RIP

As seen on TV: Victoria Wood

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Victoria Wood
Our summary of the late Victoria Wood’s TV CV…

NEW FACES (ATV 1974)

THE SUMMER SHOW (ATV 1975)
Victoria Wood’s telly debut was, like many of her peers, on a talent show, in her case New Faces which she more or less managed to get on because she had a mate on the production team. Her comic songs were an appealing diversion from the norm and she managed to win, though New Faces was an incredibly labyrinthine format that was more complex than the Europa League (“So, Our Kid will return at a later date to be re-assessed”) and there were shows, winners’ shows, all-winners’ shows and finals. She certainly did very well, in any case, although her appearance on the show now appears only to exist via VHS. Part of her prize was to appear with other New Faces alumni in The Summer Show, where she was part of a motley cast including Lenny Henry and Marti Caine, plus Leslie Crowther to add a bit of glamour to proceedings, and all Victoria can remember from the series is singing a version of Waltzing Matilda with Crowther where every instance of the word “waltzing” was replaced by “Walsall”.

THAT’S LIFE (BBC 1976)
One big difference between today’s talent shows and those of the past was in those days, after you won that was as far as the telly was interested and you had to sort yourself out after that. Hence Victoria was now hunting for more work and was hired by Esther Rantzen to join the rotating line-up of musicians providing comic songs about the week’s news for That’s Life. Unfortunately Victoria soon realised she hated topical comedy and couldn’t find any news stories to write funny songs about, with Esther telling her to fish out Tuesday’s Daily Express from the bin because she remembered reading something amusing in it. After a couple of weeks of that she gave up and tried to find a career that wasn’t just as Richard Stilgoe with breasts.

TALENT (Granada 1979)
NEARLY A HAPPY ENDING (Granada 1980)
HAPPY SINCE I MET YOU (Granada 1981)
After a couple of years performing and writing, Victoria finally found her niche in writing comedy plays, and after her show Talent had proven popular on stage, she was commissioned to do it on the telly, writing and appearing in it alongside her mate Julie Walters. It was shown in August 1979, fortunately for her just 24 hours before ITV started collapsing into chaos and the strike began, and was popular enough to generate a sequel the next year, then she wrote another one which she wasn’t in, but Duncan Preston was, and finally her career seemed to be taking off.

WOOD AND WALTERS (Granada 1981)
Such was her success as a writer, Granada offered Victoria her own show, which she accepted as long as Julie Walters was in it, and also she had her name in the titles. A Christmas special did well enough and a series followed, but in between the producer died, with a replacement arriving just before recording who didn’t really seem to know or like much about Victoria. In addition, when she was commissioned to write six half hours, she did exactly that, failing to realise you were supposed to write loads more so you could throw half of it away. A clueless studio audience who didn’t know what they were watching didn’t help, but there were some interesting bits in it, including a rather out-of-place but amusing monologue from Rik Mayall.

VICTORIA WOOD AS SEEN ON TV (BBC 1985)
After a few years out refining the act, Victoria was back in TV comedy but this time on the Beeb. To coincide with the show she went out on tour, billing herself as “as seen on TV”, only for the series to be put back and make her look stupid. When it finally got on air, though, it was absolutely brilliant, a fabulous mix of sketches and stand-up, the only downside being the horrible suits Victoria wears for those bits. There are loads of great bits across the two series and one special, like the daft documentaries such as Flatmates, Marjorie and Joan and, of course, probably the funniest recurring sketch on telly, Acorn Antiques. That link up there is the last one ever at Christmas 1987. We wonder why they never dropped the audience laughter from the opening titles but you get the original continuity and the Quantel-ified credits we used to love so much. Plus, TVC celebrate another all-time favourite here.

AN AUDIENCE WITH VICTORIA WOOD (LWT 1988)
For many years it used to be Victoria sketches on the Beeb and Victoria stand-up on ITV, with many of her theatre shows being televised on the light channel. This was the only time she did a proper telly show for ITV after Wood and Walters, though, for this highly memorable compendium of all her greatest hits which was then repeated and mined for clips for an eternity (and for a while was one of the few of her shows you could get in full on video). She’s got an excuse for the awful outfit in this one too because she was six months pregnant when she made it.

VICTORIA WOOD (BBC 1989)
Victoria’s first series after As Seen On TV saw her promoted to BBC1. This was a series of six one-off sitcoms which Victoria played “herself”, although the rest of the cast changed in every episode and in some of them Victoria is very much a supporting character. We enjoyed them at the time but some of them seemed a bit too much like sketches dragged out to half an hour and Victoria didn’t enjoy making them because they didn’t film them in front of an audience. The one up there is probably the best, the airport one, and despite a rather lukewarm response the Beeb didn’t seem that bothered as they repeated them a thousand times.

VICTORIA WOOD’S ALL DAY BREAKFAST (BBC 1992)
A bit more like it, this, Victoria was now a big enough star for her new show to get a Christmas Day outing. The whole thing came about when Victoria had just giving birth and spent hours and hours watching daytime telly, which she considered the perfect target for spoofery – and she managed to get in before everyone else parodied This Morning as well. The whole thing was of course just a linking device for more sketches and songs, and there were certainly plenty of nods towards As Seen On TV with the continuity announcements and a new soap, but none the worse for that. Since then Victoria’s telly work for the rest of the Cream era owed more to drama, at which she was equally adept, with great stuff like Pat and Margaret, establishing her as one of the greatest writers of her generation. Don’t forget, it may be Hamlet, but it’s got to be fun, fun, fun!

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The man who excelled: Paul Daniels (1938-2016)

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The man who excelled
A true light entertainment giant? Yes, Paul!

In light of the sad news, here’s a ruffle through the TV highlights of Mr Paul Daniels…

FOR MY NEXT TRICK (BBC 1975)
It’s the man who excels, Paul Dan-i-els! And yes, we’ll come to that in due course. The former local government auditor from Middlesbrough started his magical career in night clubs, initially performing alongside his then wife in a double act called The Eldanis (do you see?). We think Paul’s first telly appearance was on Opportunity Knocks and he slogged away on the circuit for many years, gradually working his way up the bill. One of his first proper TV gigs was this Saturday teatime series which promised, it says here, “non-stop, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t magic, mirth and music” with Paul billed alongside Faith Brown and some other names we don’t recognise.

THE WHEELTAPPERS AND SHUNTERS SOCIAL CLUB (Granada 1976)
THE PAUL DANIELS SHOW (Granada 1977)
PAUL DANIELS’ BLACKPOOL BONANZA (Granada 1978)
Probably the man most responsible for turning Paul Daniels from a middle-of-the-bill novelty act to a star name was Granada’s legendary star-spotting Head of Light Entertainment John Hamp, who hired him for several appearances on the Wheeltappers where his mix of magic and aggressive comedy caught the eye. He was successful enough for ITV to give him his own Christmas special in 1977 and then the next year he was booked to front a variety series, his tricks interspersing the traditional fare, the highest rated episode pulling in 12.8 million viewers in August 1978 with a guest list including Roy Walker and his old Wheeltappers mate Colin Crompton. However Paul’s spell on the light channel was short-lived as he was then poached by the Beeb.

THE PAUL DANIELS MAGIC SHOW (BBC 1979)
Paul’s move to the Beeb saw him launch a new series that would eventually run for fifteen years. The key word in the title was “magic” because the show was devoted to tricks and nothing but, with no opportunity to wheel on a singer or comedian when inspiration ran dry. A hugely successful series, it seemed very much the flagship light entertainment show on the Beeb, with extremely high production values, while it was constantly entered for, and won, awards like the Golden Rose of Montreux and, for four years in the early eighties, was rewarded with the much coveted slot on Christmas Day. We join it up there in 1981, during the period where the show had a “jury”, twelve members of the studio audience who would sit on the stage in the interests of seeing everything was above board and there were no camera tricks or anything. And there was that unforgettable theme tune, inviting us to “look at this trick and that trick”, not quite Ronnie Hazlehurst’s finest few minutes.

