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.

Back to Christmas 1985 (1st January 1986)

Happy New Year. Surprisingly held over from Christmas week, today the feature length Last of the Summer Wine special Uncle of the Bride finally airs. We’re into the era where it’s been noted that the supporting cast began to snaffle a little more of the limelight (although to be fair, this had been happening ever since the first series) and Seymour (Michael Aldridge) makes his debut.

Seymour obviously had to be a different character from Foggy and although eventually the series would end up in a rut (many episodes during the next few years revolved around Compo being used as a guinea pig for Seymour’s latest impractical invention) it’s impossible not to enjoy Aldridge’s turn.

BBC2 offers a couple of films that are worth VCRing – The Front Page with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau followed by the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers.

I continue to lament that there’s not more of A Frame With Davis in the wild, so until the happy day when the whole series suddenly appears we’ll have to make do with fragments like this.

C4 offers a very solid evening. First up is Mr Parnes, shillings and pence, a film documentary about Larry Parnes – Britain’s most notable pre-Beatles pop manager. That’s followed by Blue Suede Shoes (although this show has had a few different names over the years) in which Carl Perkins corrals a group of his famous friends – George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Dave Edmunds, Eric Clapton – for an hour’s worth of good-natured rockabilly. Then there’s episode one of Unknown Chaplin, Thames’ top-notch three part documentary series.

Back to Christmas 1985 (31st December 1985)

The BBC offers a selection of films today – I did briefly consider Gone With The Wind, but decided I didn’t have the stamina at the moment so I’ve gone for The Magnificent Seven instead. Prior to that, I’ll catch EastEnders.

The Browning Version (Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Michael Kitchen, John Woodvine) is an obvious drama highlight. Were it available, I’d no doubt spend the evening dipping into BBC2’s Whistle Test, but alas that’s off limits.

Later on BBC1 there’s a Comedy Classic (i.e. repeat) of Steptoe & Son. It’s the 1974 Christmas Special which was the last episode made, so there’s always a sense of poignancy when revisiting it.

ITV offers The Freddie Starr Comedy Express. There’s the usual random collection of guests you’d expect to see in a programme of this type (Frank Bruno, Burt Kwouk, Glynn Edwards) and it probably won’t surprise you to hear that Nazi uniforms feature. Apart from his barnstorming performance in an early seventies Royal Variety Performance, I can’t confess to having seen too much of Starr over the years, so it’s probably about time I discovered what he has to offer.

Back To Christmas 1985 (30th December 1985)

BBC1 offers classic afternoon film fun today with Disney’s 1950 version of Treasure Island. It’s impossible to watch Robert Newton’s exuberant eye-rolling performance without thinking of Tony Hancock just a little, but that just adds to my enjoyment. Bobby Driscoll seems a little out of place as an American Jim Hawkins, especially since the supporting cast is filled with familiar British actors like Geoffrey Keen, John Laurie, John Gregson and Sam Kydd.

There’s another chance to see last year’s Yes Minister Christmas special, Party Games. At sixty minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome and, as ever, comes complete with the sort of wordplay that earned Nigel Hawthorne a shelf full of BAFTAs. Here, Sir Humphrey attempts to tell Jim that he’s leaving the DAA. “The relationship which I might tentatively venture to aver has been not without some degree of reciprocal utility and perhaps even occasional gratification, is emerging a point of irreversible bifurcation and, to be brief, is in the propinquity of its ultimate regrettable termination.”

On BBC2 there’s The Compleat Beatles at 7.00 pm. Prior to the Beatles Anthology it was an invaluable resource, and indeed even now it’s still a pleasure to revisit. Although the absence of any new interview material with the surviving Fabs is a shame, there’s still a good selection of talking heads  – mainly recruited from their earlier days (like Bill Harry and Allan Williams) although George Martin is also on hand to share some insights. At only two hours the story is obviously compressed, but it does come complete with a generous sprinkling of music clips throughout (why Apple Corps didn’t come down hard on this at the time is anyone’s guess).

