility is that they know the sandwiches won’t sell and so they’ve given him enough rope to hang himself ….

Gail, Tricia and Elsie are musing over the important topics of life (sex, for example) at the breakfast table. When Elsie moves back to her own house, Gail follows her as a lodger whilst Tricia departs for pastures new. There’s some good Elsie/Gail scenes to come in the months ahead (especially when Gail begins a disastrous affair, much to Elsie’s dismay) but we’ll have to wait until early 1977, and the arrival of Suzie, before they become a triumvirate again. This is when the comic potential in their characters gets ramped up.

Poor, poor Emily. Her faux paus in the previous episode (telling Wendy that Ken was in trouble with the committee) is compounded today when she confides to Ken that she’s glad he isn’t angry with her for spilling the beans. Of course Ken, like Wendy, is totally in the dark (she hasn’t come clean either). The fury of Barlow is a terrible thing to see.

But at least Emily, in her well-meaning way, has finally got the pair to confront their problems. Left to their own devices, who knows how long it would have taken. Ken remains confident that they have a future (or at least that’s what he tells her). But I’m not so sure about Wendy.

Every time we cross back to the Rovers, the camera lingers on the pile of unsold sandwiches. They’re not exactly going like hot cakes (or indeed hot sandwiches). Mavis does buy one, but there are few other takers (Ena is especially disdainful). At closing time, Betty wonders what they’re going to do with them all – most will have to thrown out, but Bet, Betty and crafty old Ena aren’t averse to sampling a few for free.

Wendy’s friend, Diana, turns up unexpectedly. She’s brought a pile of mail, including Wendy’s car insurance (which has been paid by her estranged husband, Roger).  Wendy’s touched by this, which is a sure sign that the flame between them still burns.

The final scene reinforces the gulf between Wendy and Ken. Whilst she remains inside, he’s out in the street with the others, who are all pitching in to get things ready for the party.  This is simply another reminder of Wendy’s uneasy status as an outsider.

Coronation Street (24th May 1976)

Written by Paula Milne

The episode opens in a somewhat bleak fashion – Tricia, a devotee of phone in programmes, remembers one caller who lived alone and when she went to bed each night started to believe that she didn’t exist (as there was no-one there to enquire after her). This sort of melancholy fits her recent character, but no fear, Mavis pops into the shop to cheer her and Gail up. Well sort of ….

Mavis mentions there will be a Bank Holiday street party organised by Ken, in aid of the deprived. She’s selling raffle tickets and lists some of the attractions. Such as jugglers (or as she’s forced to admit, maybe one juggler!). It doesn’t seem quite the girls’ thing, but maybe it’ll cheer them up a little.

1970’s problems – Ken, typing a letter, has put the carbon paper in the wrong way, thereby ensuring that he won’t have a copy of this precious document. Ken then has a heart to heart with Wendy over the washing up (she’s doing the work, naturally).  Wendy seems to have clicked into the role of the devoted housewife very easily, but – as touched upon before – there’s something mechanical about her actions, as if she’s simply playing this role on a temporary basis.

Ken continues to be blithely confident that any little problems they have – such as Uncle Albert’s cold-shouldering them – will be overcome in time, but as we’ll see, the forces of opposition are beginning to be ranged against them.

I don’t recall Elsie playing darts too often before, but there she is – throwing the arrows in the Rovers like a good ‘un. There is a pretext though, as she’s attempting to get chummy with Terry in order to find out what Renee’s plans for that shop are. She’s wasting her time – he knows nothing (and is far more interested in his prowess at the dart board).

But it’s not long before we learn what’s happening. Renee plans to buy the shop and flat, but requires vacant possession (which means that Tricia, Gail and Elsie will all be homeless).  It’ll be a little while before Gail and Tricia learn the news, as Renee isn’t keen to tell them, insisting that it’s Betty’s job to do so. And because kind-hearted Betty can’t bring herself to do it, the agony of their situation will be prolonged for an episode or two.

What will Elsie do? Her first thought is to move in with Len, but he’s not interested. “Old habits die hard” he tells her, leaving her to mildly enquire if that’s all she is, nothing  but an old habit. He’s partly motivated by image (as a councilor he couldn’t afford the scandal of living with a married woman) but there’s also a feeling that he doesn’t want to risk rekindling their old relationship.

