Sunday 23 December 2018

A Christmas Day In The Life: Part Three

In my book, “Festive Double Issue: Forty Years of Christmas TV” (available for Kindle here), I cover the two week festive and New Year period with everything from the obvious to the baffling and all the hapless holidaymakers in between. But what would make up my own perfect Christmas Day line-up? Well, its comedy. Lots and lots of comedy.



7:25pm: The Kenny Everett Television Show (1981)

“This is Kenny Everett’s first show for the BBC and in it he will be doing several things we’re not allowed to talk about and meeting several people we’re not at liberty to divulge. Suffice it to say, everything will be completely original in as much as it’s never been done before... on the BBC. Join Kenny and the cast of thousands for the experience of a lifetime. Or, on the other hand, watch this show.”

To say that Kenny Everett joining the BBC was something akin to placing a stick of dynamite in a nice vase of petunias wouldn’t be far off the truth. Leaving previous employers Thames after they scheduled him against “Top of the Pops” despite them sharing the exact same audience, Everett’s appearances on Auntie Beeb were perhaps slicker but no less exciting and fully of genuine naughty bits. This first half-hour for the BBC is a perfect calling card beginning with spinning newspapers revealing his defection (“Biggest betrayal since Pearl Harbour!” – Daily Mail, “Who Cares?” – Gay News) followed by some black and white faux-horror movie footage of Ev being bundled out of a car marked “ITV1” and buried in a shallow grave before being dug up again by two BBC chaps in a clapped out Austin. With this, Everett. fired warning shots at both sides AND mocked his own place in the showbusiness world – and all in the first 40 seconds!

Much like his previous Thames shows there are cut-out animations, familiar characters, a set full of television screens and no studio audience yet but bags of confidence from the get go. Plus it’s very, very funny. A memorable running sketch finds Ken wandering the corridors of the much-missed BBC TV Centre explaining what all the initials on the doors mean (“DG: Director General”, “OB OPS: Outside Broadcast Operators”). He then assumes “BUM” must naturally stand for “Broadcasting Under Manager” but is instead, terrifically, a giant bottom which later blasts Terry Wogan through a nearby wall.

There’s also a look at the cobwebbed BBC Boardroom as decrepit old executives try to work out the appeal of Everett, an episode of crass American-style game show called “Shoot The Dog” and guest stars The Police, Billy Connolly and David Frost who crops up to point out a sketch has been ripped off from his own 1960s show “The Frost Report”. Plus the first appearance of the never ashamed US actress Cupid Stunt. And of course it’s all done...


7:55pm: The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show (1977)

"A star-studded holiday special starring Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise written by Eddie Braben with special guests Penelope Keith, Elton John, Angharad Rees and a host of guest celebrities". 

Yes, its a bit of an obvious one as the original broadcast recieved one of the biggest TV audiences ever (just behind the slightly earlier Mike Yarwood, this was originally slotted in at 8:55pm) but it was the first full Morecambe and Wise show I'd seen thanks to a repeat late on Christmas Day 1993. I doubt I knew who any of the newsreaders performing "There Is Nothing Like A Dame" was or what "Starkers and Hutch" was parodying but it didnt matter as it was all in the performances. The end bit where Elton John finds an empty studio and performs his song anyway was weird and a little haunting but really unique and a suitably maudlin exit for the double act who were off to Thames at the end.




9.00pm: Victoria Wood’s All Day Breakfast (1992)

“The latest daytime show to be hosted by a popular husband-and-wife team.  There are tips on female problems like seriously split ends…”

There were a lot of jokes made at the expensive of ITV’s weekday magazine show “This Morning” fronted by married couple Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan since it launched to huge acclaim in 1988, thanks to its rollercoaster mix of light and heavy topics for discussion, but few were as affectionate yet devastating as Victoria Wood’s assassination of the daytime magazine format. Fronted by partners Martin Cumbernauld (Duncan Preston) and Sally Crossthwaite (Wood herself), we find Sally in charge and Martin “with no embarrassment at all” discussing “female problems” like “wonky wombs and faulty fallopian tubes”.  Between the links are several unconnected sketches including regular visits to “The Mall” which did for the BBCs new soap flop “Eldorado” what Wood’s earlier “Acorn Antiques” had for Crossroads with its light inconsequential plots and wooden acting.

There’s also a predictable but fun connection to Wood's earlier work in the final part. The special ends with some new stand-up and new song “Real Life” (“Life is a fan club and I’m not a fan / Life is a bran tub / no prizes / just bran”), later to become the title track of her only studio album in 1997. It’s tempting, watching Wood interview – slash - insult old friend and special guest Alan “'Dickman'” Rickman, to and not feel a bit melancholy at the fact both are no longer with us but when the comedy is this good we’ll always be laughing too much to allow that.



9.50pm: The Home-Made Xmas Video (1986)

“A Video de Dad. It’s full of lots of things about Christmas. What we did, where we went, what we ate, how much we all drunk and everything. It’s a great stuff! (The turkey, I mean.) But seriously...” 