Over on ITV there’s a new sitcom – All in Good Faith with Richard Briers. It’s never going to give the likes of The Good Life or Ever Decreasing Circles a run for their money, but Briers is always watchable so it goes on the list.

Channel 4 spends its evening celebrating Granada in the Sixties. Curiously there’s no Coronation Street, but on the plus side it includes less obvious picks like The Caesars. From this line-up I’ll be watching The Music of Lennon and McCartney which is just a click away on YouTube and serves as a good companion to The Compleat Beatles.

Back to Christmas 1985 (29th December 1985)

YouTube has been able to supply today’s edition of Windmill. Food is the theme with Magnus Pyke joining Chris Searle, whilst there’s clips from the likes of Fawlty Towers, Billy Bunter and Panorama (yes, that spaghetti tree). Like Telly Addicts, this was a must watch series at the time – those archive clips were windows into an almost inaccessible television past.

This afternoon on BBC1 there’s a chance to catch up on last week’s EastEnders‘ episodes. The synopsis for both the 24th of December and 26th of December episodes sound endearingly low key, so clearly the era of high drama for Christmas soaps hadn’t yet begun …

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The BBC has also offered The Adventures of Robin Hood as a Christmas 2021 treat, just like they did 36 years ago. Time has not diminished its 1930’s technicolor charms and Errol Flynn’s hearty, thigh-slapping version of the outlaw is very entertaining (even if many later takes on the character tend to be a tad more sombre).

The last episode of Olivier Twist is on BBC1 at 5.55 pm whilst slightly earlier over on BBC2 there’s another chance to see 1984’s Aladdin and the Forty Thieves. Most of the BBC children’s television faces of the era are pressed into service with Sarah Greene, as the titular Aladdin, proving she’s just as able as Errol Flynn to slap a thigh when required. If needed, it’s on YouTube.

BBC2 and BBC1 have arranged their schedules so the hardy film watcher could go straight from Bridge on the River Kwai to Gandhi (that’ll be nearly six hours of big budget movie fun). I don’t have that sort of stamina, so I think I’ll just go for the River Kwai.

With such a full BBC schedule, ITV doesn’t get much of a look-in today, although I’ll be taping 92 Grosvenor Street (America gave this WW2 TVM the slightly more exciting title of Behind Enemy Lines). As it’s a TVS co-production the most up to date home media format it was released on is VHS (don’t hold your breath for a DVD or BD then). Luckily, YouTube have once again come to the rescue.

Back To Christmas 1985 (28th December 1985)

BBC1’s schedule today isn’t especially enticing (or offering too much that’s accessible) but I’ll certainly be tuning in for this evening’s big movie – Death on the Nile. Although I’d already caught all of ITV’s Agatha Christie adaptations (Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, The Seven Dials Mystery, The Agatha Christie Hour, Partners In Crime) there was something about this film that clicked with me. So much so, that early in the New Year I sought out the novel and so began to collect Christie’s back catalogue in earnest.

Spookily, it’s also on today (28th December 2021, 16:45 on BBC2) which is an appealing piece of synchronicity.

BBC2 also offers a good movie, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. It doesn’t outstay its welcome at 105 minutes (and Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw are always excellent value) so that’s one to tape for later viewing.

Blue Money on ITV might be a repeat, but it looks good to me, so it’ll also go on the list.

Back to Christmas 1985 (27th December 1985)

I’m kicking off today with Disneyland’s 30th Anniversary Celebration. A seemingly random collection of musical acts (including The Pointer Sisters and Julian Lennon) have been corralled together for this excessively glitzy bash.