It would have been interesting (and I’m sure audience pleasing) to get these two back together, but possibly even this early on there was some thought given to coupling Len and Rita on a permanent basis.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that another public figure of sorts, Ken, has already fallen into the trap (living with a married woman) which Len is so keen to avoid. The stakes for Ken are raised higher in this episode’s key scene – a stormy committee meeting in which both Alderman Chapman (Frank Crompton) and Mrs Rankin (Julia Long) tell Ken that it isn’t acceptable for a man in his position to be living in sin.

It’s a cracking little scene, given a little extra spice by the fact that two of his friends and fellow committee members – Alf, Ernie – remain silent throughout Ken’s angry response. No surprises to see that Ken reacts in his usual way – an obstinate refusal to even consider anybody else’s point of view.

Key scene number two occurs after the commercial break, when a still seething Ken confronts the hapless Ernie. Ken’s annoyed that Ernie didn’t tip him off and then goes on to label him a hypocrite – Ernie admits that he’s keen that Ken should set a good example (but seems to have forgotten about his own indecisions – and later flagrant fibbing – down at the Gatsby club).

The episode is capped by the well-meaning Emily’s doomed attempts to make things better. She runs into Wendy and tells her that Chapman doesn’t speak for the residents of Coronation Street. The only problem with this is that Ken hasn’t told her anything about the meeting. Oops ….

Coronation Street (19th May 1976)

Written by Leslie Duxbury

It’s all peace and love at the Kabin. “You haven’t done a stroke this morning, not a solitary stroke” wails Mavis, more than a little ticked off that Rita’s not pulling her weight. But then why should she, when the rather pliable Mavis will do everything for her?

Crumbs. Looks like Fred might have a chance with Rita after all. We never got to see it, but apparently they danced the night away at the Gatsby (which, as has been observed before, is clearly Weatherfield’s only nightspot). Fred, in high spirits, pops into the Kabin to tell Rita how much he enjoyed the evening. “Keep blooming” he tells her.

Tricia continues to mope. Mind you, she has good reason for a bit of a mope as Renee can’t keep her on at the shop as there simply isn’t enough work for two. There’s a sliver of good news though – she doesn’t have to move out of her room in the shop, although Elsie will have to vacate her flat (Renee has earmarked it for herself, which is quite reasonable).

We then drop in to see Ken and Wendy in their jim jams. “You’re quite good looking aren’t you?” says Wendy. Ken agrees (I can’t decide whether he’s being serious or if it’s just mock humility). He’s not perfect though (Wendy decides that his nose is rather big).

This inconsequential chatter simply serves to mask Wendy’s continuing concern that the pair of them are a foreign body in the bloodstream of Coronation Street. The scene is played out in a single take as an unchanging two-shot, which was an interesting choice. Possibly intentional, or possibly there was one eye on the studio clock and this was the quickest way to get it done.

Alf’s moaning about his job yet again. First he was planning to resign, now he decides not to. As touched upon previously, this isn’t really a storyline that goes anywhere, due to the fact we never see his place of work. But it fills up a few minutes of the episode.

Emily and Ernie have a difference of opinion. She favours a luxury Italian holiday, he’s set on going camping. Judging by her face it’s going to be a hard struggle for him to convince her. He does have a good reason though – it’s all they can afford. Indeed, as the year wears on we’ll see that money becomes increasingly tight at the Bishops.

Bet continues to amuse herself. Now that Fred’s had a minor success with Rita, Ms Lynch delights in telling Rita that he’ll now be very difficult to shake off. Rita’s unleased a monster ….

Elsie pops round to Number 11. Partly for a chat with Wendy since Ken’s out, partly to lay the ground to get her house back (although she denies this). Wendy asks Elsie if she thinks her relationship with Ken will work out. Elsie – who’s been round the block a fair few times – doesn’t have many words of comfort. “If you can’t make it work with one fella, then you usually can’t make it work with another”. Elsie’s parting shot – Ken, like her, is a loser – is especially harsh (although it’s not said unpleasantly, instead it’s more of a weary statement of fact).

Fred’s back in the Kabin, to Rita’s ever decreasing enthusiasm. He has a present for her – a single red rose.