ODD ONE OUT (BBC 1982)
As well as his magic show keeping him busy for many years, Paul also spent over a decade capably hosting a trilogy of amiable, if unexciting, game shows which would happily while away an idle half hour. This was the first, heralded by surely the strangest composition that man Ronnie ever came up with, though just right for the daft titles with Paul’s “haven’t got it… nearly got it… got it!” faces. Revolting set, though. The point of the game was to, well, spot the odd one out in lists of things, but it’s fun to play along and we wouldn’t mind if a channel commissioned two hundred episodes of it to run every day. Paul’s banter with the contestants and audience was a bit brittle but he had the quick wit to keep it all running smoothly for four years, unsurprisingly getting its highest ever rating just before the end of its run in 1985 when it found itself opposite a three hour documentary on the Miners’ Strike on ITV.

WIZBIT (BBC 1985)
This kids’ series is fondly remembered, albeit mostly by people who haven’t actually seen any of it for many years. Paul narrated and starred in this series about an anthropomorphic triangle thing (we wonder if his face was modelled on Paul’s craggy features) who travelled around Puzzleopolis getting involved in encounters that inevitably involved magic and puzzles the viewers were invited to figure out. And Paul rapped the theme tune which we’re sure you’ll now have running around your head for the next few days. Sorry.

EVERY SECOND COUNTS (BBC 1986)
Apparently Larry Grayson and Russell Grant both recorded pilots for this show but in the end Paul seamlessly moved across from Odd One Out to front this new series. As with his previous quiz, there was nothing particularly earth-shattering about it but its enjoyable playalong format and Paul’s gags meant that while it was something you’d never stay in to watch, you wouldn’t switch it off if you stumbled across it. It flitted around the schedules a bit – we most associate it with Friday nights when Blankety Blank wasn’t there, but it was on Saturdays for a while and towards the end all over the place – but lasted seven years which isn’t bad going. However even at the end nobody knew exactly what the contestants won (it was the first prize they won, and the last, but not the prizes in between). The highlight of course was when a telly was a prize and it showed the Every Second Counts logo in teletext. And Paul’s fantastic wave at the end, natch.

PAUL DANIELS LIVE ON HALLOWEEN (BBC 1987)
Halloween was never that big a deal in the eighties but with 31st October falling on a Saturday in 1987 Paul took the opportunity to present some suitably spooky illusions in this special, climaxing with the hugely memorable moment where apparently the iron maiden trick had “gone wrong” and the audience were asked to leave while the credits rolled in silence. Apparently the Beeb switchboard melted and, after the Python repeat, Paul popped up to tell us he wasn’t dead after all. Twelve months later there was a second special but because Halloween was on Monday it went out at ten o’clock after Panorama and nobody noticed it, but we’ve got that in full!. That one ended with Paul being burned alive and the following day Tracey McCoy, age thirteen, from Wembley wrote in her diary for One Day In The Life Of Television that, in her opinion, “whoever thought this up must be mentally disturbed”.

QED (BBC 1988)
COMIC RELIEF (BBC 1989)
Two memorable guest appearances here. We wish there was a show like QED now, which certainly put the pop into pop science, using all kinds of gimmickry to bring science and innovation to the masses, whether that was getting Kenny Everett in to explain visual effects of inviting Steve Davis to take on a snooker-playing robot. In 1988 Paul presented a special edition of his show devoted to “The Magic of Memory”, with all his usual patter to explain the concept of brain training. Then on Red Nose Day 1989 he did a trick with a milk jug that went ever so slightly wrong in an amusing fashion, its failure becoming something of a running joke on Comic Relief for the next few years, as whenever they invited viewers to vote to see a clip again, they would always offer up The Moment Paul Daniels’ Trick With The Milk Jug Went Ever So Slightly Wrong.

THE PAUL DANIELS MAGIC SHOW, er, again
Given it’s now ten years into its run we should probably alight on The Magic Show again as here’s what it looked like in 1990. The jury had gone, as had that theme tune, replaced by a rather anonymous theme and the opening titles with CGI magic props, which is certainly the era we most remember. A decade on Paul was still finding new ways to present the same old tricks, in things like The Bunco Booth, and unearthing interesting special guests, along with regulars like Tom Noddy and Hans Moretti. But it was starting to show its age a bit and in those days you could always tell when a BBC Saturday night show was on its way out as it would either be moved to a weeknight (a la Russ Abbott) or moved from the winter to the summer, and hence in 1994 the Magic Show moved from its cushy January start date to April, got shoved around from pillar to post during the World Cup and then unsurprisingly came to an end after a marathon run. But he wasn’t quite finished!

WIPEOUT (BBC 1994)
Every Second Counts had come to an end but Paul moved straight on to another show, with even the set looking virtually the same – and as with the previous two the format made for an enjoyable, if hardly exciting, half hour of your time. After three series the show moved to daytime and Lord Bob Monkhouse took over and Wipeout purists suggest that it took a turn for the worse at that point. We can’t agree because we simply can’t accept Lord Bob being second best at anything, especially not a game show, but we will admit Paul did a decent job of it and his version certainly had a far better theme tune.

SECRETS (BBC 1994)
So no more of the Magic Show, but certainly not the end of a Paul Daniels magic show. In its place came Secrets, which had a faux-nightclub setting, allowing for the slightly cheesier aspects of his shows to be stripped away and more concentration on close up magic. A Christmas special in 1994 was followed in 1995 by a whole series, but not on Saturdays, in the week where it seemed a bit out of place and, sadly, a bit out of date. It was probably a bit too close to his last series to allow Paul to reinvent himself and though he said in the final show “that’s the end of our series, if you liked it, write to the BBC”, clearly not enough people were compelled to shell out the price of a stamp and Paul took his leave of primetime BBC1 after nearly two decades. For the rest of his life, though, he was a regular presence on television and, while perhaps never much-loved, was certainly respected and admired by all.

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Wogan on…

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"I don't put a lot into things"
In light of the sad news, TV Cream presents some snippets from the time it sat down with the now late Lord Terrence of Woganshire. Here, dear reader, is Wogan’s ever-verdant take on a variety of subjects.

… His breakfast show audience

There must be at least, by now, three generations of young people who have grown-up to hate me, because they’ve been forced to listen to the show. But eventually they come around to my side because [laughing] I get so many letters from people saying, ‘My mother used to make me listen to you on the radio and I hate you, but now I’m inflicting you on my children’ – which is very rewarding.

… His style of chat

I don’t look for tough insights. I leave that to older men! I do it in the way I do the radio programme, which is in a spirit of spontaneity and fun. We’re not going to be confronting people and challenging them and demanding to know their innermost secrets. I don’t really do that kind of stuff. Old Paxman does that, and it leads to tears in the last thing I saw him do. Dear old boy.

I don’t work out what I’m going to say before I say it and I don’t have researchers telling me what to say. I’m bright enough to absorb this kind of information. If you don’t read enough newspapers, you won’t know about people anyway. I’ve always felt I’d rather bring spontaneity to things. And because I’m lazy, I don’t want to be sitting there poring over things. I’m not that much of a control freak where I want to control the production. I would never want to produce it myself.

Interviewing isn’t some archaic art. It’s a question of asking the right questions. My style is slightly tongue-in-cheek, looking for humour and trying to have a bit of a laugh. So we won’t talk too much about bird flu [laughs] or indeed the current situation in the Ukraine.

I don’t do confrontational interviews, and I don’t believe that you can. I’ve been criticised for doing interviews that are bland, but if you’re confrontational, after a month you’ll find you’ll get no guests. So – what? – you’ve got to try and be nasty to people? What’s the point of that?

… People touching his knee

That whole business used to drive me mad. Ho! The most irritating thing of all time. Of course, increasing numbers of PRs would say to the guests, ‘Touch his knee’. When I’d see a hand reaching out, a cold fear would come over me. For God’s sake, get off!

… Wogan

You see, one of the reasons I became a bit disenchanted with Wogan, was that the agents began to run Hollywood, and kept saying, ‘We’ll do it by satellite’. We began to do far too many by satellite. Over the last couple of years it became rife.

The old Wogan was on three days a week. I always maintained it should have been on five days a week, so I could have running gags, so that if you got somebody who was really interesting and you had to cut them short, you could say, ‘Come back on tomorrow’. But we couldn’t do that, because you only had two gaps.