No Christmas period for me is properly started until I’ve seen this spin-off from the later series of “Alas Smith and Jones” which took an affectionate but honest look at British working class families via the new-fangled home camcorder. There’s well-meaning but quick to temper Dad (Jones), happy but put upon Mum (Diane Langton), kids Shirley and Peter (Jenny Jay and Nigel Harman) and their fun, illiterate and frequently drunk lodger Len (Smith) who almost anticipates the character of Homer Simpson. Sequences involving simple acts like putting a wreath on the door, badly stealing a tree and visiting sick relatives are made into painfully funny sequences that are never played cheaply for cringe laughs. Likewise the family are rough but never sneered at by Griff and Robin Driscoll’s script which makes them fully rounded likeable characters and could easily have been spun off into a full series.



10:25pm: French and Saunders's Celebrity Christmas Puddings (2002)

"Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders find themselves house-sitting for a rock star over Christmas, during which time they sample some television favourites and offer a new angle on Monarch of the Glen and Tipping the Velvet."

More sketchiness, this time from Christmas Day 2002 and despite featuring several of the parodies as they'd become well known for, this felt like a bit more of the double act returning to their live audience roots as they supposedly house-sit for Richard and Judy for the festive period. The pair are at their most mischievous and wonderful. There's jokes that have been lost to time a little, like Dawn impersonating Carrie Grant from "Fame Academy" and a discussion of Madonna's short-lived stage acting career in "Up For Grabs" but its never really mattered with F&S whether you recognise what is being spoofed as they go at it with such enthusiasm and ridiculousness its hard not to smile. They even mock the fact there's no-one watching as "Celebrity Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" is on the other side. Good morning.




11:05pm: FILM - A Hard Day's Night (1964)

"Starring The Beatles with Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington , John Junkin. The Beatles' first and best feature film is a way-out journey from Liverpool to London..."

Because you need a good old British film to nod off to at the end of the day and there’s always been something oddly festive about The Beatles to me. It could be their four Christmas number ones or “Magical Mystery Tour” making its TV d├ębut on Boxing Day 1967. It might even be their terrific festive fan club discs they made, later being produced by Kenny Everett"A Hard Day's Night" originally made it to TV on December 28th 1970 and got a few more showings throughout the decade, usually around Crimble before seemingly vanishing from telly for the next two decades. Fifty years on the songs remain great and the Beatles remain irreverent, funny and a genuine surprise as they potter through not much of a plot which is kept moving by the brilliant Richard Lester whose later film "The Bed Sitting Room" was another quirky British cinema favourite I had on the shortlist for this. Fab, Beat and Swingorilliant all round! Also: gears.  



And that's it. Thank you all for reading my words or hearing my noises this year and I hope I can do more of it in 2019. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Beatles!

Friday 21 December 2018

A Christmas Day In The Life: Part Two

In my book, “Festive Double Issue: Forty Years of Christmas TV” (available for Kindle right now here!), I cover the two week festive and New Year period with everything from the obvious to the baffling and all the hapless holidaymakers in between. But what would make up my own perfect Christmas Day line-up? Lets slide into the pre and post-dinner miasma together (With apologies to my pal Paul Gannon for the following)....


11.55am: The Noel Edmonds Live Live Christmas Breakfast Show (1985) 

“From the top of London's British Telecom Tower, Noel Edmonds presents a live outside broadcast uniting families and friends throughout the world.” 

Noel Edmonds appearing live on Christmas Morning was an event that only happened five times yet still feels like it was always part of the Christmas Days in my youth. With his experience on “Swap Shop” and the “Late Late Breakfast Show” on Saturday nights Noel was already an old hand at helming a technically intricate live broadcast which was fully put to the test with the first show in 1984 featuring lots of outside broadcasts including the much missed Mike Smith out in the “hollycopter”. The team would raise the stakes for 1985’s show which stretched to a behemoth 125 minutes and featured the “world’s first computer draw” and, as seen on blooper shows for decades, “the world’s first in-flight pop performance” with the unfortunate Feargal Sharkey unable to hear anything at 2500ft throughout a mimed performance of “You Little Thief” watched by a helpless and bemused Gary Davies and The Krankies. There was also time for link ups to Africa and the launch of new charity called Comic Relief.

 

1986 brought a change of title to “Christmas Morning with Noel” to distance it from the “Late, Late Breakfast Show” after its instant cancellation due to the unfortunate death of a member of the public during rehearsals for a stunt five weeks earlier. In retrospect, it’s amazing the special happened at all, no doubt down to the sheer amount of work that would have gone into setting up satellite links around the world including Australia where it was airing live. These efforts resulted in a duet between Cliff Richard and Elton John both on different continents that is as memorable as it sounds. Plus Mike Smith was looking for Santa in Lapland, how can you miss that? The final show from the top of the Tower would happen in 1987 at the slightly earlier time of 9am due to the show going out live in more countries with New Zealand, Singapore and Gibraltar now joining Australia for across the sea family link ups.