We close at the Rovers. Ken maintains that he’s going to marry Wendy. He seems to have no doubts at all (although maybe he’s just not expressing them). Wendy is clearly not such a good dissembler as she continues to be rather anxious and uncertain. A little spice about their relationship is added when it’s revealed (by Alf to Bet and Elsie) that Ken risks losing his job due to the fact he’s living “over the brush” with a married woman. This sows the seeds for the confrontations that will follow in the next few episodes.

Coronation Street (17th May 1976)

Written by H.V. Kershaw

We open in the corner shop where Renee and Elsie are discussing Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature, much to the general bafflement of Tricia (this is a quick way of establishing that Renee and Tricia live in very different worlds and so are unlikely ever to become bosom friends).

Ding! goes the door. And there stands the imposing, unsmiling Ena Sharples. First she raises an eyebrow at the tardy Elsie (who should already have been at work) before making her way over to Renee.  It’s hard not to be reminded of that iconic scene in the first episode, which saw Ena ruthlessly interrogate the then new shop owner, Florrie Lindley.  This scene doesn’t have the same impact, but as with Florrie you get the sense that Ena is putting Renee under strict probation.

Like the previous episode, this is another scene where Tricia is placed in the centre of the frame, unspeaking, whilst the others (in this case Ena and Renee) do all the running. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it reinforces the notion that Tricia seems to be rather powerless and remains dependent on the actions of others.

Tongues continue to wag, re the fact that Ken is living in sin with a married woman. Mrs Walker – never backwards in coming forwards – makes her royal proclamation. She’s quite fair though – telling Ken that whilst she doesn’t approve, she also sees that matters are difficult (in the period when Wendy is waiting for her divorce). Ken wisely doesn’t stop to debate the ins and outs.

Fred’s in the Kabin, looking rather smart. Why’s that? Well, he’s once again trying his luck with Rita. She casually turns down his invitation to go to the cinema (seemingly more interested in her fingernails than him, which should have been a danger sign). He won’t give up though, and bravely hopes that she’ll join him in the Rovers later for a drink. Poor Fred, he seems fated to always be unlucky in love. Or indeed, so unlucky that he never even gets a sniff at the chance of love ….

Emily is the latest to learn about Ken and Wendy. “That’s nice” she says, partly embarrassed and maybe slightly shocked. Although once the news sinks in, Emily’s not one of those – like Albert and Ena – who disapproves. Wendy, tiring of this piecemeal reveal, tells Ken that they might as well go to the Rovers and get it over with.

An extra with a bushy moustache is the first in the Rovers to react. He’s slap bang in the centre of the frame, behind Ken and Wendy, so you can’t help but look at him for a brief moment. Things go off pretty well – Ernie and Elsie are welcoming, although Mavis does confide to Alf that the lovers are being rather bold. Man of the world Alf counters that it’s the only way to be (“it’s like being a lion tamer, never let them know you’re frightened around here, they’ll tear you to pieces”).

Ena’s not happy with the arrangement, but for now she doesn’t confront Ken – instead she simply makes her displeasure plain to Mrs Walker.

Back home, Wendy’s knocking up a nice salad for Ken. It’s certainly different fare from the egg and chips that Stan no doubt would be eating – another obvious signifier that Wendy’s a fish out of water.

Fred’s dressed up once again, which impresses Bet (or so she says). Fred – ever the innocent – asks her about Rita’s current relationship status and Bet advises him to go for it (“fill yer boots”). You’d have thought that Fred would have known Bet long enough to be aware that she has a very malicious streak. Bet is well aware that Fred doesn’t stand a chance, but no doubt will enjoy watching him fail miserably ….

Coronation Street (12th May 1976)

Written by John Stevenson

Whenever Gail and Tricia are teamed up they’re rather shrill. Having already sampled the more agreeable Suzie/Gail partnership from 1977, I have to admit they work much better (possibly because Suzie was cast in the dominant comic role whilst Gail was content to play her slightly dimwitted sidekick). Whereas Gail and Tricia are just too similar, meaning that they tend to cancel each other out.

They do have some comic appeal though – witness the early scene in the shop where both conspire by vague indifference to frustrate Len’s attempt to buy a packet of razorblades.  This scene serves as a reminder that the shop is rather going to the dogs (and is ripe for someone like Renee to take it over) but it’s fair to note that frustrated customers, kept waiting due to inconsequential gossip, is something that regularly happens in the corner shop. If a joke works then you may as well keep on repeating it.