There’s a Grange Hill Christmas special at 5.35 on BBC1. It was Phil Redmond’s last script for the series and (alas) introduced Harriet the Donkey. So we know who to blame …

YouTube have again come up trumps for Stanley Baxter’s Christmas Hamper. Baxter’s return to the BBC after more than a decade spent with ITV, he delivers exactly what’s expected of him (for some reason, the Where Do You Go To My Lovely? skit was the one which has stuck in my mind from the show’s original tx).

As for ITV, it offers a two hour cutdown omnibus of Chocky’s Children (I’ll have to make do with the original 6 part version) and another episode of Me and My Girl. This is a day fairly light on big hitters then, but maybe after the excesses of the last few days it was decided that the schedules should have a quick breather.

Back to Christmas 1985 (26th December 1985)

I’m easing myself gently into Boxing Day with Sherlock Holmes and the Baskerville Curse. An animated version of The Hound of the Baskervilles with Peter O’Toole as the world’s greatest detective sounds appealing, even though visually it’s a bit on the basic side.

There’s a Comedy Classic (i.e. repeat) of Open All Hours at 5.15 pm on BBC1. It’s S2E6, first broadcast on the 5th of April 1981, which seems a little too recent to be regarded as a classic. But as it features Stuart Fell as a motorcyclist (I sense there must be a stunt) and Patsy Smart it’s on the list.

Bob’s Christmas Full House and The Paul Daniels Magic Christmas Show will both help to move me into the early evening. Bob’s Full House is probably my favourite Monkhouse quiz show (“in bingo lingo clickity click, it’s time to take your pick of the six”) and The Paul Daniels Magic Show has always appealed. Although hand on heart, this wasn’t his strongest Christmas show as a little too much time was spent on the Snow White finale (which was a showcase for the lovely Debbie McGee and rather light on magic). Still, it’s nice to see Sooty make an appearance.

Next up is ‘Allo ‘Allo! It’s the one featuring the pill in the till (and the candle with the handle on the gateaux from the chateaux). Late night I’ll tape Strangers on a Train, so all in all that’s a pretty full BBC1 lineup.

Over on ITV, I’ll tape Coronation Street – The First Twenty Five Years. It’s a decent enough doco, although since it only runs for an hour it can only scratch the surface of the series (and I could have done without the various talking heads picking their favourite moments and characters). ITV also has a big movie premiere – Who Dares Wins – which will also be going on the VCR.

Back to Christmas 1985 (25th December 1985)

Merry Christmas everybody. A packed schedule today, kicking off with the Top of the Pops Christmas Party. It’s the usual rather rum mixed bag, but there’s entertainment to be found if you dig deep enough.

The second of two All Creatures Great & Small movie-length specials (which bridged the gap between the original series and the revival in 1988) is also on my list. And BBC1 dominates the rest of the evening with Hi-De-Hi!, Only Fools and Horses and The Two Ronnies. That’s quite the line-up ….

Hi-De-Hi! is an hour long special and even though we’re into the post-Fairbrother years (which means that the series has lost a little of its sparkle) it’s still well worth a watch.

The front covers of the Radio Times and TV Times made it plain that the big Christmas battle would be fought by Del Boy and Arthur Daley (both were given today’s prime 7.30 pm slot). In the event Del would win the ratings war and he’s my choice as well – not least because as he’s part of such a strong lineup it would be a shame to switch over (that was always the BBC way – especially on Saturday evenings – if you hook the viewers early then they’ll tend to stick with you).

To Hull and Back was a bit jarring at the time, thanks to the lack of a laughter track and its all-film nature, but it was the first hint that Only Fools wouldn’t always be content with remaining in a thirty minute format. 

As happened a few times, The Two Ronnies show at Christmastime was part of a series rather than a one-off special but although the festive quotient is fairly low it still ticks all the boxes that you’d expect. The Two Rhanis (the Rons browned up and essaying broad Indian accents) isn’t their finest moment but the rest of the show is on firmer ground. I especially like the reworking of an earlier WW1 sketch which is a typical example of the Rons’ wordplay.