I would have preferred less research and more spontaneity. It was always belts and braces. There was too much in it. Four guests in a show was ludicrous. So you’d end up with a big star and only have four minutes before you had to get the next guest on. That was an irritation that didn’t go away. But, anyway, you couldn’t do it now. You can do it if you’re Letterman, but he’s in New York, with an American audience. But they’re not going send stars over here. You’d run out of people, that’s the problem. Whereas if you do it infrequently like Michael [Parkinson] does, you can get away with it, and that’s OK. I don’t think there’s a market for it. Of course, you’ve got daytime talk shows, but they’re at a different level. They’re much more housewifey – no offence to housewives. They’re the kind of thing you want to watch in the afternoon as you [pretends to nod off].

Bill Cotton wanted to do it later in the evening, at 10pm, which is where all talk shows should be. 7pm was never a good idea. Not at all, it was too early. Do you think people are ready for talk that early in the evening?

… That David Icke interview

I don’t know whether to apologise to him for that. Although that got a huge round of applause, and I suppose it was relevant at the time, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. I have a low threshold of embarrassment. I don’t want to be upsetting anybody. His beliefs are entirely his and sincerely held. Looking back, what I said was kind of a cheap shot. It didn’t do him any harm. It certainly didn’t do me any harm, but, I think it was too easy to say it. I looked at that, and, it was a comment, but maybe I should have said nothing. I think you’ve got to be kind. Why be nasty? Only kindness matters, really.

… Eldorado

You see, that was another mistake. If they’d kept that on – I know it was expensive because they bought this place in Spain. The eejits could have shot all the interiors in a studio, rather like Neighbours – but they built this bloody place in Spain. Then they got cold feet. I suspect it could have been a success in the same way as Emmerdale if they’d left it.

… His work ethic

I don’t put a lot into things. I don’t! I don’t! If you can do something, you can do it. I’m a great believer in the Corinthian.

… His relationship with the BBC

You don’t have a relationship with a big monolithic organisation. It is paternalistic and it’s a very fine organisation. But it’s a broadcasting organisation. They’re not my aunty. So if you’re useful to them, and you’re getting viewing figures. they love you. They’re like any other organisation, if you’re not performing, it’s goodbye Mr Chips.

… His approach to his career

No, never. I was always really lucky. When I left working in the bank, I immediately went to be a staff announcer on Irish radio, which paid approximately four times a week what I had been getting, so I was rich as Croesus. Well, I haven’t ever been that rich, but I’ve always worked and I’ve never had the insecurity of being out of work. I didn’t come up through the theatre so I’ve never known what it is to wait for the next piece of work from an agent. I think it comes down to things like my upbringing and the school I went to, because school is important. So I’ve never had that insecurity. I think most of the trouble in the world is caused by people who are insecure. Border Scots! [Laughs]. But do you know? Oh, that was cheap shot! But that’s the way it is. I’ve always felt, when I’ve come to negotiations, that I’m strong enough to walk away. If they know you’re never going to walk away, then you’re never going to win the contract – you’re never going to win any contract.

I’m not a confrontational person. You don’t want to be arrogant. Arrogant people get nowhere. But they do say to get on in our business you have to be really tough, but I don’t see myself that way. I’ve never knocked on anybody’s door to get a job. I’ve never walked over anybody. I’ve never had any idea of what I wanted to do, to be honest, so this idea of being determined to get on the radio … I drifted into it.

I’ve risked a lot in terms of career, I’ve never risked anything as far as my family is concerned, but I’ve risked a fair amount of my career. I’ve stopped doing series when I’ve felt that I’ve had enough, or I’ve lost interest. Like Auntie’s Bloomers. They’ve got no more bloomers, but Anne Robinson’s still doing it. And you think – no disrespect to her – but it’s been done. What’s his name’s still doing it? Dear old Denis Norden. He said to me, at Spike Milligan’s funeral I think it was – requiem – he said, ‘God, you’re lucky you got out of that’. [Laughs] He’s still doing it! But that’s fine, he’s good at it. But for me it’s got to feel that what you’re doing is different. That you’re bringing something that no-one else is bringing, and you’re doing it better than somebody else. Radio and television is full of people just doing it. They’re not thinking about what they’re doing, they’re not thinking, ‘Am I doing this better than anyone else? Can I do this differently? Why am I doing this? What am I doing?’ It’s mechanical, there’s no humanity in it all.

… His knighthood

It’s surprising that I got it for services to broadcasting; they could have given it to me for services to charity. What have I brought to broadcasting? Well, I have, brought what I hope is originality, but it’s not much to get a knighthood for. I was at the investiture and I saw a fella come out, an old soldier who was getting the Queen’s Award For Bravery and I thought, ‘He deserves it’.

… His legacy

Oh gosh, there will be no footprints. As I always say, not many people talk about the Duke of Wellington these days, do they? Even Alexander doesn’t get a mention now.

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Terryvision!

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What ho!
Direct from London’s verdant Shepherd’s Bush Green, we celebrate the televisual excursions of….

LORD TERENCE OF WOGANSHIRE

JACKPOT (RTE 1964)

Eager for excitement after a few years as a bank clerk, Tel applied for an announcer’s position on Irish radio, and when television arrived in Ireland, he was among those radio voices who were tried out on the screen. Tel’s big break was when he took over from the legendary Gay Byrne as host of a primitive game show called, with stunning originality, Jackpot. Tel wasn’t initially popular, mostly because he wasn’t Gay Byrne but also because on his first show he forgot the rules and failed to work out the game had ended, but he soon created a self-deprecating presentational style that added a bit more spice to this rather dull format. A few years later, though, they axed it without telling him and this was the spur for him to approach the Beeb about getting some work in the UK. Hence he was there on the steps of All Souls in 1967, initially commuting from Dublin, then by the end of the decade he was in London full time and broadcasting every day on Radio 1.

COME DANCING (BBC 1970)

The odd beauty contest aside, we think this was Tel’s first regular presentational gig on British screens, although the format hardly gave him much scope to stamp his personality on proceedings. Indeed, although he presented it for seven years, he eventually realised that nobody actually remembered who presented Come Dancing  and when he announced his departure the biggest response appeared to be from people who thought Peter West was still doing it.

LUNCHTIME WITH WOGAN (ATV 1972)

By 1972 Tel had moved from afternoons on radio 1 to breakfast on Radio 2 and was well on his way to become a wireless institution. His first regular starring vehicle on telly, though, came on ITV with an afternoon soiree which was one of the first shows to take advantage of the relaxation of broadcasting hours that brought about all day TV. A very light chat show, the most interesting aspect was Tel’s co-host, an Old English sheepdog that continually upstaged him. Oddly just a few months into its run it was awarded the honour of being part of ITV’s All Star Comedy Carnival on Christmas night, which is presumably the only fragment that exists, and which you can see at the above link.

DISCO (BBC 1975)

We’d love to see a full episode of this, not just the first thirty seconds they sometimes wheel out to embarrass Tel. This was “a light-hearted pop quiz” in the unusual slot of Sunday at half past three on BBC1 and filmed in the palatial surroundings of Cinderella’s Discotheque, Sayers Common. Tel pops the questions to teams captained by Tim Rice and Roger Scott – why they didn’t use a Radio 1 DJ, either as host or captain we don’t know – and “a special feature each week will be a live group”, including the great 5000 Volts. If Never Mind The Buzzcocks was a bit more like that, it might be worth watching.

A SONG FOR EUROPE (BBC 1978)

Tel’s first Eurovision commentary for the radio was in 1973, but it was in 1978 when he started commentating for telly (though he missed 1979) and also, after a strike put paid to it the previous year, hosted the UK’s selection procedure. This was always great fun but the one we’re alighting on the demented 1980 contest, with far too many acts and too many juries, which rather brilliantly manages to end with a tie. Tel just about manages to hold it together (“It’s at times like this you need a secretary!”) while they scoot around the juries again to get a show of hands (and there’s an even number too, so that could have been a draw too) and John Mundy becomes Britain’s top rock powerbroker. This is the kind of thing Tel does so well and you can tell he’s relishing every minute of it.

STAR TOWN (BBC 1978)

Still Tel couldn’t find that vehicle that allowed him to be as entertaining on the telly as he was on the radio. This was an undistinguished talent show were eight British towns battled it out to see which housed the most talented residents, to little effect, though some excitement came from the celebrity captains, including Stanley Unwin going in to bat for Coventry. Tel didn’t much enjoy it, not least because he had to drive up to Manchester to it after his radio show, then drive straight back, whych left him totally knackered.