At least the pair are no longer working together, as Gail still has her plum job at Sylvia’s Separates. But she’s fretting at the moment – as Elsie has handed in her notice. Mind you, with a spot of Machiavellian cunning on her part (telling both Mrs Matthews and Elsie some of the truth in order to get them back together and reconciled) Elsie’s soon back in harness. Hurrah!

Although whether this was because Gail missed her, felt guilty about her departure or simply didn’t fancy running things on her own is open to debate ….

Fred’s continuing to sniff around Rita. His fruitless attempts to arrange a date are played for laughs although Rita’s inability to warn him off can be taken either as kind-heartedness (not wanting to hurt his feelings) or playful spite (she enjoys stringing him along). Given the way Rita can be rather horrible to Mavis I wouldn’t say the latter possibility would be totally out of character for her.

Back to the corner shop, I like the shot of Renee and Betty facing each other (debating the possibility of Renee buying the shop) whilst an out of focus Tricia is centered in the middle of the frame. Renee’s decision will impact Tricia in more ways than one, but she’s totally powerless to intervene or affect the course of events – her position here as a passive and blurred observer makes that plain.

In this era of the programme it’s remarkable how quickly the plots move. Renee arrived for the first time last episode and today she’s setting off to the bank to obtain a loan in order to buy the shop. Speedy! Maybe this has something to do with the fact there were only two episodes a week – spread out the stories over too long a period and you run the risk of the audience losing track of their ins and outs.

This episode has two setpiece confrontations – the first is between Elsie and Hilda, two characters who have a great deal is history. Elsie’s still fuming about the way Hilda bad-mouthed her and is looking for satisfaction (at this point in the story she’s yet to get her job back). For maximum entertainment value they have their row in the Rovers, much to Mrs Walker’s distress.

Annie Walker: I’m well aware dear, Mrs Ogden would try the patience of Job himself, but I would have expected Mrs Howard to show a little more restraint. A woman of breeding does not bend to insults. She can make her point quite effectively without ever raising her voice. My Jack knew that.

Betty Turpin: I bet he did!

Wendy’s moving into Ken’s with some more of her things. The eagle-eyed Hilda spots this and judging by the faint smirk on her face you just know that it won’t be long before the news is disseminated far and wide.

Confrontation scene two closes the episode and occurs between Ken and Albert.  Albert’s not happy to hear the news that Ken’s cohabiting with a married woman, although Ken did hope that he’d at least be slightly flexible. But Uncle Albert’s never been known for his flexibility and – rather like a pocket sized avenging angel dressed in a flat cap – tells Ken that “as long as you stick wi’yer, you’ll not be seeing me. I’ve finished wi’yer”.

Cue closing credits ….

Coronation Street (10th May 1976)

Written by Leslie Duxbury

Uncle Albert’s not happy with Ken – carrying on with a married woman is beyond the pale as far as he’s concerned. And as we’ll see, he’s not alone in thinking that ….

As the Ken Barlow/Wendy Nightingale storyline begins to pick up steam again it’ll be interesting to note the reactions of the Coronation Street residents. Such a situation would hardly register a comment today, but the fact that it was hot news in 1976 suggests that times were very different back then.  But whilst Coronation Street might have reflected current trends and attitudes, there’s a danger in treating the programme as an accurate social document of the times.

Renee Bradshaw (Madge Hindle) debuts. Making a few purchases at the corner shop, she finds it impossible not to quiz the apathetic Tricia about her stock-keeping and shelf-stacking policies. Tricia’s not terribly helpful (“I’m just the dog what they keep to bark”) but it’s plain that Renee’s already got her eye on the shop.

Brought into the series by Bill Podmore, Hindle would enjoy a decent run on the programme before her character was killed off in 1980. Distinct Nostalgia have released a number of podcast interviews with Coronation Street luminaries, all are worth your time, especially the one with Madge Hindle.

Renee is a character that instantly clicks. Her relationship with younger brother Terry is especially entertaining – she’s incredibly bossy (but not in an unfriendly way) whereas he’s content to simply drift along, taking life as it comes.