With each special previous feeling more and more elaborate the final edition in 1988 was something of a let-down as the show was cut back to just over an hour and even worse came from Studio 3 of BBC TV Centre, a location I’d normally be cock-a-hoop for, but isn’t quite the same as being 625 feet above London. The following year saw Edmonds switch to the pre-recorded “Noel’s Christmas Presents”, a safe but much less fun format that nevertheless became a staple of the Christmas Day schedule for the whole of the nineties with a lengthy revival for Sky later on. Regardless of what we’ve since learned of him being a bit of an oddball who can cure cancer with his mind, Noel was always a cheery, personable frontman of these shows who seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself and it was great to feel the BBC was this exciting alive 'being' watching over the world, offering company, and setting out its stall as the channel to stick with all day. And Noel? He hadn’t quite finished with live television yet as the doors to his Crinkley Bottom prepared to swing open...



2:00pm: Top of the Pops (1995) 

“Bjork and Jack Dee introduce the biggest selling songs of 1995, plus the Christmas Day Number One. Live in the studio are N-Trance, Annie Lennox , Take That, Boyzone, The Outhere Brothers, Simply Red, Robson and Jerome, Pulp and Blur.” 

Sticking with the Beeb for another staple, we all have our year zero for pop and, despite a casual interest and collecting the NOW tapes since the turn of the decade, 1995 was the five alarm ring the bell that pushed me fully into a person forever-skint after Monday morning in Our Price. Looking back at that year, people only really focus into Britpop and that was unquestionably a huge moment for me but as this line-up shows it was only a small part of the pop pudding:

N-Trance – Set You Free
Annie Lennox – No More I Love You’s
Take That – Back For Good
Boyzone – Key To My Life
Robson & Jerome – Unchained Melody
Pulp – Common People
The Outhere Brothers – Boom Boom Boom
Blur – Country House
Simply Red – Fairground
Robson & Jerome – I Believe
Michael Jackson – Earth Song

 Only two songs you could call alternative and they were sandwiching the bloody awful Outhere Brothers - and not even the filthy lyric version we all sniggered about in the playground ("Slip my peter inside your folder") And yet, the older I get, the more I start to get nostalgic for all the stuff I thought was crap when I was a dyed in the wool indie kid. Despite my fantasy scheduling, this edition was pushed back to 12:55pm for a "Only Fools and Horses" repeat but it'll always be hugely important to me as a record of the year I found my voice. Although Robson and Jerome can still piss right off.


3.00pm: The Queen (Every bleedin’ year)

GAWD LOVE ER




3:10pm: FILM - Mary Poppins (1964) 

"Disney musical comedy starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke. George Banks' search for a no-nonsense nanny to take care of his two naughty children comes unstuck when the practically perfect Mary Poppins glides into their lives"

Practically perfect in every way, I could've gone for a lot of great Christmas Day premieres (I so very nearly went with "Back to the Future Part II" because I love it and I dont care) almost all of which was placed post-Maj but for me "Mary Poppins" is just joyful, full of brilliant songs and best of all, I've seen it so many times that if I do nod off after a big old gob-full of bird meat and potatoes, I can just ease back into the plot when I suddenly awake shouting "WHAT? I DONT KNOW NO SPIDERMAN". As was the case with films from the house of ear-shaped snacks, Mary had cropped up in a lot of "Disney Time" compilations on the Beeb but they wouldn't get the full TV premiere until Christmas Day 1984. Sequel? What sequel?



5:30pm: Christmas Telly Addicts (1988)

“Join Noel for a Christmas clash of the TV titans.” 

Bit of a cheat this one as Noel Edmonds' telly quiz never appeared on the big day but by now I'll need a bit of waking up and a good quiz is perfect for that (I was this close to picking Only Connect...). And so Lil Noely continues his jackbooted and garishly jumpered domination of our late Decembers with the still much-missed TV quiz. Competing in this 1988 edition were “The Cotton Club”, a team comprising of the BBC Managing Director Bill Cotton with Terry Wogan, Tim Rice and TV critic Margaret Forwood and opponents “The Gradey Bunch” aka new Channel 4 chief Michael Grade with Ernie Wise, Susan Reynish from 1986’s winning “Telly Addicts” family plus a seemingly unannounced Leslie Grantham (Grantham’s EastEnders character Dirty Den was at the time in jail before being “killed off” in 1989.) whose appearance seems to throw the usually unflappable Noel for the first few minutes. The regular quiz then continues as normal (The Gradey Bunch win 27-24) until near the end of the show as when some comedy police officers appear on set – again apparently without Noel’s prior knowledge  – to arrest ‘Dirty Den’  Of course everyone – ho ho! - naturally points at Noel who is cuffed and carted off by the fuzz never to be seen again. It's basically Rodney King in bad knitwear.



6:00pm: Only Fools and Horses - The Jolly Boys Outing (1989)

"Del organises a trip to Margate where he encounters a lost love. But should Rodney be leaving Cassandra?"

Looking back, I realise how much my dial was clearly always set to the Beeb on the big day but I was never really into ITV's mainstream comedies and whilst its been shown more than the testcard and my Dad's operation scar now, "Only Fools and Horses" remains a truly magnificent piece of work. This 1989 special is perhaps my favourite as its the first I can really remember sitting with my family and all laughing at, which was a rare thing in itself. Originally scheduled after the always-rotten "Bread", 20 million British people watched this go out the first time and it makes me a bit sad there's no equivalent in 2018. That said, the following year's Christmas day special “Rodney Come Home” might be one of the most bleak programmes ever broadcast on Jesus' birthday with a 75 minute exploration of Rodney’s failing marriage. LAUGHS!