BLANKETY BLANK (BBC 1979)

At last! Well, we all know what this is, although Tel initially turned it down because they showed him the Australian version (where it went under the slightly different name of Blankety Blanks) and he hated it, and it wasn’t until they convinced him to watch an episode of The Match Game that he decided to take it on. Immediately he realised this was the TV show for him, played for really low stakes and not to be taken seriously at all.

FRIDAY NIGHT SATURDAY MORNING (BBC 1980)

With its demented set and bizarre choice of hosts (ie Harold Wilson), Friday Night Saturday Morning was the very definition of “mixed bag”, though its lasting legacy came when it invited Tel to host an episode during the second series. His star guest was Larry Hagman, a man whom he’d been talking about non-stop for the previous year, and he proved himself so effective a chat show host, the hunt was on to find a format to allow him to do that on a regular basis.

WHAT’S ON WOGAN (BBC 1980)

YOU MUST BE JOKING (BBC 1981)

This wasn’t really it, though. As the trailer suggests, What’s On Wogan was a pretty low-concept affair, screened on Saturday teatimes, where seemingly the idea was that he’d just replicate the kind of thing he was doing on the radio, but with some celebrity guests. Inspiration was a bit harder to come by in front of the camera, though, and the only bit anyone remembers is Tel’s desk with each week featured an anagram of the programme’s name. Twelve months later, in exactly the same slot, came a panel show where members of the public were invited to guess whether the film clips Tel showed were true or false, which despite Beadle on scripting duty didn’t amount to much.

CHILDREN IN NEED (BBC 1980)

Tel had presented the Beeb’s Children In Need appeal a couple of times when it was just a five minute programme, and when the decision was taken to extend it to a whole evening, he took on the job of linking it all together. For the first five years it popped up between the programmes, and the first production was somewhat fraught, being shunted out to the Cunard Hotel in Hammersmith and with It Ain’t Half Hot Mum refusing to let them put the number on screen. By 1986 it enveloped the whole evening, but given Tel was presenting most other things on BBC1 by that point, it wasn’t too much of a surprise.

WOGAN (BBC 1982)

WOGAN (BBC 1983)

Same title, slightly different format. The first incarnation of Wogan was a low key show on a weeknight with a miscellany format that, initially, included celebrity gossip from Paula Yates. A year later, Tel was promoted to fill the Saturday night slot vacated by Parkinson, although Tel pointed out “My show will be different from Parkinson’s, because I am different from Parkinson”. The one innovation was that instead of the guests walking on stage to join Tel, he would walk to them, which was apparently quite big news. Tel’s relaxed approach ensured it was a hugely successful series, though, and he became renowned for helping a number of stars – such as Cilla Black and Freddie Starr – back from troughs in their careers. The link up there too features Tel’s favourite ever interview, with Mel Brooks.

WOGAN (BBC 1985)

Same title, but different again, this is the version everyone remembers, three nights a week at seven for seven years. Tel was actually very pleased with the extended run, thinking viewers had too high an expectation for weekly shows and he wanted a show that would just motor along and viewers could dip into and didn’t need to create a spectacle every episode. Sadly for Tel episode one’s most talked about moment was when he fell arse over tit while meeting Elton John. In many ways it was the eighties equivalent of The One Show, not a series you’d seek out but watch if the opposition didn’t appeal, and occasionally it could come up with the goods, like that episode up there based around the screening of the last episode of Dallas. We had hoped to feature all the title sequences, but though we’ve got the We’ve Got A Computer titles, we can’t find the turquoise jigsaw ones, alas. Tel was getting a bit bored by the end and thought a good time to pack it in would be 1991 when they’d reached a thousand episodes and the TV Theatre was closing down. However the Beeb demanded to carry on, relocating  it to TV Centre and gaining these titles but then much to Tel’s embarrassment they almost immediately decided to axe it, Tel spending the final year going through the motions, with the odd innovation including some bizarre Partridge Over Britain-esque political debates.

STOPPIT AND TIDYUP (BBC 1988)

Presenting 150 shows a year didn’t leave Tel with much time for other stuff, though one hugely appealing diversion was his narration of this fondly remembered cartoon series, created by the Tidy Britain Group and with a fantastic musique concrete-inspired theme tune.

TERRY WOGAN’S FRIDAY NIGHT (BBC 1992)

Despite Wogan getting the chop, the Beeb didn’t want to lose Tel completely, though, and immediately gave him a new weekly show, safely after the watershed. Tel said it would be more than just a chat show, with guests “made to entertain”, and to emphasise the changes, Tel was behind a desk, joined by rotating sidekicks, including in this episode Frank Skinner, and mixing interviews with monologues and filmed reports. Although it lasted six months, it didn’t really work out, being a bit of an awkward blend of the old Wogan and some sub-Letterman bits of business, and Frank says Tel seemed a bit bored of the whole thing anyway. This episode, which is here almost in full, is worth a look though, because although we don’t have Frank’s Rothmans joke, we do have a discussion on women priests which, according to Frank’s autobiography, took on a rather different tone before it was edited with Cliff coming out rather badly, and a very familiar name on the writers’ credits.

DO THE RIGHT THING (BBC 1994)

During the run of his Friday night show, Tel returned to his old stomping ground of Radio 2 and it was immediately like he’d never been away, eventually presenting the breakfast show for far longer than he did the first time round, to wild acclaim. However he still had a golden handcuffs deal with BBC Television, which meant occasional shows like Auntie’s Bloomers, Eurovision and the odd interesting project like this. Each show featured a moral dilemma via a short drama and Tel invited a panel (including in the first series his old mate Frank Skinner), the studio audience and viewers at home to have their say, eventually opening up the phone lines to choose which (pre-recorded) ending would be shown. Though shown on Saturday nights in series one, series two was punted around weeknights before being dropped, though it made for mildly amiable viewing, and gave Russell T Davies a bit more cash to spend on Doctor Who memorabilia.

WOGAN’S WEB (BBC 1998)

Probably Tel’s only worthwhile telly gig since has been this short-lived but highly entertaining series. It was basically his radio show on the telly, though not a simulcast. As you can see, it was set in a mock-up radio studio and Tel, accompanied by Paul Walters, would simply chat, solicit letters and e-mails and meet a few guests for an hour at lunchtime. Freewheeling and fun, it did better than most shows in bringing Tel’s radio persona to the screen, but sadly it only lasted a month and never came back. For shame!

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Mike ‘Smitty’ Smith: 1955-2014

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Time for Factasia!

The following appeared in our Creamguide mail-out just a few weeks ago. We represent it now in light of the extremely sad news Mike Smith’s death. So here’s an opportunity to look at some of the highlights of his career in TV. Sure, he did loads on radio too – we’ll need to get to that. In the meantime…

MIKE SMITH

CBTV (Thames 1982)
Yes, several hundred words on Mike Smith. Don’t worry, there’s loads of funny clips coming up. Smitty, as we always called him, started out on the radio and at the start of the eighties was getting plenty of attention as Capital’s breakfast DJ. In this capacity he reported on the first London Marathon and met his wife-to-be Sarah Greene, and indeed among his earliest TV appearances were various uncredited anonymous appearances on Blue Peter as Saz’s partner as she learned to dive. But it was on Thames’ post-Magpie Blue Peter baiter where Mike got his first regular telly work and here he is up there inviting a bunch of kids to interrogate Toyah. Sadly for Jim Sweeney an awkward camera angle about three minutes in rather spoils the illusion of the chute he “slides” down. In fact since we’ll probably never have the opportunity to talk about CBTV again we’ve got some other clips, including the rather odd theme tune, and some later stuff, post-Smitty. And much of it is far more middle class than Blue Peter, natch.

TOP OF THE POPS (BBC 1982)

By the end of 1982 Mike had been poached by Radio 1, a station he’d previously worked at as jingle maker and helper. He was immediately included on the Pops presenting rota, famously introducing the debut of Wham! on his first show, which doesn’t appear to be online anymore but his horrendous jumper does still exist at the above link. Mike continued to present the Pops for six years and even had the honour of still fronting it during a two year spell from 1984 he wasn’t on Radio 1.

BREAKFAST TIME (BBC 1983)

Mike was part of the original team bringing us breakfast telly, originally as pop correspondent but, within a few months, being promoted to one of the main presenters, in the words of Frank Bough “proving DJs can be cerebral as well as noisy”. Mike stayed on the show for four years before going back to Radio 1 and competing with it, but he made so little impact we can’t find a single clip of him doing it on the internet, and his most memorable moment came when he tried to get a bit more comfortable on the red sofa and ended up getting stuck in it.