It’s been a few weeks since Wendy breezed out of Ken’s life. He clearly can’t take it anymore, so rings her up. But first, he has to get past her self-appointed gate-keeper, namely one Diana Kenton (Gwyneth Powell). Yes, Mrs McClusky herself makes the first of three appearances as Diana during May 1976. Trivia fans may like to know that Powell also appeared in the untransmitted Corrie spin-off Rest Assured in 1972. Given that it still exists, it would be nice to see it surface – if only to see whether the concept of a Ray Langton/Jerry Booth sitcom actually had legs.

Back to Ken and Wendy, he manages to arrange a meeting with her (at Diana’s house, where she’s currently living) but the atmosphere between Ken and Diana remains distinctly frosty (she offers him lunch and promises not to doctor it with cyanide!). Their three-way conversation helps to tease out the dynamic of the Ken/Wendy relationship a little more – Ken is convinced (or has he convinced himself?) that Wendy’s marriage was over. Wendy agrees with this, but does so in such a way that we’re left in some doubt about whether she actually means it.

So it’s plain that any continuation of their affair will be on rocky ground right from the start. But she elects to try and moves into Number 11 with him. The last shot of the episode – a pensive Wendy left alone in the house – is another pointer that this isn’t a relationship built to last.

Coronation Street (5th May 1976)

Written by Julian Roach

The episode opens with a typical picture of domestic contentment chez Ogden. Hilda’s ironing her unwanted smock whilst Stan’s pushing a poker down his shoe (don’t ask).  Stan – engrossed in his work – asks Hilda to give him a rest. Uh, oh, he shouldn’t have said that.

“Give you a? Give you a rest? Look, it were hardly coming up to twelve when you come in for yer dinner and now it’s nearly gone three. Mind you, I do understand your difficulty. I mean what with your dinner breaks and your cups of tea and your flitting in and out of the Rovers and putting your bets on and filling your bucket everywhere, you’re hard pushed to fit in a rest aren’t yer?”

This monologue does serve a plot purpose as well as simply providing the viewer with some entertainment. Hilda – distracted by having to harangue Stan for the umpteenth time – doesn’t notice that the iron’s been left on the smock (burning something of a hole in it). How will she be able to return it now and convince an unfriendly Elsie that it’s never been worn?

She tries her best, but Elsie’s having none of it. Indeed, she relishes humiliating Hilda, who goes away chuntering as always. Once again, I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Hilda – if it hadn’t been for Gail’s distracted recommendation then Hilda probably wouldn’t have bought the top in the first place.

Hilda returns later, but Mrs Matthews is also steadfast in refusing a refund. So Hilda does what Hilda does best – when cornered she comes out fighting (and in an especially vindictive manner). She tells Mrs Matthews that one of her employees was had up for shoplifting. Long term viewers will know that she’s referring to Elsie (and also that Hilda can never resist sticking the knife into Ms Howard) but Mrs Matthews is less clued up on Coronation Street history – and so looks askance at the innocent Gail ….

This not only upsets Gail, but also infuriates Elsie, who’s more than a little annoyed that this piece of ancient history is dragged up again (even though she was cleared of any wrongdoing). Mind you, if she hadn’t been so uppity with Hilda then none of this would have happened, so the blame has to be shared a little.

Terry’s sister – Renee – is mentioned. Although we don’t see her today, she sounds like a formidable dragon (Terry tells Ray that she’d eat him on a cream cracker!). Cripes, I wonder what she’s like?

It’s the semi-final of the Superbrain competition. Bet – although she’s come dressed to impress – fails to reach the final.  There’s some consolation for her though, as the quizmaster, Philip Lightfoot (the very recognisable Geoffrey Bateman) offers to take her out ….

Coronation Street (3rd May 1976)

Written by Adele Rose

Hilda’s first words in this episode (“jam or dripping?”) are suitably mundane, but Stan – for once – is in a philosophical mood. He tells Hilda that he had a dream in the night – he was a bird, who flapped his wings and flew up into the trees. “A big fat owl?” asks an unsympathetic Hilda. And so another day at Number 13 begins ….

The reason for Hilda’s extreme ire soon becomes clear. Had Stan won the Superbrain contest then he would have walked away with the star prize (a weekend for two in one of Newton & Ridley’s pubs on the Isle of Man). That Hilda is upset to have lost the chance of a fairly mundane prize speaks absolute volumes about her – how she sets her sights so low when considering what constitutes a dream holiday.