Over on ITV I’ll be taping Moonraker and Minder on the Orient Express. It’s ironic that when Only Fools & Horses began in 1981 it was compared unfavourably with Minder (especially the wheeler-dealer similarities between Arthur and Del) but five years later you have to concede that the pupil has eclipsed the master.

Minder on the Orient Express is still an excellent way to pass a few hours though – it might be a world away from the gritty tone of the early stories but if the odd outrageous coincidence doesn’t bother you, then I’d just sit back and watch the tip top guest cast do their thing.

Back to Christmas 1985 (24th December 1985)

The first thing on my list today is the Telly Addicts Christmas Special. The champion family of 1985 (the Pains) take on a crack team of celebs – Nina Myskow, Barry Took, Michael Grade and Larry Grayson (called, wait for it, the Aches). The show, as always, is peppered with archive clips (today featuring the likes of Juke Box Jury, Rings on their Fingers and Thunderbirds). It’s probably hard for the young ‘uns to appreciate, but back then these slim morsels of old telly were like gold dust and came highly appreciated. Oh, and the quiz is quite fun as well.

Kenny Everett’s Christmas Carol offers something a little different from his usual shows. At half an hour it doesn’t outstay its welcome and there are plenty of familiar faces passing through (such as Spike Milligan) to brighten up proceedings. Plus it’s always entertaining to see Ken apparently go rogue – for example, when he breaks the fourth wall and harangues the audience for their lack of appreciation.

It’s panto time in Terry & June at 9.00 pm. Our titular heroes end up playing a pantomime cow with the inevitable hilarious consequences. Much derided at the time (especially in its latter years) there seems to be more appreciation for the series now – and why not. You might know exactly what you’re going to get, but I can never say no to a bit of Scott and Whitfield. Plus today you get the chance to see Reginald Marsh in a very fetching bonnet, so it’s a win-win situation.

It’s on a bit late, so I think I’ll video the repeat of The Good Life Christmas Special, Silly But It’s Fun. One of those Christmas perennials, the gaping plot hole (Margo not taking delivery of her entire festive supplies until Christmas Eve) notwithstanding, it’s a lovely half hour in which nothing really happens except that four friends have an enjoyable Christmas day.

There’s a new series of The Wind in the Willows over on ITV, which will be a must watch. The voice work (Ian Carmichael, Michael Horden, Richard Pearson, David Jason, Peter Sallis) is top notch and the animation by Cosgrove-Hall isn’t half bad either.

Back to Christmas 1985 (23rd December 1985)

There’s not a great deal of new stuff that’s tempting me on the BBC today, but luckily a few repeats will keep me happy. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin is on BBC2 (the final episode of the first series in which Reggie – having faked his own death – decides to attend his memorial service as his long lost friend Martin Wellbourne from Brazil).

Then I’ll go to BBC1 for a peak-time repeat of the 1973 Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show at 8.00 pm. It’s not their best effort, but it certainly has its moments (“he’s not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed is he?”) and is certainly a step up from the rather dismal 1972 Christmas show (a recovered Eddie Braben was now back on scripting duty for 1973).

On ITV, I’ll be taping Coronation Street and then switching over from BBC1 at 9.00 pm for The Bill. As the episode title (This Little Pig) suggests, today’s installment has a porcine theme. Meanwhile over on the Street, there’s general revelry in the Rovers after Alf and Audrey tie the knot, although not everyone is happy ….

Back to Christmas 1985 (22nd December 1985)

There’s plenty of Tom & Jerry on over the festive period, and today’s (The Night Before Christmas) is a topical one, so I’ll try to catch that. Later also on BBC1 there’s Classic Serial fare with the penultimate episode of Olivier Twist. The days of the Classic Serial as a cheapish Sunday afternoon treat are coming to an end, so I think it’s worth tuning in (Eric Porter heads the cast as Fagin).

