Back to May 1986 (20th May 1986)

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

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

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

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

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

Back to May 1986 (19th May 1986)

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

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

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

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

Back to May 1986 (18th May 1986)

Peak time BBC1 repeats of Hancock’s Half Hour (or, strictly speaking, Hancock) are almost impossible to credit now (or indeed, even just an off-peak BBC4 slot). Although some channels (Talking Pictures TV, say) are content to play monochrome material, there’s still a wide assumption that “the masses” just wouldn’t accept it.

But back in the eighties I don’t recall any particular revulsion against these HHH re-runs. Although that’s possibly because back then colour television was still a relative novelty. It might have been introduced in the UK during the late sixties and early seventies, but many would have stayed with black and white until later in the 1970’s (or possibly even into the 1980’s).

Anyway, tonight’s episode, The Radio Ham, is a must watch. I’ll have my tray of bread pudding and the results of the Daily Herald brass competition to hand ….

When rifling through these schedules it’s very noticeable how many repeats there were in primetime. Along with Tony Hancock, there’s another chance to see the second and final episode of Miss MarpleThe Moving Finger. This is a swifter re-run than the Lad’s effort though (originally broadcast in February 1985).

The Moving Finger might not be Christie’s most baffling mystery, but it’s always been a favourite of mine. Julia Jones’ adaptation treats the source material with respect – she makes changes along the way (Miss Marple, for example, only made a fleeting appearance in the original novel) but Christie’s voice remains clear. Some recent writers who have tackled the Dame’s work and twisted it almost out of recognition, should take note …

And with direction from Roy Boulting and an excellent cast (Michael Culver, Richard Pearson, Sabina Franklyn, Hilary Mason and John Arnatt) you can’t really go wrong.

Back to May 1986 (17th May 1986)

There’s not too much available that’s appealing to me on the BBC channels today (Sorry! is a possibility though, if I’m really desperate).

ITV’s a happier hunting ground – with Robin of Sherwood and C.A.T.S. Eyes. Robin of Sherwood has reached series three – which means that Jason Connery is now the hooded man (he’s not many people’s favourite RH – most seem to favour Michael Praed – but, given his inexperience, he gives the role a decent fist).

Today’s episode is Cromm Cruac (or, as the Video Gems VHS inexplicably called it, Cromwell’s Crusade). This means that Richard O’Brien returns as the cackling Gulnar, with Ian Redford, Larry Dann and Graham Weston also featuring.

C.A.T.S. Eyes is a very odd series. Taking a character (Maggie Forbes) from a straightforward police series (The Gentle Touch) and plonking her down in the middle of a glossy adventure show was such a strange move. Today’s episode, Freezeheat, was written by series creator Terence Feeley and features Daniel Peacock and Tony Doyle. I can’t confess to having a great deal of love for C.A.T.S. Eyes as it was just a little too bland for my tastes (ITV would continue for a while to churn out series with a similar formula – eventually ending up with the deeply unloved Saracen).

Undoubted highlight of the day is Mapp & Lucia on C4. The episode in question is Lady Bountiful, which sees Lucia drop a bombshell when she announces her engagement to Georgie. Au reservoir!

Back to May 1986 (16th May 1986)

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

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

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

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

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

Back to May 1977 (1st May 1977)

Rounding off my week in 1977 with a skim through Sunday’s schedules.

The Good Life is an obvious pick – tonight’s new episode is The Weaver’s Tale.

It never fails to give me a twinge of amusement when somebody comments on Twitter about how selfish Tom is – why has it taken them so many decades to work this out? Tonight’s episode is a perfect example of his working methods – Tom spends his and Barbara’s hard earned profit on a loom without consulting her. No surprises though that everything works out in the end.

London ITV has an afternoon repeat of The Protectors whilst the Midlands plumps for Space 1999. I think I’ll go for The Protectors (partly because Space 1999 has never really interested me and partly because The Protectors, although far from perfect, rarely outstayed its welcome at 25 minutes).

I’ll stick with ITV for a repeat of Edward VII and (from a variety of regional films) Two Way Stretch.

If I had access, then both Jubilee and She would be on my list. Maybe they’ll surface sometime in the future, fingers crossed …

Back to April 1979 (30th April 1977)

First up this evening will be Wodehouse Playhouse on BBC2. A repeat of an episode from the first series (Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court) originally broadcast in 1975, this is one of the stronger efforts (even though John Alderton’s wig is very distracting). I’ve always found Wodehouse Playhouse to be something of an uneven watch, but maybe it’s about time to give them all another try.

Then it’s over to BBC1 for Kojak. The Daily Mirror synopsis of Lady in the Squad Room (Kojak has to suffer a woman as a colleague) slightly chills the blood, but the episode isn’t quite as forbidding as this suggests.  It’s obvious what the plot will be (feisty female battles male resentment before proving that she’s just as good as the men, honest).  Even given this clichéd material, Joan Van Ark is very good as Det. Josephine Long (a pity she was just a one-shot character).