Although this opening scene zings with the usual sort of humour that characterised the relationship between Stan and Hilda, on another level there’s something very sad about the way Hilda’s dreams are constantly shattered.  Indeed, the events of today’s episode are a good case in point.

Terry Bradshsaw (Bob Mason) reappears for the first time since February. From now until the end of December he’ll be a regular character, never driving any storylines himself but always a dependable chap in a crisis.  Mason would have a second life with the series (he penned 36 episodes during the eighties). A number of actors had also turned writer over the years, but Mason was the only one who played a regular character to do so.

Alf’s still moaning about his job (he’s doing this an awful lot at the moment).

There’s a sale on at Sylvia’s Separates, which brings in the punters from far and wide. Hilda is one of them and she purchases a top that nobody has the heart to tell her is totally unsuitable for her. At least, not until Tricia pipes up that she looks like mutton dressed as lamb …

It’s a cruel blow which wisely isn’t played for laughs. Hilda is often the instigator of comic storylines but there are also times – as here – when she’s held up to ridicule. Sometimes (when she’s been acid tonged and inquisitive) her humiliation might be justified, but that’s not the case today. But either way, Jean Alexander always knew how to tug at the heartstrings.

It’s a shame that neither Gail or Elsie tried to dissuade Hilda from making the purchase (Gail must shoulder a modicum of blame – after all, she did say that she looked fine, even though Gail wasn’t even looking at her). As for Stan, he was diplomacy personified, making positive noises to Hilda’s face whilst later telling the Rovers regulars that the top made her look like Widow Twankey!

Hilda’s soon back in fighting mood though – returning to Sylvia’s and demanding a full refund (or “full retribution” as she calls it). Gail isn’t budging, so Hilda plans to return when Elsie is present …

Coronation Street (28th April 1976)

Written by Barry Hill

Hilda’s getting no satisfaction at the corner shop. Gail might be behind the counter but since she no longer works there, the girl is disinclined to ruin her nail polish by serving Hilda with half a pound of bacon. “That were why I give all this up. Fat under fingernails. Reeking of strong chedder every time you go out.”

Mrs Ogden’s day gets no better after Elsie makes an appearance. Although the Elsie/Ena relationship has now settled down into a convivial mutual appreciation, there’s no such thawing of the Elsie/Hilda relationship (which remains arctic).

Before Mrs Howard enters, Hilda opines that if Elsie’s “doing her face, then she’s not a sixteen year old any longer is she? A touch of this and a flick of that might have worked wonders at one time but sandblasting does take a bit longer”. Ouch! Elsie’s rejoinder – that some like to make the most of what they’ve got whilst others gave up the ghost a long time ago – is equally cutting.

Ena, continuing to act as an unofficial marriage councillor to the Bishops, now turns her attention to Ernie. He’s dismayed at the prospect of having to explain to the Mission circuit superintendent why he was cavorting with strippers at the Gatsby Club. Ena’s advice is straightforward – all he has to do is pretend he was there to investigate immorality. After all, you can’t fight the evils of the flesh without knowing about them, can you?

This is a surprising move from Mrs Sharples as she’s never been backward in coming forward to denounce anyone whose moral character is a little suspect. Maybe it’s a sign of increasing age and increasing wisdom though – the seventies Ena does tend to be a more genial character and one who’s more tolerant of people’s flaws.

The slowly spreading grin on Ernie’s face shows that he’s keen on the idea. He has no compunction about lying to save his skin (whilst he might believe in God, presumably he’s decided that His vengeance will be mild for such a piddling transgression). Emily, as you might expect, is appalled at this state of affairs. She shows her disapproval by hoovering in a very loud way. Good old Emily.

David Williams has a nice comic turn as a customer at Sylvia’s (he’s come to buy a nightie). Given his eagerness it doesn’t look like it’s a present for his wife. This was one of Williams’ nine roles (between 1973 and 2013).

Frank Mills would later return to the Street during 1995 to 1997 as Billy Williams. Today he’s a one shot character – Ivor Mortlake – the Mission bigwig who Ernie has to lie to. His scenes are wonderfully entertaining – whilst Ernie warms to his task of painting himself as an upright moral crusader (like Lord Longford), Emily stands in the background with a face like thunder.

Ivor seems convinced by Ernie’s story and ends up by wistfully wondering exactly what iniquities go on at these terrible places! That’s a nice little character touch, which allows us to see that some upright moral crusaders would be happy to stray off the path every so often, given half the chance.

