7 – 63 UP. Network BD/DVD Review

Seven Up! was a World In Action special broadcast in May 1964. Planned as a one-off, it looked ahead to the far-off year of 2000 AD, reasoning that the seven year olds of 1964 would be forty three in 2000 and by then many would be key members of society (“executives and shop stewards” as the narrator puts it).

World In Action editor Tim Hewat had a jaundiced view of the British class system – wondering if someone’s social and economic background predetermined their future, even from a very young age.  Deliberately choosing a diverse mix of boys and girls from various parts of the country and different economic backgrounds, Seven Up! quizzed these voluble youngsters about subjects which included life, love, marriage, fighting, education and their plans for the future.

One of the unusual things about Seven Up! is the fact it was directed by a drama director (Paul Almond).  He was at Granada waiting to do something else and stumbled across Seven Up! almost by accident. Michael Apted (a researcher on the original programme) took over directing duties from the second edition onwards, maintaining this drama link.

What’s remarkable is how many of the subjects kept on returning once it was decided to make a new programme every seven years.  Charles dropped out after 21 Up in 1977, never to return, whilst others (John, Symon, Peter) have skipped certain ones but later came back (Suzy didn’t contribute to the most recent – 63 Up).  Lynn is the first to have passed away, dying in 2013 after a short illness.

Given that the original research process was fairly random and haphazard (no long term contracts or agreements were signed as no thought was given to the possibility of future programmes) the fact that most have come back again and again is testimony to the relationship they’ve forged with Michael Apted through the decades.

There has been a certain amount of tension though.  Apted himself has admitted that on occasions that he was tempted to “play God” and mould the interviews and programmes in a certain direction to tell a predetermined story.  The unbalanced male/female split (ten to four) is something else Apted now regrets, whilst only one contributor – Symon – is mixed race, another missed opportunity.

Taken in isolation, Seven Up! is a really interesting and entertaining watch.  The introduction of Andrew, Charles and John (all pupils in the same expensive Kensington pre-prep school) is unforgettable – along with the rest of their class they perform Waltzing Matilda in Latin.

Jackie, Lynn and Sue all attended the same primary school in East London (a slight pity that three of the four girls were plucked from the same area, but as previously discussed nobody was anticipating a long-running series at this point).

Although a fair number of the children were London-based, Neil and Peter hailed from Liverpool whilst Nick was raised on a farm in Yorkshire.

There’s plenty of amusement to be found in Seven Up! (John loathing the Beatles’ haircuts) as well as more reflective moments (Bruce wishing more than anything to see his Daddy again, who was six thousand miles away). 

When Seven Plus Seven was made in 1970, things really began to get interesting (as the process of comparIng and contrasting the people they are now to the people they were then could begin). This of course is the main strength of the series as it developed, especially with those who have had the most troubled or colourful lives.

Paul has had an especially chequered journey. A lively and amusing child at seven, by the age of 21 he’d dropped out of college and was living in a squat. Still homeless at 28, by the time of 35 Up he’d slowly begun to turn his life around and during the last few decades has become a local councillor as well as contesting several General Elections.

The stories of some of the others, such as Andrew, whose lives have progressed in a much more orderly fashion are still of interest – not least for the initial shock of seeing how they’ve aged when each new programme appears.

In order to contrast the current individual with their past self, liberal use has always been made of their archive interviews. This is understandable (especially during the early broadcasts, where the audience would otherwise have struggled to remember all the faces from seven years earlier) but it does mean that there’s a certain amount of repetition in each programme. Therefore the series is best sampled at irregular intervals rather than via a box-set binge-watch.

But however you view it, the Up series is an unmissable slice of social history. The format has subsequently been copied by various other countries, but the original is still the best. Enlightening, moving, amusing and deeply thought-provoking, this is British documentary making at its very best. Highly recommended.

The Programmes 

Seven Up! (39″ 35′)

Seven Plus Seven (51″ 56′)

21 (99″ 50′)

28 Up (61’05” and 73″44′)

35 Up (115″ 02′)

42 Up ( 59″ 40′ and 72″ 31′)

49 Up (70″ 27′ and 70″ 19′)

56 Up (46″ 58′, 46″ 57′ and 50″ 01′)

63 Up (47″ 40′, 47′ 45″ and 47′ 44″ )

Special Features

Michael Apted at Granada (21″ 41′)

Ir Was Only Going To Ever Be One Film (13″ 36′)

28 Up Commentary Track

7 Up and Me (46″ 32′). 2019 documentary narrated by Joanna Lumley in which celebrities discuss what the Up series means to them.

7 – 63 Up is available now from Network. The Blu Ray edition can be ordered here and the DVD is available here

Probation Officer to be released by Network – January 2017

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Volume One of Probation Officer (containing the twelve earliest surviving episodes) can be pre-bought now at Network.  Payment will be taken immediately, although the DVD won’t be dispatched until late January. For Doomwatch fans, it’s a chance to see a young John Paul, but it also looks like an absorbing, black and white videotaped drama in its own right, with a mouth-watering roster of guest actors.