I’ll then round things off with Bob Williamson at the Wheeltappers. Williamson was a folk/comedy performer who had a similar style to the likes of Jasper Carrott, Mike Harding and Billy Connolly, and his turn makes for a pretty convivial half-hour. If you haven’t got it, then I can recommend the sixth and final series of the Wheeltappers on DVD.  Not only for its decent line-up of shows like this one, but also for the studio tape of an unaired edition (which might not offer too much in the way of entertainment, but is a fascinating spotlight on how shows like this were put together).

Back to April 1977 (29th April 1977)

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

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

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

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

Back to April 1977 (28th April 1977)

There’s pretty slim pickings on offer today. Thanks to the Talons DVD, I can watch how to make a model Dr Who theatre courtesy of Blue Peter. It looks rather complicated though, so I don’t think I’ll bother ….

Later also on BBC1 there’s Top of the Pops. The Punk wars might be raging on the streets of Britain but at this point the TOTP studio felt hermitically sealed off from that sort of thing – middle-of-the-road fare is what you can expect today.

Hosted by an uncomfortably grabby DLT, the show isn’t without interest though. There’s the likes of Contempt with a catchy ditty called Money is a Girl’s Best Friend. I also rather enjoyed the new 10cc video (Good Morning Judge) and goggled at the outfits worn by Rags (performing Promises Promises).

The undoubted highlight was Billy Ocean’s Red Light Spells Danger.  With a live vocal and enthusiastic backing from the Pops Orchestra and The Ladybirds, it’s a very entertaining performance (even if he’s stuck at the back of the studio behind two very bouncy dancers and forced to sing to an audience who seem less than enthused).

Anglia offers Paul Daniels At The Wheeltappers. Given that this final run wasn’t networked, it’s possibly not a surprise that the series rather spluttered to a halt and didn’t return after these 1977 shows aired. A pity, as I’m rather fond of the At The Wheeltappers format – a half hour show with just the one turn (provided, of course, that they were a good one) gave them plenty of time to present a decent showcase – something that the earlier series didn’t always manage to do.

Back to April 1977 (27th April 1977)

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

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

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

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

Back to April 1977 (26th April 1977)

First up today is Z Cars. Transit is an episode from the series’ penultimate run and like a fair number of the seventies episodes I’ve sampled, it’s reasonable enough fare (although far less compelling than the series’ early sixties heyday).

Having caught up with the Play for Today repeat yesterday, tonight it’s the sequel – The Country Party. Again written by Brian Clark and starring Peter Barkworth, this one isn’t as memorable as The Saturday Party, but there’s plenty of familiar faces in the cast (such as Tom Georgeson, Donald Pickering and Malcolm Terris). Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson share the screen together, possibly the first time they did so (they had earlier both appeared in several episodes of You Must Be Joking! but I’m not sure if they were on screen at the same time).

Following the recent announcement of Eric Chappell’s death, I’ve been dipping into his back catalogue during the last few days, so tonight’s series three episode of Rising Damp is just the ticket. Rigsby takes Miss Jones for a spin in his new sports car (with the inevitable hilarious consequences).  Tonight’s episode features a nice guest turn from the always reliable Derek Francis.

Back to April 1977 (25th April 1977)

I’ve fired up the Randomiser, which has taken me back to 1977 to spend a week riffling through the television schedules. Hope there’s some good programmes to watch ….

There’s something pleasing about Monty Python and Q6 sitting next to each other on BBC2 (especially since the Pythons were always quick to acknowledge the debt they owed to Spike). Today’s edition of Python hails from the first series (Man’s Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century) which is fine by me, as it’s probably the run of episodes I return to the most.

Given the lengthy gap between Q5 and Q6, Milligan was on top form throughout most of Q6 (later series tended to crop up more regularly and were much more bitty).

I’ve just started rewatching Don’t Forget to Write! so that’s going on the list. This programme always has a slightly odd feel for me – it could easily have fitted into a 30 minute sitcom slot, but instead was a 50 minute non-audience drama/comedy. George Cole, Gwen Watford with Francis Matthews head the cast.

The BBC schedules are stuffed with repeats today. Apart from Python and Q6 on BBC2 there’s also Poldark and Play for Today on BBC1. The Play for Today repeat makes sense as the sequel to this play will be broadcast tomorrow, so I’ll be tuning in for both of them (anything with Peter Barkworth is worth a look).

All of this means that I won’t have much time over on ITV, although if I’ve a spare half hour then there’s always Coronation Street.

Back to April 1985 (9th April 1985)

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

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

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

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

Back to April 1983 (8th April 1983)

A repeat of Innes Book of Records on BBC2 is a must-watch (although I’m having difficulty in pinpointing which episode it is – Genome doesn’t have any records of 1983 repeats).