SHOW BUSINESS (BBC 1983)
FRIDAY PEOPLE (BBC 1985)

One of umpteen attempts to create a TV show based around entertainment news, Show Business went out on Friday evenings for a couple of months in 1983 and Mike was the anchorman – getting a writing credit and everything, though we don’t know if he was responsible for the cock-up he has to do an apology for up there. Dullards may note that the Late Late Breakfast Show trailer after it is clearly filmed on a redressed Top of the Pops set, thanks to a strike. Eighteen months later, with the requirement to find fillers for the newly vacated 5.35 slot, it was back with a new name and Mike still in charge, though it still didn’t catch on and sadly the clip we have doesn’t feature the theme tune, which was the ace Garden Party by Mezzoforte.

THE LATE LATE BREAKFAST SHOW (BBC 1984)

Although The Late Late Breakfast Show had recovered from its atrocious start, it still wasn’t doing much, so a new co-presenter was sought. Noel had been something of a mentor to Mike in his early career so he seemed the logical choice and it turned out to be pretty inspired, the pair’s banter becoming a much anticipated part of the show. As we’ve mentioned on TV Cream before, Mike’s role on the show was to spend a dank Saturday night in somewhere like Bealieu Motor Museum watching a punter drive a Honda Melody through a burning hoop, and for a while it was hugely successful before it all ended in unpleasant circumstances, Mike falling out with Noel over it due to the internal ructions at the Beeb.

LIVE AID (BBC 1985)

As we know, the responsibility of televising Live Aid fell to the Whistle Test team, a role they were woefully underequipped for, and Janice Long and Mike were the only representatives from the other side of BBC pop involved in the broadcast. Mike’s role didn’t involve him going to Wembley, though, but that equally iconic location, er, Legends nightclub. He anchored the late shift until 4am, mixing performances from Philadelphia with clips from earlier in the day and interviews with whoever turned up, and here’s the last hour or so of it, happily editing all the music out.

SECRETS OUT (BBC 1986)

A rather thankless task for Mike here, replacing the great Johnny Ball on this kids quiz, but he had a decent go at it. Basically it’s What’s My Line for kids – and this is when What’s My Line was still on the telly, so it couldn’t even pretend to be original – but here’s some nice clips with Pip Schofield showing up to jolly things along and the Grange Hill cast as resident panellists, who were a bit more cheerful than Gilbert Harding or George Gale.

FIRST AIDS (LWT 1987)

A big show of the kind you don’t seem to get on telly anymore, this ninety minute extravaganza aimed to increase AIDS awareness as part of a week of programming on all channels on the subject. Now Radio 1 breakfast DJ, Mike was very much the voice of youth so drafted in to anchor proceedings, while comic relief came from, among others, Rik Mayall, and we vividly remember the sketch linked to above because a juvenile Creamguide was so embarrassed at the sex talk we actually asked our parents to turn it off.

SEASIDE SPECIAL (BBC 1987)
THE FUNNY SIDE (Granada 1988)

Two bog-standard light entertainment formats here, where Mike did his usual professional job but couldn’t rescue their rather uninspired concepts. Despite being officially billed as Seaside Special 87, there was nothing particularly dynamic about the Jersey-based variety show, following a format that harked back to the earliest days of television, especially when the big innovation was a revival of Beat The Clock. The Funny Side borrowed from a slightly more up-to-date format, one of dozens of shows following in the slipstream of Game For A Laugh mixing studio games and guests to little effect, but sadly all we can recall is the Herbie Hancock-inspired theme tune.

TRICK OR TREAT (LWT 1989)

If Danny Baker’s Pets Win Prizes is the thing we’d most like to see on YouTube, this is a close second. Trick or Treat was a Saturday night quiz which, on paper, looked pretty conventional, but on screen certainly wasn’t, as Mike was joined by Julian Clary as co-host. Each week Clary would flounce around the audience until he was “strangely drawn” to a punter who he’d invite to play a game with Mike which was almost always fixed to make them look stupid, and then win a prize that might be genuinely good but just as likely be totally worthless. You could argue this was an attempt to subvert the conventions of light entertainment years before Shooting Stars but it was a bit of an awkward mix that didn’t really gel and just baffled and bored the audience. Love to see it again, though.

RAILWATCH (BBC 1989)

Of all the shows he’s done, Mike reckons this is the worst. After the success of Hospital Watch, seemingly the idea was you could stick a camera anywhere and it’d be interesting, so for a whole week Mike was at York station, crossing to reporters up and down the East Coast Main Line. No doubt the whole thing is fascinating in a proper edited documentary but live for an hour a day next to nothing happened, Mike remembering the most interesting thing of the entire week being a trolley blowing onto a line, and he was thoroughly relieved when it was all over. Happily, though, you can relive the whole week online!

THAT’S SHOWBUSINESS (BBC 1989)

This series has its roots in A Question of Sport, which was then repurposed in 1988 to become A Question of Entertainment, which, despite the presence of Doddy and Larry Grayson, never really caught on. Not wishing to write the whole thing off, though, another revamp saw all traces of Pringle removed and a new name. The first few series of this show were hugely enlivened by the presence of Cuddly Kenny Everett as team captain alongside Gloria Hunniford, though only a fraction of that era exists online. What we’ve got more of is the show from 1992 onwards where there were no regular captains, while the horrible synth theme was replaced by a horrible sax-driven theme. Eventually it ran to over a hundred shows, though it’s a fair bet only Mike remembers much about it.

THE MIKE SMITH SHOW (BSB 1990)

Mike was very much the Beeb’s golden boy in the eighties but he was one of the first presenters to make the leap to the brand new frontier of satellite television, Mike throwing his lot in with the classy, professional BSB. Mike’s shows were on Now, the barely watched “Channel for Living”, and according to the ads in the Radio Times (as nobody watched the actual shows) met people with unusual hobbies and reviewed the week’s news. In addition Mike also fronted the very exciting glossy promo video you can see up there, striding around Marco Polo House (which has just been demolished, fact fans) while parroting dodgy statistics about “the fed-up factor”.

GHOSTWATCH (BBC 1992)
THE EXCHANGE (LWT 1995)

The nineties weren’t so kind to Mike, becoming perhaps more famous for stuff he did off camera, including complaining about Cheggers turning up at his house for The Big Breakfast, joining and then leaving Hearts of Gold with some harsh words for Esther Rantzen and applying to be Controller of BBC1. On screen there were a few notable appearances, including his first official co-starring credits with his wife. You know about Ghostwatch and we think he was quite good in it, while The Exchange was another attempt at an adult Swap Shop, Mike here promoting the Bad Influence-style datablast coming up. But by the end of the decade Mike decided to jack in the telly and concentrate on his business interests, in which he’s had huge success and still contributes to many top TV shows via the aerial photography company he runs which is responsible for virtually everything you see filmed from a helicopter on TV. So well done to him.

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Once in every lifetime: A tribute to Rik Mayall

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Once in every lifetimeIf you didn’t like or understand The Young Ones, you were just too old. We all said it, and it rings true now. Every generation blames the one before, as we’ve been told, and while parents of kids born in the 1960s and early ’70s despaired at what now passed for comedy when four dysfunctional, vulgar, self-obsessed prats turned up on their BBC2 screen in the late autumn of 1982, the kids knew better. It was marvellous; it was something made by them for them, and their parents were squares for not understanding it.

It wasn’t even Rik Mayall’s favourite work, nor even the work that launched him initially to a television audience, and like any sitcom that represents an era, it dated before the rust enveloped the pin badges on his jacket. But it was totally definitive. His brainchild (with girlfriend Lise Mayer), his jokes, his university mate Ben Elton merely called in to “churn out the gear” and make it half-an-hour long. His career made, a cult movement veering into the mainstream. He is probably the most important individual to come from the fabled alternative comedy boom of the new wave era as a result.

Alternative comedy – loosely defined as an X-rated stand-up and character led antidote to gag-tellers whose material was offensively old hat – was a necessary phenomenon. Terry and June were worrying about the boss coming round to dinner, and Jim Davidson was inexplicably nick-nicking his way to variety show stardom. Mayall, brought up in Worcestershire, went to Manchester University as an 18 year old in 1976, but when back home during holiday time spent every evening down the pub with his friends because his parents’ telly was full of stuff made just for his mum and dad’s generation.