For much more like this, pick up a copy of "Festive Double Issue: Forty Years Of Christmas TV" for yer Kindles and that here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ben-Bakers-Festive-Double-Issue-ebook/dp/B079KL4PW7/ref=la_B079KSMVXK_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1544564879&sr=1-1

Next time: we finish up with comedy. Lots and lots of comedy. Tune in!

Wednesday 12 December 2018

A Christmas Day In The Life: Part One

In my book, “Festive Double Issue: Forty Years of Christmas TV”, I cover the two week festive and New Year period with everything from the obvious to the baffling and all the stuffed puppet rodents in between. But what would make up my own perfect Christmas Day line-up? Here’s how part one of it might shape up…


10.00am: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

“The wistful little comic-strip character with the spiral curl and the quizzical frown on a search for the real meaning of Yuletide.”

Right well for starters, you can bugger getting up before ten so we’ll start here but if you want anything earlier let’s assume it was just “Christmas Comes To Pacland” on a loop from 11pm the following evening. We’ll definitely need a gentle tip into the day so let’s go with this still-joyful CBS TV special that brought to life the characters from Charles Shultz’s Peanuts comic strip. What could be a schmaltzy mess is instead a funny, truthful take on how different people (or, in this case, surprisingly erudite eight-year-olds) feel about the holidays. Of course, there’s some good old fashioned slices of American cheese in there – the kids all singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” around Charlie’s awful Christmas tree for example – and even a bit of Jesus (courtesy of Linus quoting the Gospel of Luke) but it never feels preachy or forced.



Best of all is the largely instrumental jazz soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio which remains one of those rare records that just radiates festive feeling in every note and gets around 5,000 plays every December in my house. It was even added to the US Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry list of “culturally, historically or aesthetically important American sound recordings” in 2012. Good grief!


10:30am Olive The Other Reindeer (1999)

“When Santa cancels his annual flight because of a hurt reindeer, a young Christmas loving dog named Olive is convinced she has what it takes to get Santa's flight off the ground and save Christmas. “

Plenty of people have Christmas traditions that they have to stick to - year in year out - lest the season not be as holly and indeed jolly as previous a Yule. For some it’s a specific date to put up the tinsel and tree, for others it involves listening to “Fairytale Of New York” enough times to medically induce rectal bleeding. For yours truly, the festive period just isn’t even vaguely considerable unless I’ve sat down for forty five minutes in the company of a cheery seasonal dog with the voice of Drew Barrymore on a mission to save Christmas.

Originally produced in 1999 for the Fox and executive produced by Matt Groening, “Olive, the Other Reindeer” is everything a modern Christmas special shouldn’t be – packed with needless celebrity cameos, flashy CGI animation and based on a beloved children’s book by Vivian Walsh with gorgeous illustration from J. Otto Seibold. But it’s gorgeous, full of heart and very funny to boot. The tale is simple enough – Olive, a happy if untraditional dog, mishears an urgent radio report calling for “all of the other reindeer” to replace an injured Blitzen as “Olive The Other Reindeer” and so she sets off to the North Pole against all odds to try and save the day. Along the way, she pals up with a corrupt penguin called Martini (voiced superbly in cod-Pesci tones by Joe Pantoliano, one of those traditional “ooh it’s that bloke from that thing” actors) and tries to escape the dastardly plans of the angry Postman (Homer himself, Dan Castellaneta) who is delighted Christmas is cancelled due to the extra stress and back-breaking work it makes for him.


Featuring new music from Californian swing revivalists Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Michael Stipe as Schnitzel, the embittered flightless cousin of Blitzen, “Olive” bounces along merrily with a score by the terrific Christopher Tyng whilst the animation was carried out by DNA Productions, a company soon to hit big with Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius for Nickelodeon and the film The Ant Bully. Although both of those are mostly a load of old wank so probably best just ignoring that.



11:15am Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

“Jim Henson, creator of the world-famous Muppets, presents a one-hour Christmas special with Emmet Otter and his friends...”

More unbearable cuteness, this time based on Russell Hoban’s 1971 children’s tale of the same name and introduced (unless you have the annoying region 2 DVD where the hacked him out) by Kermit the Frog, Emmet Otter is beautiful, touching, funny, ridiculous and full of terrific new Paul Williams songs perfect for giving you the warm fuzzies...which is apt for when you’re watching a bunch of warm fuzzies, I suppose. Emmet and his mother Alice live a poor life in an old shack barely getting by doing odd jobs until each of them notices that a big prize talent contest is happening and decides to surprise the other by entering. Originally shown by HBO long before it was the boobs and Larry David's face channel back in December 1977, its quaint (at least one of my friends has begged me to turn it off before) but there’s a more anarchic side too when their town is over-run by teenage menaces who later form – with a hat-tip to Alice Cooper The Riverbottom Nightmare Band. Muppet and music fans celebrated equally in 2018 when Varese Sarabande announced a long overdue 41st anniversary release of the soundtrack on vinyl and CD, including one never used song “Born In A Trunk”."A person's got to take some chances or life will never come to nothin'..."