ITV offers a couple of possibilities – Pig in the Middle and the first part of Death of an Expert Witness. I’ve had the Roy Marsden/Adam Dalgleish boxset sitting on the shelf for a while but I haven’t made a great deal of headway with it. I’ve no problem with drama series which take their time, but these P.D. James adaptations seem too leisurely even for me (DoaEW clocks in at an overgenerous seven episodes).

Still, this debut story does feature a vey watchable guest cast (Ray Brooks, Barry Foster and Geoffrey Palmer amongst others) so they might help me to make it through to the end (and after a few episodes I might even stop staring at Marsden’s very obvious hairpiece).

I’ll round off the evening with a piece of ephemera – The Very Hot Gossip Show – which the curious can find on YouTube.

Back to April 1982 (7th April 1982)

There’s nothing sourceable for me on BBC1, whilst BBC2 offers The Ascent of Man and M*A*S*H as possibilities.

ITV’s a happier hunting ground – there’s the always reliable Coronation Street (Derek Wilton making his first appearance since April 1979) followed by a repeat of The Benny Hill Show. I’m not sure whether I’ll attempt to track down exactly which one it is, as you’d no doubt get the gist from any of his shows at this point ….

Undoubted highlight of the evening is In – the final episode of Minder‘s third series. There’s a grimmer tone to this one – Arthur’s behind bars and desperate whilst Terry, still on the outside, attempts to clear his friend’s name.

This was one of Leon Griffiths’ last scripts for the series. Several writers (Tony Hoare especially) very effectively developed and broadened Griffiths’ original concept, but there’s always something satisfying about watching something written by Minder‘s creator.

Featuring a typically strong supporting cast (Brian Cox, Frederick Jaeger, Diane Langton, Russell Hunter) it’s the sort of episode that makes me want to go back and rewatch the whole series in order.

Back to April 1981 (6th April 1981)

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

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

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

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

Back to April 1980 (5th April 1980)

I’ll be sticking with BBC1 today. First there’s Wonder Woman, with the series three episode The Starships are Coming. An everyday tale of alien invasion (or is it?). By this point the show was beginning to run out of steam, but this is a decent one – very silly of course, but that’s the appeal of WW.

A sharp change of pace next, for All Creatures Great & Small. Big Steps and Little ‘Uns is a key episode – the final episode of series three (which at the time seemed to spell the end of the series) it ends on a sombre note as James and Siegfried, with WW2 looming, both face the prospect of leaving the security of the Dales for an unknown future. This is obviously the cue for a series of emotional farewells which the regulars play pitch-perfectly.

I’ll round off the evening with a double dose of Dallas, which sees Jock stands trial. My Dallas rewatch has somewhat run aground during the last year, so possibly dipping in here might reignite my enthusiasm to pick it up again.

Back to April 1979 (4th April 1979)

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

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

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

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

Back to Christmas 1985 (3rd January 1986)

Wrapping up my fortnight in 1985/1986, with a few choices from this day – beginning with Yellow Submarine on BBC2. I don’t remember this being on in 1986 but I’m sure I would have watched it as anything Beatles-related would have registered on my radar.

It might have only been around 15 years old at the time, but it already had the vibe of a charming period piece and indeed that’s how it comes across today.

Then it’s over to ITV for Doug Henning’s Magic on Broadway. The perpetually laid-back Henning was always a pleasure to watch and although this glitzy showbiz magic feast might not be to everyone’s tastes, it certainly hits the mark for me.

I’ll round off the evening with the third and final part of Unknown Chaplin on C4.

Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read or comment on these posts, it’s been an interesting trip. I think I’ll have to use the randomiser and pick another year to sample soon.

Back to Christmas 1985 (2nd January 1986)

There’s something of a weary post-Christmas, post-New Year feel about the schedules today. Scrabbling around on BBC1 and BBC2 for something to watch, there’s the always dependable Top of the Pops. Presented by John Peel and Janice Long, let’s take a quick look at the top pop treats it contains ….

First off A-ha are in the studio with The Sun Always Shines On TV, which is a jolly poppy way to kick off proceedings. Then we go to Paul McCartney on video with Spies Like Us before returning to the studio for Level 42 and Leaving Me Now. This brings the party mood down a bit, although the audience still shake their pom poms with enthusiasm. Oh, and Mark King’s wearing quite the jacket.

Bronksi Beat Hit That Perfect Beat next (more top pom pom action from the audience) which is followed by Sophia George with Girlie Girlie. Sir Shakin’ Stevens remains at number one, so that just leaves the playout track (Elton John, Wrap Her Up) which features some entertaining dancing from the always willing studio audience.

I’ll follow that up with EastEnders, where Pauline, Arthur and Michelle are still in Southend, searching for Mark.

ITV’s early evening schedule is pretty bleak (a movie length Knight Rider followed by Mistral’s Daughter isn’t my idea of fun) but thankfully C4 looks a little more promising.

There’s Treasure Hunt (“stop the clock!”) which this week is in Clwyd (scope for plenty of unpronounceable names then) and after that there’s the second episode of Unknown Chaplin.