“I don’t half feel sorry for you, having to stay in every night,” he’d say to his folks, both actors.

“I don’t half feel sorry for you, having to go out every night,” they’d reply.

Back at university, he developed a plan to try to find a new source of entertainment for his student generation. He had theatrical ambitions but was a natural comic, something ingrained in him since a gurning session during a school nativity play in the 1960s reduced the audience of parents to hysterical jelly and got him the cane from a mortified teacher. With fellow undergraduate Adrian Edmondson, he formed a raucous comedy duo, 20th Century Coyote. The name nodded to the famous failed cartoon Acme customer, a favourite of both men, and they followed the slapstick model of cartoons but with little emphasis on self-protection, resulting in hospital treatment for each when they were genuinely set alight or knocked out cold by a flying kettle.

The Comedy Store opened in London in 1979, with Alexei Sayle and Arnold Brown performing on the opening night, and soon 20th Century Coyote were there too, eventually moving on to their self-formed Comic Strip Club nearby, evolving into The Dangerous Brothers as they did so and getting on the telly. Mayall’s reputation as a singular performer was also growing; a spotty, spoiled, political activist with appalling poetry was starting to get laughs, mainly via his scripted incompetence and petulance, while investigative reporter Kevin Turvey, Brummie and condescending, was Mayall’s solo route to recognition. Little was recalled of this character once The Young Ones hit the headlines, but nevertheless he remained a key ingredient of the growing Mayall legend, and once he became a superstar, the BBC cobbled together a disparate bunch of Turvey lectures on to video for release.

The poet, just called Rick (leading to lifelong confusion as to how the actor spelled his forename), had much more going for him as Mayall began plotting his next move. Noting the soon-to-be-launched Channel 4’s commissioning of a stack of Comic Strip films, the BBC asked him, and others, to come up with ideas to make them look like they too wanted to acknowledge the emergence of this comic boom. Mayall suggested a sitcom. Given the go-ahead, he fleshed out the characters, co-wrote the jokes, hired Elton to turn them into dialogue and liaised with assigned producer Paul Jackson (who was instantly hooked) to develop the programme’s course.

"You utter, utter, utter..."What we got was a student house full of unlikeable people, and the most generationally divisive cultural phenomenon in years. The humour was as much in the surprise element as it was in the script, though some of the jokes, verbal or physical, were instantly brilliant. Mayall portrayed his alter ego as a childish, hypocritical, self-absorbed nonentity-in-waiting, and did so spectacularly. Edmondson as the psychotic punk, fellow Comic Strip performer Nigel Planer as wimpish house-slave hippy Neil and Christopher Ryan (an unconnected actor auditioned at the last minute after Planer’s performing partner Peter Richardson fell out with Jackson and withdrew) as smooth-talking, borderline villain and house leader Mike, made for riotously brilliant television. It introduced slapstick, mindless violence, second degree swearing, masses of fake bodily fluids, surrealism, barking mad cameos, unrelated sideshows and audience participation, plus the innovative interlude featuring a live band. It was spectacularly different. And like with anything else, the people who complained tended to be the people who were not in the target audience: the mums and dads, who had to find a way of preventing their youngsters from watching this “vulgar”, “unfunny”, “bad influence” of a series without, in some cases, coming across as killjoys. Most failed.

The Radio Times and national newspapers, without exception, used one of two buzzwords in their synopses of the show when it featured in their listings. One was “anarchic”; the other “offbeat”. However, despite its narrow intentions, it became a hit beyond the target teenage crowd. The slapstick element helped, as a well-timed smack in the face with a large piece of crooked wood and a judiciously chosen sound effect will always raise a laugh, even if humans are doing it instead of a cat and mouse. And when Vyvyan was electrocuted by his own hamster, or Dawn French’s barking mad God-squadder was crushed by an enormous sandwich chucked from the skies by Keith “Pestilence” Allen, you couldn’t help but laugh. The element of surprise was key, and it was Mayall who made sure it was there.

"Lord Flashheart, Lord Flashheart, we wish he were the star..."Two series were made, along with a spin-off single by Planer, and that was deemed enough. Mayall wanted to move on. “I don’t know what it will be yet, but it will be different,” he said at the time. The Young Ones was missed, but unsurprisingly it did date, which was why it became an adored comic museum rather than an overblown parody of itself and not many people begged for more. A year later, with Elton now recruited to co-write the failing Blackadder dynasty (in which Mayall had appeared once as Mad Gerald – “close the bloody door!”), the character of Lord Flashheart was created, specifically for him. In Blackadder II’s first episode, Flashheart turns up at the eponymous peer’s wedding, attacks Percy, flirts with the Queen and Nursie, mocks Melchett, tries to castrate Edmund and then buggers off with the bride – all in one scene and all with a healthy dose of fourth-wall shoving. Mayall’s totally over-the-top portrayal of this seafaring narcissist, recreated as a squadron commander at episode length in Goes Forth four years later, was outrageous and beyond hilarious, and despite the character being somewhat irregular, contributed much to his comic armoury, while leaving his co-performers visibly aghast at his energy. It was the first time we’d seen him as the hero, the wit, the heart-throb, the attractive cad. And he was, and remained, the only man to truly equal Rowan Atkinson in a Blackadder scene.

"Yes, daughter..."Mayall loved Filthy, Rich & Catflap, the next venture after The Young Ones which Elton wrote alone. He starred as Richie Rich, a clapped out actor of negligible talent, with Planer as his alcoholic agent and Edmondson as his drifting, violent minder. It aired in early 1987, six months after The Young Ones had reunited for a day’s recording for Comic Relief alongside Cliff Richard, but, despite good reviews and strong figures, the BBC didn’t touch it again. Every time he was subsequently asked how come, Mayall would always say: “I don’t know why – that is, I genuinely don’t know why – it wasn’t seen as a success.” Certainly his character retained some of Rick’s infantile self-obsession but, befitting the self-indulgence of showbiz life Elton intended to satirise. Planer’s character of Ralph Filthy proved he was a proper actor, and often he stole the show. Yet it never floated the BBC’s boat, and it has still to be repeated terrestrially, took years to come out on video, and is only occasionally spotted on digital channels.

Although there was always little affinity with Mayall’s characters, there was something pitiable about them that made them hard to hate. His next creation, however, was quite the opposite. Having bumped into Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran at a promo event, and admired their work as writers of Shine On Harvey Moon, he asked, nay instructed, them to create a sitcom for him. The result was The New Statesman, based in the House of Commons in which Mayall’s character, Conservative MP Alan B’Stard, trod a fine line between believable malevolence and his love of the slapstick. He wanted 20 laughs per page; if he got 15, he’d create the other five himself just from a gesture, a sneer or a chuckle, all now guaranteed comic tools in Mayall’s armoury. B’Stard was appalling; the programme was ITV’s best sitcom since Rising Damp and there hasn’t been a better one on the network since. During the same period, Mayall reprised the character on the BBC for a Comic Relief skit (“Cor, bloody hell, Cecil Parkinson and a whip!”) and narrated George’s Marvellous Medicine for Jackanory, with parents missing the point completely when they complained to the BBC about it being “frightening” and “chaotic.”

"Doink! Bang! Doink! Bang!"When Mayall and Edmondson reunited for Bottom in 1992, a sitcom of squalor and physical humour that again exceeded boundaries of realism, it was like coming home. The characters – jobless ne’er do wells who share a Hammersmith flat and can live neither with nor without each other – were variations on their personas in The Young Ones but without a satirical eye. This time there was nobody in society to poke fun at; it was about the two of them, with little help from others, conceiving their own grimy little world ridden with desperation, bad puns, sexual inadequacy, outlandish violence and intentionally over-elaborate twists. Mayall was the frustrated, gloomy misanthrope who revelled in occasional victories of wit over Edmondson’s character, as useless as his counterpart but more worldly-wise, clever and with an unmatchable capacity for drink.