Next time: My pick of the Pops, Tidybeard's peak and one of those feature films.

Wednesday 31 October 2018

Looking Back At 31st October

Saturday, October 31st, 1992

9.25pm Ghostwatch (BBC One)

"A Screen One Special drama for Hallowe'en by Stephen Volk, starring Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, Craig Charles. Ghosts no longer inhabit stately homes and rattle chains. They live in ordinary council houses like that of Mrs Pamela Early. For months she's suffered strange noises, awful smells and bent cutlery, but is hers really the most haunted house in Britain? BBCtv turns the cameras on ghoulies, ghosties and things that go bump in the night."



This week, the dark anthology series "Inside No. 9" more or less pulled off a creepy live special that went deliberately wrong, causing the deaths of its stars and showing images that were never meant to be seen. For viewers over a certain age, there was only one programme they could compare it to. But today's subject wasn't a cult comedy tucked away on BBC2, this had over 11 million viewers thrilled, perplexed, terrified and entertained by a piece of fiction airing prime time Saturday night on BBC One. To put those numbers in perspective for 1992 that was slightly less than were watching that week’s oddly forgotten old folks home sitcom “Waiting For God” but thankfully more than Jim Davidson's “Big Break”.

A one-off play airing under the regular “Screen One” banner, "Ghostwatch" took advantage of its Halloween night scheduling with an alleged live broadcast investigating a haunted house going hideously wrong as the spirit of “Pipes” slowly infected the programme, initially in “blink and you’ll miss it” cameos, before stepping up to causing the off-screen disappearance of reporter Sarah Greene as Craig Charles and her real life husband Mike Smith look on in horror. It ends with Pipes eventually possessing the host Michael Parkinson who intones “ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN LIKE A TEDDY BEAR” as the studio collapses around him. Cats yowl. The screen cuts out. The full cast list is scrolled. Continuity continues. BBC One move on to “Match of the Day”. The nation tries to go to sleep*.



Despite this blatant staging, Radio Times listing containing the full cast and outright explanation it was merely a fictional play, “Ghostwatch” showed the power of television on people of all types – some scoffed at the ridiculousness, some were deeply disturbed and many rang into the BBC and the Duty Log to lodge either complaints or check if this thing they were seeing was in anyway possibly real. With no Twitter or Facebook to back up and debunk, it’s understandable how deeply the show affected people. The simple power of television.



As for me, I was watching it alone aged 12 and more than a little freaked out. We didn’t buy the Radio Times so the comforting brace of a cast list wasn’t there to check but I had definitely seen the “Screen One” introduction at the start so in the back of my mind knew it had to be fiction. …right? I wasnt scared but just to give the other channels a chance I occasionally flicked to a different show for a bit of respite - probably not ITV as they were showing "Wall Street" whilst Channel 4 had the uninspiring double bill of "Court TV" and racing highlights but possibly "Monty Python's Flying Circus" repeats on one of the German satellite channels which can be just as creepy in its own way - before heading back for the latest bit of Pipes-mania.

And now you can too!

Looking back, its easy to grin at the acting, graphics or staged feel but, over 25 years later, we're still talking about it and no doubt will for a long time to come. Your move "Inside No.9"....





*Unless they turned over to BBC Two who were showing an entire theme night through until morning under the title “The Vault of Horror” hosted by the erudite and charming “Dr Walpurgis” (created by genre aficionado and author Kim Newman and played actor Guy Henry under an extremely well done rubber mask) and featuring the TV premiere of the quite good “Creepshow”, Hammer’s “The Curse of the Werewolf”, 1935 classic “The Bride of Frankenstein”, hoary 70s cannibals-on-the-London-Underground-spectacular “Death Line” and, in the “shit kids might be up early now watching” slot at 6:10am “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein”. More excitingly for horror fans were new featurettes on Dario Argento, The Evil Dead series, make up legend Tom Savini, EC Comics’ horror titles and much more. The slot was so popular that was used for late night scary movie sections over on BBC One on 1993, 1994 and 1996 with Guy Henry now appearing as simply as the increasingly daft “Dr Terror”.


Teletext image taken from the brilliant Ghostwatch: Behind The Curtains blogThe original version of this text appeared in my book "Kill Your Television" available here. 

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Looking Back At 10th October

Friday, October 10th, 1969

8.25pm: Golden Silents (BBC One)

"The stars of the silent comedy screen introduced by Michael Bentine from the National Film Theatre, London"

Another one of those "blimey, that's in the slot you'd have Masterchef or Paul O'Grady's Cry At Some Dogs now!" picks in which the former Goon and "Potty Time" presider Michael Bentine presented black and white films without commentary. This particular edition is brilliantly titled "I Moustache you to take off that Moustache" and is literally about old clips where the people have moustaches - amazingly, yes, Charlie Chaplin was heavily featured. Footage remains elusive today although probably exists on a rusty old film canister somewhere thanks to the programme being co -produced by famous comedy hoarder Bob Monkhouse via his production company Mitchell Monkhouse Associates. Monkhouse had already produced a very similar programme "Mad Movies" for the other side. A few years later he'd be visited by the Serious Crime Squad who confiscated his 16mm collection leading to a landmark court case in which it was legally decided that people could own 'copyrighted' material if only used privately for personal entertainment, and not for profit or gain. By this point the first video machines were already being released in Japan and soon everybody would have their own stash of tapes, just like Bob's.