Alf has a little something more to do today than just propping up the bar at the Rovers. He’s depressed about the prospect of looming redundancies at the Post Office (which is where he’s currently employed). Many episodes of the Street, like this one, now function as social history time capsules – allowing us a snapshot about how the economy was faring. As we’ll hear time and again during these years, its usually not good news.

Moving onto lighter matters, it’s decided that Stan won’t do the Rovers any favours if he’s their Superbrain representative, so they decide to nobble him. This involves plying him with drinks (it’s like all Stan’s Christmases have come at once!) and sending the beffudled chap off in a taxi to the wrong pub. Meanwhile, Bet heads to the right pub where the next round is being held, and she wins through to the semi finals.

Hilda is incensed to hear this, not least because she doesn’t have a very high regard for Bet’s intellectual capacities. “What does she know about anything? Except throwing herself at fellas”. Hilda gives poor Stan an earbashing, which continues as the credits roll ….

Coronation Street (26th April 1976)

Written by Kay McManus

A crumpled Ernie, forced to spend the night with Len at No 9, is still bemoaning his fate. Len – ever the straightforward sort of chap – suggests he buys Emily a box of chocolates and all will be well. Hmm, okay then.

Elsie has now settled into the corner shop flat. Tricia and Gail make up the current staff, although it’s a far from harmonious partnership. Friends they might be, but the claustrophobic nature of the shop means they tend to spend most of the day sniping at each other. If only there was another job available – such as assistant to Elsie at Sylvia’s Seperates. There is? Oh good.  But with two of them and only one new position to be filled, that’s a problem ….

Their standard of customer service at the corner shop is something to behold. Ena (never the most affable of customers it’s true) asks for a packet of tea – which Gail slams down on the counter (as she’s still arguing with Tricia).  Ena exits by singing the praises of her old sparring partner, Elsie, telling the girls that she’s got “more go in her little finger than the pair of you put together”. Young folk today, eh.

Stan’s next category for the Superbrain competition is the Western Desert (or Western Desserts, as Alf mistakenly believes!). This is where the wheels begin to fall off the Ogden bandwagon. Stan might be an expert on Manchester United, but – having already answered questions on that subject – can’t choose them again. And it becomes clear pretty quickly that this will be a problem.

Stan’s WW2 career as a Desert Rat is briefly mentioned, which suggests that this category should be right up his street. But despite the encouragement of the Rovers regulars, Fred’s rehearsal questions fail to gain many positive results, with Stan looking more and more woebegone every minute. I think we need a Plan B.

Ena Sharples turns up at Emily’s in the role of a marriage councellor. Well, given her capacity for sticking her nose into other people’s affairs, why not? “Go on lass, swallow your pride, make the first move”. Even though Ena has always been presented as a strong woman, unafraid of anybody whether they’re male or female, it’s interesting that she still has an unshakably old fashioned belief in the roles of men and women.

When Emily wonders why it’s always the woman who has to make the first move, Ena replies with a smile that “you’ll never change that, love”.

Poor Ernie just can’t get a break. Still exiled at Len’s, he reluctantly agrees to try on a sweater that Elsie’s brought around. Nothing too terrible there you might think, but Elsie – chuckling away – gives him a helping hand and this happens to be the point at which Emily walks in on them. Oh dear again.

Ernie later screws up enough courage to return home and he pours out his heart. “You’re such a perfectionist. I feel all the time I’m under some sort of test”.  There’s no easy resolution though – after he asks whether they can try again, Emily simply stands immobile by the ironing board.

Sidney Livingstone makes his first appearance as Roy Thornley, Sylvia Matthew’s “business associate”. He’ll return off and on until September, infuriating Elsie but forming a close bond with Gail (which only serves to annoy Elsie all the more). Livingstone might not have been the most obvious casting as a smooth talking lothario (I think it’s the moustache) but Thornley’s later fling with Gail does spice up the storyline for a while.

Having spoken to both girls, Elsie is keen to take on Tricia as she believes that Gail is too cocky by half. Personally, I’d say both of them register pretty high on the cocky scale. Oddly, Elsie elects to let them decide between themselves – so they toss a coin, Gail wins and presents herself to an ever-so-slightly unenthusiastic Elsie.