The show was Mayall’s finest as a post-alternative performer; the scripts didn’t always hit every height going but he exploded into the television screen with every wild scream of terror, evil guffaw or pompous bit of uninformed lecturing. This was the firebrand comic colossus he had always been, but this time he was being nothing more. The Young Ones gave him activism; Filthy, Rich & Catflap gave him satire; The New Statesman gave him a sinister side; Bottom gave him, very simply, licence to act like a child and be very, very funny with it. It is repeated more often than any of its predecessors.

There were some whiffy moments, mainly in longer productions. Drop Dead Fred, where he played the imaginary friend of an adult had concocted in childhood, was totally panned. Guest House Paradiso, a Bottom spin-off, was jokeless and directionless. The modern Comic Strip efforts, such as Four Men In A Car, were disappointing, although Mayall’s spoof adoration of Gold by Spandau Ballet after finding it on a cheap compilation CD he’d bought at a service station was enjoyably cruel. But in making some clunky choices, he wasn’t alone.

On stage, it was better – anyone who viewed a Bottom video or attended one of the many live shows will tell you that while the script was funny, the ad-libs and corpsing – Mayall was always more prone to that than Edmondson – would leave people fearing for their constitutions through laughter. Their comfort in performing together and trusting one another when stuff went awry was never more prominent, and it made them all the more loveable. And when Marks and Gran relaunched The New Statesman as a stage production, with B’Stard as a New Labour convert and fresh scripts each week to keep it topical, he was in his element – though again, the biggest laughs were reserved for his bouts of forgetfulness – brought on by the infamous quad bike crash in 1998 which left him technically dead for five days – and occasional turns to the audience to moan about the one-way system in whichever city they were in.

Edmondson’s desire to become slightly more befitting of a man in his 50s brought their partnership to an end a decade ago, and while he did BBC dramas and an ITV documentary series about Yorkshire, Mayall was forced to find his own new direction, and he too took on serious roles, while also clowning around as a narrator and on adverts, most notably sponsor bumpers on digital channels for Bombardier ale.

The death of Rik Mayall could be the first one that makes the Cream-era audience consider its own mortality. If we were old enough to remember him when he was 22 and affecting a ludicrous Birmingham accent while investigating sex (“I did find out that eating aphrodisiacs make you violently sick”), we’re now old enough to wonder when our own time will come, given that 56 is such a ludicrously young age to lose him, or anyone. For a drama student whose initial self-appointed brief was to make his own telly (“If there’s nothing on for you, you make it yourself”), he achieved so much.

The body of work he leaves behind is considerable; the adoration he attracted from pretty much everyone who watched him as a kid will remain undimmed. The influence he had on the whole shift in comic thinking, however, as comedians got cleverer, sillier and more politically aware, is probably impossible to put into words. He died once in The Young Ones (and tried to commit suicide another time) and a few times in Bottom (fell off a Ferris wheel via a ghostly hand, shot by “A-squad”, among others) but always came back for more.

That he won’t do this time isn’t just tragic, it feels very final for all of us.

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Rik Mayall (with a silent P): 1958-2014

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Rik Mayall, RIP
“Hands up who likes me.”

TV Cream’s hands are up and waving. And we’re wailing at the news the unkillable (cos he came back from the dead) Rik Mayall is no more. A seminal comedy star who, if you’re anything like us, pretty much defined the kind of things you found funny, has gone. And much too early.

Hopefully we’ll put together something a bit more fulsome soon. But until then, here’s something he said to TV Cream in 2013 about being 55.

Being in your mid-fifties is not… it doesn’t hold. When we’re in our twenties we’re thinking, “Fuck, I don’t want to be 50, I don’t want to be 60!” I’ve got good mates now who are in their sixties. I’ve always been ever so slightly younger, just two or three years younger than the guys in my gang and I didn’t have a problem with the male menopause in my forties, which a lot of guys do. They think, “I’m getting a bit of a paunch, I’m going a bit bald, I’m not as interesting as I used to be, I get a bit tired and I’ve got to give up smoking and not drink so much”. They get the blues. I didn’t get that because I was off my head – I’d had my brain smashed in [by a quad-biking accident in 1998]. I was just trying to think properly, so by the time…

No, I’m making a big deal of it. No, I was fine! I was just glad not to be dead. So I was pretty happy to be alive, no matter what. And then 50 comes along and I think, “Hey, I’m really glad I’ve grown up now. God, I’m a grown-up now! I’m a fucking grown-up!” The power! It’s like being a baaaad headmaster. “Yeaaah! Look at my knob!” or rather, “Look at me, I’m 55 and happy”.

Rik Mayall was just 56. RIP, Rik.

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David Frost RIP: scrupulous gadabout genius

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The man and his people

FEW WENT ABOUT THE BUSINESS OF BEING FAMOUS as meticulously as David Frost. Even fewer managed to make it look so effortless.

From his debut on television in 1962 to his unofficial retirement in 2005, everything seemed so maddeningly playful. A whiff of insincerity, a sense that he wasn’t merely the sum of his parts but that his parts weren’t even his own, clung to him throughout his TV career.

Yet he virtually created the modern media industry, if not purposefully then through intimation. Both on and behind camera he revolutionised what was possible – and more importantly what was thought possible.

From the start it all seemed casually calculated: an attitude that won him as many apostles as brickbats right up to his death. The job fronting That Was The Week That Was came about partly because John Bird didn’t fancy it, but mostly because of a nice lunch between Frost and the show’s creator Ned Sherrin. Frost was inserted into a format 95% fully-realised. But he contrived to make the remaining 5% the most important bit of all: himself.

Seriously, they're doing a great jobChristopher Booker said Frost’s most obvious quality was “he simply wanted to be amazingly famous for being David Frost.” Yet away from the cackle and the hair, Frost turned in some remarkable work.

For example, there remains very little on television that has ever been as incisively critical as the sketch on home secretary Henry Brooke broadcast in the very last TW3 in December 1963.

Its effrontery is staggering. Brooke is paraphrased as being “the most hated man in Britain”; he is called a liar; Frost declares: “Your word, Henry, isn’t very eloquent, is it? Perhaps that’s why you so rarely bother to keep it”; and it ends with Willie Rushton as Brooke saying direct to camera: “It just shows, if you’re home secretary, you can get away with murder.”

Frost didn’t make TW3, but it made him. In turn he made a whole host of others if not quite as influential as he, then certainly as famous.

The casts and writers of TW3, its successor Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life (1964-65), and the subsequent comedy series The Frost Report (1966-67) were the yeast in British TV entertainment of the 1960s. Frostie had the wherewithal, but also the intelligence, to fuel the rise – and to ensure he rose with them. The whole industry got shaken up.

Ubiquity became the trademark. For a time he was on television every night of the week: four in America, three in the UK. If you had the means, you could arrange to be out of the country whenever he was in. If not, he was there to shoo you to bed with an increasingly cosy turn each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Now he was playing television like a captain of trade. He owned the commanding heights and became the champagne commissar of ITV, pulling levers and spinning dials and concocting five-year plans. The industry got shaken up all over again.

And still he couldn’t really do presenting. The topical gags at the start of each edition of Frost on Sunday (1969-72) triumphed in spite of their delivery. Frost would appear, his grin and tie perfectly in place, gripping a clipboard a little too tightly, armed with zingers penned by Dick Vosburgh and Neil Shand about statutory incomes policies or the Common Market, only to plunge through proceedings with the same demeanour as a Wile E Coyote plunging down a ravine.

Selfridges presentsDid it matter? Not a jot. It never mattered. The material made the man, not the other way around. If the material ever ran out, so did he.

The best moments in Frost’s interviews came when the scripted questions led into chit-chat, combative and wispy. It was here that he let his knowledge of both medium and message inform his interrogation rather than dominate it.

The jousts with Nixon and Kissinger would not have so wrongfooted their subjects had the host not been so lightfooted in his prosecution.

The showdown with the Yippies would not have worked in any other setting than a studio, where Frost could nail so perfectly his cluster of undignified dopes by informing them: “Laughing childishly when you manage to say a four-letter word on television? Big deal.”

When he told Emil Savundra that he had “either to be stupid or dishonest – which?” it was a question Frost could only have asked on live TV with a garrulous audience egging him on and a larger one at home hanging on his every word. “Well done Frostie!” the studio cried as, shuddering with rage, he strode off set as the credits rolled, surely knowing that such a denouement would have just as much impact as the cross-examination it concluded.