Sunday, 10th October, 1971 

6.15pm A Chance to Meet Father Hugh Bishop (BBC One)

"Superior of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield: an Anglican community of priests and laymen involved in pastoral and educational work at home and overseas."


HELLO!


Thursday, October 10th, 1974

10.00pm: Election 74 (BBC and ITV) 

"Alastair Burnet heads into night-long action again the team who were first with the right prediction (and fastest with the results) of the February election. David Butler explaining the detail behind each result. Graham Pyatt interrogating the computer as it instantly relates each vote to the national trend. Robert McKenzie keeping the score and Robin Day interviewing the winners - and the losers." (BBC)





"Peter Jay, economics editor of The Times, chairs an ITN panel of leading politicians, trade unionists and business executives. They includc Lord Hailsham, Lord Chancellor in the last Conservative Government, Robert Mellish, Labour Chief Whip, and Jo Grimmond, former leader of the Liberal party.Peter Snow reports regularly on the trends as they are spotted by the ITN computer and displayed on the VT30." (ITV)

Burnet on the Beeb and Peter Snow doing his technical wizardry on ITV? What kind of crazy year was 1974!?!? Well, one with two general elections for starters, thanks to a hung parliament at the earlier February vote, leading to a second ballot in which Harold Wilson's Labour Party squeaked in by just three votes. But what about the telly? Well, BBC won automatically by only going off air at 4am to ITV's 3am at a time where TV general conked out around midnight. The Beeb also had the finer warm up programming with a first run episode of "Porridge" ("Men Without Women")  before the final regular edition of "Steptoe and Son" ("Seance in a Wet Rag and Bone Yard") at half 9. ITV would go a little more highbrow with a post-polls closing edition of "This Is Your Life" dedicated to disability campaigner Jack Ashley, the UK’s first deaf MP.



Monday, October 10th, 1983

6.40pm: Riverside (BBC Two)

"On Riverside this week studio music is provided by Paul Haig. Mike Andrews visits the Hacienda Club, Manchester for a chat with New Order and comedy from yet another Edinburgh festival success John Sessions of whom the press said 'Mr Sessions is a satirical mimic of the first order and a very fine actor to boot'..."

A now mostly forgotten pop'n'youth prog which is pleasingly well represented on YouTube with performances from a lot of the decade's best bands. Ex-Josef K man Paul Haig's performance is here (sadly in rotten quality) whilst the interview with Manchester's most lovable shits, The New Orders has been heavily bootlegged due to their keen fanbase. The same can not be said for the John Sessions fans though and the appearance by the then 30-year old John Gibb Marshall will have to exist purely in your minds. And I bet whatever you're thinking he did, that's exactly it.



Monday, October 10th, 1988

10.20pm: The Oprah Winfrey Show (Channel 4)

"Ranked as America’s No 1 talk show, this new series from the States features actress Oprah Winfrey as the bright and bubbly host. With a panel of guests and a lively studio audience, Oprah candidly discusses anything from husband bashing to the girl next door. She asks the questions we want to ask — if only we dared."


An oddly late night appearance for a chat show that was making a lot of headlines at the time, fronted by one of the Oscar-nominated stars of the recent Spielberg film "The Color Purple" Oprah back when she was just a human and not the trillionaire golden god of all television ever. The show didn't lats long in this slot but would be a regular afternoon feature on Channel 4 before BBC2 and later Channel 5 snatched it. The programme continued until May 2011 whereupon Oprah needed her very own channel - OWN - to branch out. Back in 1988 though, she would have it out with some of the biggest creeps around - wife-beaters, rapists and whatever this prick is meant to be...



Thursday, October 10th, 2002

9.50pm: Look Around You (BBC Two)

"The first in a new series of short films parodying educational programmes from the late 1970s and early 1980s tackles the basics of mathematics and numerology. Producers: Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz"

A brilliant show that was never quite allowed to be a cult, due to some serious online hyping ("Little Mouse for Christmas No.1" anybody?) and the swift release of a DVD. There's loads to enjoy though with the references to old schools programming being really spot on right down to the music which was made by Popper and Serafinowicz, who himself was already too well known to comedy fans for this to believable as a real old show, themselves under the moniker "Gelg". Being placed before the patchy third series of "The League of Gentlemen" meant many saw it whilst tuning in early for the latest unhappy adventures of Royston Vasey.

Monday 8 October 2018

Run The Jools: Who Was On The First Later?

"23.15: The Late Show: Later
A new weekly music series presented by Jools Holland , including two guest bands plus an additional acoustic set. Producer Mark Cooper says Later will provide an eclectic mix of artists: "It is not intended to be rock- or chart-orientated, although we do hope to feature some mainstream artists."
● STEREO"


And thus, 26 years ago and two and a bit hours after the "Culture" episode of "Bottom", one of the longest running British programmes quietly launched to a stream of "Isn't Naked City on?", "he was better in Squeeze" and "was that Rowland Rivron?" "Later....With Jools Holland" came into being as a spin-off from BBC2's much missed arts strand "The Late Show" with a simple "bands in a room playing music" format which as we can see from episode one onwards hasnt changed very much at all.