This episode features the dramatic moment when Bill Sikes (Michael Attwell) murders Nancy (Amanda Harris). It doesn’t have the same vicious punch as the 1960’s adaptation with Peter Vaughan and Carmel McSharry, but it’s still quite a jolting moment. Although we don’t see the blows inflicted (the camera remains focused on Sikes) the fury of his actions is obvious. That was always a problem with the Sunday teatime serial (it couldn’t show anything too disturbing) although maybe implied violence lingers longer in the memory than anything more overt. 

Thanks to Billy Smart for drawing my attention to the Arena documentary on Orson Welles and Shadowlands, both on BBC2. They’re certainly worthy of attention – Shadowlands would later be remade for the big screen, but this television version looks just as absorbing (Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom head a very strong cast).

Later I’ll switch over to ITV for Me and My Girl at 7.55 pm. It always impressed me that, in the title sequence, Richard O’Sullivan could shed ten years by simply wearing a Man About The House wig.

As for this episode (Nothing Like a Quiet Sunday) it revolves around Simon’s desire to play the good Samaritan – rescuing a drunk woman and taking her home – which later backfires when the object of his charity declares that she and Simon are to be married (much to the annoyance of her fiancé).

If you hadn’t guessed that Simon’s fallen woman was from the upper classes, then her name (Winnifred Whitsun-Burnish) would have been a bit of a giveaway. She was played by Harriet Reynolds, who popped up in many popular series between the late seventies and early nineties. Sadly, she passed away at the early age of 47 in 1992.

Events take their predictable turn as they always did in this sitcom, but the presence of O’Sullivan, Joan Sanderson and Tim Brooke-Taylor (although he’s sadly absent from this one) always helped to make the series more than watchable.

Back to Christmas 1985 (21st December 1985)

Today BBC1 offers Carry On Follow That Camel (Phil Silvers dropped somewhat uncomfortably into the Carry On world) and I’ll be following that up with the final episode of Juliet Bravo – Reason for Leaving.

The episode has a Christmas theme, although the ending isn’t terribly festive (Danny Sparks dies). Whilst it doesn’t seem to be remembered with quite the same level of trauma as another pre-Christmas series finale (Blakes’ 7‘s Blake) it still packs a gloomy punch. The episode was written by Don Webb, whose television career was largely centered around police series (Juliet Bravo, Rockliffe’s Babies, The Bill) apart from one major diversion (the faintly remembered Peter Egan/Hannah Gordon sitcom Joint Account).

There’s then a repeat of the Only Fools and Horses series 4 finale As One Door Closes, which will help me to limber up for the big Only Fools treat on Christmas Day (spoiler, I’ve decided to watch that and tape Minder on the Orient Express).

As for BBC2, I’ll be setting the video for Opera for Africa.

Not too much on ITV or C4 to get the pulse racing (The Puppet Man sounds interesting, but I haven’t been able to source a copy.) However I’ll be setting the VCR for 3-2-1, as an hour or so of bonkers quizzing is always welcome (John Inman and Victor Spinetti are amongst today’s guests).

Today’s listings are below for anyone who wishes to peruse them for themselves.

Back to Christmas 1985

I’ve always had respect for those who restrict their archive television viewing to just the programmes which aired in a particular era. My jackdaw meanderings are much more random as I like to dash around the decades in no particular order, dipping into shows that take my fancy before moving on somewhere else.

But I thought it might be interesting to attempt something a little more structured for a short while, so from the 21st of December through to the 3rd of January I’ll be only watching shows which aired on those days over the 1985/86 Christmas period.

There’s an obvious nostalgic rush about perusing the Radio Times and TV Times and planning what will make the grade (these days, it’s not done with paper and a marker – I just skim through the PVR and click on whatever takes my fancy. It’s quicker and more efficient of course, but not as fun).

Each day I’ll pop up a quick blog post about what I’ve chosen and what I’ve decided to record on my virtual VCR to enjoy on another day.

So that leaves me a week to start my planning ….