An early hit for ATV, this absorbing, rigorously researched and very human drama series centres on the work of a team of probation officers based in London, and the lives of the men and women of all ages and backgrounds who come under their care. Drawing on the documentary skills of creator Julian Bond and produced by Emergency – Ward 10’s Antony Kearey, Probation Officer was broadcast at a time – a time when the service was increasingly coming into focus as a progressive response to rising crime.

Future Doomwatch star John Paul stars as newcomer Philip Main, alongside The Avengers’ Honor Blackman as Iris Cope, the team’s only female officer. Guests include Alfred Burke, Susan Hampshire, Charles Lloyd Pack, Richard Vernon and Peter Vaughan – while Earl Cameron and Lloyd Reckord star in a blistering tale of racism and intolerance which features one of the earliest interracial kisses ever broadcast on British television.

Probation Officer does not exist complete in the archive – this volume contains the twelve earliest surviving episodes from series one.

All Star Comedy Carnival to be released by Network – 5th December 2016

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Network will release the 1972 & 1973 editions of All Star Comedy Carnival in December.

An annual television event for five years from 1969, All Star Comedy Carnival was ITV’s annual ‘Christmas bonus’ – presenting viewers with brand-new sketches from the network’s most popular sitcoms of any given year. A highlight of the festive viewing period, only two editions still exist: those for 1972 and 1973.

This set presents both complete shows, comprising specially written festive sketches for thirteen classic series:

• LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR
• ON THE BUSES
• CHRISTMAS WITH WOGAN
• NEAREST AND DEAREST
• THIRTY MINUTES WORTH
• SEZ LES
• THE FENN STREET GANG
• FATHER DEAR FATHER
• MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE
• MY GOOD WOMAN
• BILLY LIAR
• SPRING AND AUTUMN
• DOCTOR IN CHARGE

SPECIAL FEATURE: The Dustbinmen: All Star Comedy Carnival sketch from 1969.

Morecambe & Wise: Two of a Kind to be released by Network – 5th December 2016

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Morecambe & Wise: Two of a Kind  will be released by Network in December.

Morecambe and Wise, undoubtedly the best-loved double act that Britain has ever produced, first achieved their phenomenal television success in the early 1960s with this long-running hit series for ATV. Showcasing their mildly anarchic humour, impeccable sense of timing and keen eye for the absurd in a feast of uproarious sketches, onstage antics and musical entertainment, Two of a Kind propelled Morecambe and Wise towards superstardom in no uncertain terms.

Each show features fast-moving skits and musical parodies, with Eric and Ernie giving us their inimitable versions of television favourites Supercar, Face to Face and Candid Camera – in addition to memorable interpretations of key scenes from Macbeth and Hamlet, Eric’s ongoing battle to get his lines right in Samson and Delilah, and undoubtedly the most ambitious attempt ever seen to recreate the ‘fight sequence’ in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! Among the many guest stars are Roy Castle, Joe Brown, Kathy Kirby, Susan Maughan, The Bachelors and Acker Bilk.

This eight disc set contains all 48 editions of Two of a Kind (aka The Morecambe and Wise Show) alongside a wealth of special features – including an exceptionally rare early performance from 1957, several appearances on Val Parnell’s Saturday Spectacular and the two surviving editions of Piccadilly Palace.

The Life and Times of David Lloyd George to be released by Network – 3rd October 2016

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This is another very welcome BBC Network title – due for release in early October.

Philip Madoc gives a career-best performance as one of Britain’s most revered, inspiring – and controversial – leaders in this celebrated BBC series. Scripted by BAFTA-winning Elaine Morgan with input from leading historian A.J.P. Taylor – and with famously haunting theme music by Ennio Morricone – The Life and Times of David Lloyd George paints a multifaceted portrait of a political icon who steered Britain through the First World War and its aftermath, and whose pioneering reforms laid the foundations of the welfare state.

Brought up in a remote Welsh village, on his way to the top Lloyd George inspires both hysterical adoration and an enmity bordering on bloodlust. A passionate social reformer, his struggle to lift the spectres of poverty and the workhouse provokes the ire of the political establishment, while his indefatigable womanising fills many a gossip column; his political dexterity as the Liberal prime minister of a wartime coalition government, however, raised him to a new level of power and influence.

Sink or Swim to be released by Network – 3rd October 2016

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The first fruits of Network’s new deal with the BBC will be arriving this October.

Doctor Who star Peter Davison headlines this well-remembered BBC sitcom, starring alongside BAFTA-winning Hustle stalwart Robert Glenister in his TV debut.