The Christians there, flogging their third album "Happy As Hell" which had just charted at a less-than-spectacular No.18 after a No.1 and No.2 in 1988 and 1990 respectively. Yet in terms of success when compared to the other three acts featured on the first episode of "Later...", they were unquestionably the headline band. Next would probably be The Neville Brothers - sadly not the football ones - but an American soul / funk collective of four - yes! - brothers named Art, Charles, Aaron and Cyril who had a minor UK hit in late 1989 "With God On Our Side". Their sixth record "Family Groove" had been released the Monday of this edition to very little interest indeed. Whether thats because the lead single was the most 1992 sounding cover of Steve Miller's MOR stodge classic "Fly Like An Eagle" featuring Steve Miller himself on guitar is hard to call. It failed to chart.



Whether they were pissed off when Seal had a very similar sounding hit with it five years later as part of the "Space Jam" soundtrack is unrecorded. Athough frankly it had been better if none of these versions had been recorded in the first place. Sorry, its easy to sneer I appreciate from my comfy armchair in 2018 with all the exciting chart music like...um...thingy with the hat and the lass with...the...eyes? Back in 1992, it would unquestiionably have been a pleasant opportunity to see some lesser known musical acts that were not being forced to sing tunelessly in front of Tony Dortie. Like Nu Colours...



Another one of those "I'm sure I remember that!" dance pop sounds from the time although they again wouldn't see much success in the charts, peaking at No.31 in 1996. Its a shame because the harmonies are really impressive and belie the gospel sound they initially identified with. Their separate vocals would eventually find their ways as backing to the likes of Robbie Williams, Lighthouse Family, Lulu, Squeeze, Paloma Faith, M People, Tin Tin Out and...oh, The Christians' "Happy As Hell". And finishing up this premiere edition of Jools' grooving organ were D'Influence, another act that would come to be better known for their songwriting and remixes. Here's them on this very show. along with some now trademark suitably awkward banter around the piano with Jools...




It was a slow start but considering the early days and later slot, its still a solid vehicle for live music which gives a window to a lot more urban, soul and RnB music than we perhaps collectively remember between the guitar spankers. Whether you would tune in and assume it'd be midway through its 53rd series in 2018 is doubtful but the fairly open (i.e. not metal) "if its hip" policy led to some of the biggest, best and plain strangest lineups of musical turns squished together on the box. Future series one editions would feature such awkward bedfellows as Denim and En Vogue, Sonic Youth and Shabba Ranks and everyone's favourite lousy bastard Morrissey on an episode with obvious pals Matthew Sweet, Tori Amos and Chris Rea.

As for me, I love "Later...With Jools Holland", I just wish it was on at a earlier time. With a different presenter. And less music...

Yes, I know whose joke that is I nicked....what are the chances of that happening?

Friday 5 October 2018

I've Got It. We Can Retitle The Repeats.

Christmas shopping isn't fun at the best of times and the late night Thursday opening, whilst initially seeming quite useful, quickly turns into a bustling pit of gormless and increasingly panicked festive purchasers. Not great for a claustrophobic, bookish eight year old scared of his own shadow who couldn't even buy anything if he wanted to. And yet that’s exactly the position I found myself on the 30th of November, 1989. But first, here's the charts...




...looks good, shame I missed it. I was getting kind of into pop quite a bit by that point but my true love was comedy. Looking at the TV schedule for that night, I would have been eager to get home for "Blankety Blank" and Victoria Wood's series of one-off playlets on BBC One, I might even sneak a look at "Smith and Jones" at half nine on the same channel. Over on ITV, I would've been happy to miss a 7pm showing of "After Henry" whilst on Channel 4 there was repeat of the historical big business sitcom "Brass" although I didn't understand a word of it and they didn't even have a laugh track to tell you when to join in! And as for these laffs...































Despite looking like a rather unexciting evening's entertainment, both in the real world and on the small screen, Thursday November 30th 1989 was still one of the most exciting dates burnt into my pint-sized brain. But why? Well, - even though today is the official 49th anniversary of its launch - that for me was the start of "Monty Python's Flying Circus".

I have a vivid recollection of getting in and being allowed to watch my little portable black and white telly for half an hour in bed. It was a perfectly normal event for me by then as I'd long been obsessed with comedy and 9pm on BBC Two really was the place to go for it. This would've been its fourth or fifth run out in some form or other - the 1987 repeats had been slightly too early for me - or too late, being as they aired well after my bedtime. But now I was here and the first episode I saw was the episode one of series one ('Whither Canada?') to boot! A few minutes of dead pigs, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Italian language lessons in, my mum came to kiss me goodnight. Bewildered by what I was seeing, I can recall asking her if I'd like this series. As I say, I was a nervy child and the alternative 80's comedy shows were frequently full of violence and grue so I felt it best to check. She said she didn't know but that it was very silly. I decided to stick it out and over the coming weeks was rewarded with something that looked on the surface like the more traditional comedy I knew such as the Two Ronnies and yet genuinely felt like nothing I'd seen before. To say it changed my life borders on typical hyperbole but its probably not far from the truth. I just couldn't stop thinking about it.

The repeats were to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Python's first broadcast on the 5th October 1969 and in true BBC fashion they missed the date entirely, catching up on 18th November with the new compilation "Parrot Sketch Not Included" on BBC One. After which there was a two week wait for more new oldness.



Whether the Beeb held back because of the appallingly coincidental death of Graham Chapman, just one day before the twentieth anniversary is a nice thought but unlikely. By the time the 25th anniversary came round the BBC weren't holding back, starting their big repeat run in July and even showing rare as hen's teeth special "Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus". As for me, I was lapping it all up as a fully confirmed Python obsessive. I excitedly borrowed the WH Smith box set of series two from my uncle and watched it endlessly. Then there were the films, the books and with "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" suddenly charting, almost as if it was aware I'd just become a fan, the brilliant records. And the computer game for the Amiga (which you can read more about here)! I'd even watch Flying Circus repeats on German satellite TV, in English with subtitles, which made a strange series, even more unusual.

So, October 5th 1969 might be the true birthday for Python but it doesn't hold a candle to November 30th 1989. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go trivialise the war...

Thursday 4 October 2018

Looking Back On 4th October

All the Slades in today's installment of the blog but first up, an unsteady Marxman...


Sunday, October 4th, 1959

7.35pm: Showtime with Chico Marx (BBC Television)

"David Nixon introduces Showtime with Chico Marx making his first appearance on British Television; Eve Boswell the South African singing star and Mata and Hari, America's most sensational comedy dance team with Stanley Unwin, The Television Toppers, The George Mitchell Singers and the Orchestra."



In 1959, it had been ten long years since the Marx Brothers last headlining film, the god awful "Love Happy", which had been meant for just Harpo before a heavily in-debt Chico was stuck in alongside an uneasy Groucho. Ten years later, things were clearly not much better as this wobbly but amazingly still-existing appearance on the BBC's popular variety show, just two years before his death in October 1961 aged 74, shows. Who knew that Chico needed the money...?



Friday, October 4th, 1963

10.15pm: The Strange World Of Gurney Slade (most ITV regions)

One of the most original, unusual and fascinating sitcoms ever made, Gurney Slade, played by Anthony Newley (you know, from the Garbage Pail Kids Movie), is the bored star of a sitcom who decides in episode one to walk out and find something better to do. Viewers, used to Newley's light pop career and more traditional variety turns, had been thrown in 1960 by this surreal, droll comedy which was moved from half 8 to half 11 after two episodes aired so its a surprise to see this repeat run crop up in 1963 although Newley having co-written (with Leslie Bricusse) the Broadway hit "Stop The World - I Want To Get Off" might have helped. The same month also saw Newley return to the chart with the hit comedy album "Fool Britannia" recorded with Peter Sellers and his then-wife Joan Collins sending up the extremely topical Profumo Affair. [Listen to it on Spotify here.]

This was episode five which features Gurney reading a lengthy folk tale to a group of chidlren before they're intruded upon by a worse-for-wear Bernie Winters being propositioned by Maureen Connell. Its probably the dullest of six truly magnificent half hours and still ends with a battle inside Gurney's mind with a magical tinker and an evil version of himself. Whether the three years had given viewers chance to catch up to Slade and Newley is unsure but its a huge stepping stone to the works of Cook and Moore, Python and lots of quirky British comedies that followed, not to mention some bloke called Bowie...




Thursday, October 4th, 1973

7.00pm: Top of the Pops (BBC One)

"An extra special edition of Top of the Pops to celebrate its 500th birthday featuring this week's chart successes and surprise guest appearances from the international world of pop."

Nine and a bit years after launching, The Toppermost Of The Poppermost reaches a very important milestone. And no, of course you cant watch it because its presented by that horrible old fucker. Pause for a joke about Noel Edmonds. Sadly, the cigar chomping, fright-wigged Fix It pederast is all over the episode so its perhaps a mercy that most of it seems to be lost, although some section remain in black and white such as this Who appearance. A few of the inserts have made it to YouTube though including this message from Slade (not Gurney) who were in the middle of a US tour trying in vain to convince the Americans that they shouldn't wait until 1983 for "Cum On Feel The Noize" to be a hit.

Interesting to note the band singing Happy Birthday to the tune of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" and saying they'll be back soon as one of the tracks recorded during that American trip would be released in December and become somewhat associated with the festive season...


Thursday, October 4th, 1984 

8.30pm: Looks Familiar (Channel 4) 


A smashing line up for a showing of Denis Norden's gentle "Do you remember things?" panel game. When Denis died earlier this year there was a wonderful outpouring of genuine warmth of the sort he himself encapsulated as the host of programmes like these. "Looks Familiar" had been a long running series for Thames TV before ITV decided that some old people talking about some old things wasn't for them anymore, at which point dynamic young upstarts Channel 4 said "Oh we'll have it then!" And thus it continued until 1987 there.