They play brothers Brian and Steve Webber, whose attempt to strike out in business involves a soggy narrowboat and a dubious decision to ply the Thameside tourist trade. Unfortunately, Steve is as loutish and lazy as Brian is charming and ambitious – and the latter finds both his enthusiasm and his relationship with idealistic girlfriend Sonia severely hampered by his brother’s persistent presence!

Scripted by Alex Shearer, creator of The Two of Us, Sink or Swim is a much-sought-after comedy. This set contains all three series.

Callan: This Man Alone – Network DVD Review

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Callan: This Man Alone is a three disc set released in 2015 by Network.  The feature attraction, This Man Alone, is an exhaustive 130 minute documentary which covers every aspect of the character – from the Armchair Theatre pilot, the four series, the spin-off short stories and novels, the 1974 film and the not terribly well received one-off revival in 1981.

A host of key personnel who worked on the series (both in front of and behind the cameras) – Reginald Collin, Mike Vardy, James Goddard, Piers Haggard, Patrick Mower, Trevor Preston, Clifford Rose, Robert Banks Stewart, Ray Jenkins – were interviewed for the documentary, whilst Dick Fiddy is on hand to set Callan in its cultural and historical context.  Another very enlightening interviewee is Peter Mitchell, the son of Callan‘s creator, James Mitchell.  The pride he feels in his father’s legacy is palpable and, like the others, he has plenty to contribute.

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Although a number of people, including James Mitchell, Edward Woodward, William Squire and Russell Hunter, are no longer with us, they are represented via archive material.  This is mainly derived from a series of audio interviews conducted in 1987.  Presumably these were intended for transcribing purposes and not for broadcast as they’re a little indistinct in places.  Although Woodward sadly passed away before the documentary came to fruition, there’s still a family connection as This Man Alone is narrated by Peter Woodward, Edward Woodward’s son.

All of the key parts of the production – developing a series from the pilot, casting the regulars (and in the case of Hunter, numerous re-castings), moving from ABC to Thames, from black and white into colour, the public’s reception of the show and the decision to bring it to an end – are all covered.  Possibly the only aspect that I was surprised wasn’t discussed concerns the reasons for writing out Cross, Patrick Mower’s character, in series four (I’ve always assumed it was done in order to facilitate the return of Meres, played by Anthony Valentine).

Although the pair do have a brief cross-over period, it seems that once Valentine was available again (he’d declined to appear in series three) it was decided to write out Mower.  It would have been interesting to hear from Mower as to whether he thought that was the case, or if he was happy to leave on a high (his final story certainly was a dramatic one).

Unlike some series, Callan seems to have been a very harmonious production, so there aren’t too many story of back-stage bust ups.  The second Hunter, Michael Goodliffe, found the role not to his liking and was quickly written out, whilst Woodward wasn’t entirely sure that promoting Callan to Hunter in series four was a good idea, but that’s about it.

With an additional twenty five minutes of interview footage that didn’t fit into the documentary, disc one is as comprehensive as you’d might hope.

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Disc two has new transfers of two episodes, the Armchair Theatre pilot  A Magnum for Schneider and the first story of series one, The Good Ones Are All Dead.  The previously issued version of A Magnum for Schneider came from the transmission tape, but since the story was transferred to film prior to transmission (a not uncommon practice for VT programmes at the time, as it offered more flexibility for editing) Network were able to locate the original film recording and have produced a new transfer from it.  Both episodes offer a considerable upgrade on the previous versions issued on DVD.

Also on disc two is the complete studio tape for The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw.  Running to 78 minutes, this offers the viewer a unique chance to see how an episode of Callan was recorded, as all the takes and re-takes are included.  To be honest it sounds more interesting than it actually is, but it’s obviously nice to have.

Disc three has a real curio – the only surviving episode of The Edward Woodward Hour.  It’s taken from a domestic recording, so the picture quality isn’t quite broadcast standard, but that’s no problem.  It offers us a chance to see Woodward flex his singing muscles and the unforgettable comedy sketch in which Callan and Lonely meet the cast of Father Dear Father!  This bizarre encounter is touched upon in the documentary, with both Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter (especially Hunter) remembering it with a distinct lack of fondness.  Amusing or toe-curling?  I think that’s up to personal taste.

Semi-mute rushes of James Mitchell from 1969, recorded for A World of My Own, are also featured on disc three, but the main attraction is the extensive PDF archive.  All the scripts for the series are included (many of the early ones have both rehearsal and camera versions) whilst there’s also the original series outline, publicity material, audience research, etc.  There’s certainly a wealth of reading here and most importantly it’s lovely to be able to read the scripts for those episodes which are missing from the archives.

Whilst Callan: This Man Alone might feel like a three disc set of special features, if you have all of Network’s previous Callan releases (the monochrome series, the colour series, Wet Job, Andrew Pixley’s book) then it’s the perfect companion piece.  Quite why all these individual elements haven’t been collected into a boxset is a slight mystery, but no matter – if you love the series then it’s a very worthwhile purchase.

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