The language of television that Frost helped to write was easy to mock at the time, but only in the way anything unfamiliar is lampooned in order to make it more palatable. The parodies came quickly too, with former proteges leading the charge.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus spoofed Frost with the kind of barbed wit based on first-hand experience. But listen to the hoots of laughter and applause from the audience as they realise who Eric Idle is impersonating. This is no elite in-joke. Everyone is in on the gag – and it’s only 1970, not even 10 years into the Frost supremacy.

Setting some hares running“David came over here and fooled everybody for a while,” said Johnny Carson. “They thought he was an entertainer – and then they got on to him.”

Frost’s strutting around the planet in the 70s stretched the elasticity of his act until it was nearly transparent. Those who wanted to could look right through. Others marvelled at how he kept it all together.

The scrupulous gadabout was once again shaking up the industry, this time on a global level. He funded and filmed the Nixon interviews independently, raising an imperial two fingers at the US networks. He then sold the tapes to whoever was interested, being sure to keep hold of the rights. And still the money bubbled in.

There was no science to any of this. The one time Frost tried to dabble with the elements with was when he promised “sexual chemistry” at TV-am. That particular farrago was one from which he managed to emerge with his status and bank balance reasonably intact.

But from now on a different kind of Frostie flitted through the ether. All the rough edges had been chipped off. Where once he sashayed, now he shuffled.

Come the 1980s, all most of us saw of him was an hour or so on a Sunday morning, and the occasional Guinness Book of Records special on a bank holiday. He was still only in his 40s, but like Keith Richards and the Queen he suddenly seemed to age 30 years in the space of three.

Then, as if to prove such cheap observation wrong in as public a manner possible, he had one last go at shaking things up. Except this time, he over-reached himself in spectacular fashion.

“Richard Branson and I have always cherished a desire to work together,” Frost said when trying to explain the reason for their joint attempt to win yet another slice of ITV in 1991. The bids were stuffed with ponderous quotations from ancient philosophers. Money splashed about the place, with £45m being pencilled for London, £22m for the south and £10m for East Anglia.

Yet it wasn’t the cash that scuppered the project. All three bids failed the meet the regulators’ “quality threshold”. In other words, they were rubbish. With proposals including “Sunstroke, set in a ClubMed-style resort”, an adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s Beyond Reasonable Doubt and 60 minutes of local news a night, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was unusual to see Frostie fail. Twice, in fact, for the same process saw TV-am lose the breakfast franchise.

Major disasterA berth on the BBC completed his journey from industry ignition to brake.

Breakfast with Frost was where things simmered down, not kicked off. It was sofa, so good. The drowsy atmosphere sometimes lulled politicians into indiscreet outbursts. This was the exception, however. The programme was an anachronism from the start: a 1950s colonial-drinks-lounge supposedly at the spearhead of a 1990s mission-to-explain Birtist BBC.

It did change over time, but only to become more cumbersome, fussy, peculiar. After the final show in 2005, the continuity announced proclaimed it to be “the end of an era”. Whichever era it was, it was the wrong one.

For what will David Frost be most remembered? Almost certainly the shop-window stuff: the chinwags with potentates, the tete-a-tetes in presidential parlours, the way he made satire look glamorous and sexy rather than starchy and sad.

But he also deserves to be cherished for his appreciation of how television works, what makes it great, and how it can confer greatness upon others.

He created the template for the modern media mogul. He showed that you can be on TV and run TV at the same time.

Above all he understood what countless others failed and still fail to realise: that it’s not what to be on television that matters, it’s how.

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Bob Godfrey, 1921-2013

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Goodnight, Bob
It’s been a terrible week. We’ve lost Richard Briers, Derek Batey… and now, we hear, Bob Godfrey, godfather of the lovely wobbly, egalitarian animation style that made Roobarb, Noah and Nelly, Henry’s Cat et al so brilliant. And possessor of TV’s friendliest voice.

Below is a documentary from 1971, showing the great man at work…

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Richard Briers, 1934-2013

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Richard Briers, RIP

The great Richard Briers has passed away at the age of 79.

Eight years ago (give or take) we were lucky enough to chat to him about bringing back Roobarb for Channel 5’s Roobarb and Custard Too. Here’s some of the things he had to say…

ON VOICEOVER WORK: Oh yes – it pays well and it’s very quick. I love it. I’ll voice anything – I always have. Well, as long as it wasn’t something horrible. You have to be a bit careful. If your image is of somebody who’s amusing and all your shows are clean, you’ve got to be a little bit careful. I always get the scripts to look at, and if they’re tasteless or there’s bad language in it, then I can’t do it.

BEING A PART OF CHILDREN’S TV AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: I’m sort of an Uncle Mac. Uncle Dick! [Laughs] I love doing kids’ stuff, always have done. I’ve recently done Big Toe Little Toe on Radio 7. Reading kids’ stories for them. So I’m still doing all that kids’ stuff, which is nice – I’ve always liked doing it.

THINGS YOU’D REVISIT: Oh no, no, I wouldn’t revisit something like The Good Life – that’s them done and dusted.

WINDING DOWN HIS CAREER: Short jobs. This is the thing now. I’ve stopped touring and I’ve stopped West End plays so I’m not locked in. It means I can do work two days a week. Great. That keeps the business ticking over, really. Until I fall down I shall keeping doing something. And, of course, sound work is lovely, because you haven’t got the stress of not remembering your lines and things like that. They’re nice jobs to have.

HIS GIFT FOR COMEDY: It’s an instinctive thing. It’s a lovely gift, like any gift. It’s mainly… it’s a very narrow gift. I’m very, very, very good at reacting. In Ever Decreasing Circles with Peter Egan it was a good double-act. He’s good-looking and very tall, and I’m playing a ratty little man. The reactions of this very super sensitive little man against this… he sent me up rotten, and I didn’t know or understand – and that makes me laugh. I think my strength is reacting to somebody else.

WORKING ACROSS COMEDY AND DRAMA: I was always in rep, when I first started, I was always a ‘useful’ actor, playing 70-year-olds or something – and I’m now 70 – and I’d do croaky little voices and things like that. Always did the voices. So I was called a very ‘useful’ actor because I could do very different parts. And I kept that going, really. I thought, ‘Well, how far can I get?’ Not in terms of success that way, but in width. Expanding ones talents. And Ken Branagh arrived by miracle and, you know, I ended up going around the world playing King Lear for God’s sake. It nearly killed me. But, from Roobarb to Lear is a lovely range, you can’t say I’m insular. The good thing about Roobarb is I haven’t got to grow a beard for it, which is fine.

BEING STUCK IN COMEDY AFTER THE GOOD LIFE: I was stuck as a comedy man. The boys who wrote The Good Life wrote Ever Decreasing and gave me a character part, which was brilliant. Because with Tom Good I had to use my own personality for him, but Martin was a wonderful character – I never got typecast. Very lucky. Ever Decreasing Circles seems to be slightly overshadowed by The Good Life. They won’t put it on – I don’t know why they never put it on. There’s almost too many repeats of The Good Life, in a funny way. However good a show is, you can have too much of it. But they don’t seem to put Circles on. They put it out sometime in the afternoon about five or six years ago. That was all. Because it’s a very funny show. And a lovely team.

MARTIN BRYCE: He was a very irritating man. [Laughs] Maybe that’s it! Maybe that’s why they don’t put it on anymore – they can’t stand the little bastard. I find him very amusing, and of course it was nice to play somebody who wasn’t me – or parts of me. So that was good and, as I say, Penelope Wilton, Peter Egan and the neighbours. It was a very strong first 11 team that one. Well, The Good Life was a wonderful team as well. It’s all team shows, not just one person.

THEATRE: I’m not going to do anymore. Well, I might do a little tiny bit – I don’t know. I’ve been so lucky… But I’m 71, and I want to have fun. Why the hell do something which could frighten me to death, or I possibly couldn’t do? I just have a nice time.

LIVING IN CHISWICK: It’s too late to move now, really. All the children have grown-up there. You could swap a palace in Devon for a semi-detached in Chiswick, but then you’d go out of your mind, the bottles start coming out and then you’ve had it.

BEING MARRIED FOR OVER 40 YEARS: Well, you only hear about the planes that crash. A lot of people we’ve known for 40 years are still married. I think a lot of the problem is if you’re very, very good looking and you get into films and go off in a jet away from home. Then you’re with other people who are equally handsome or good-looking, and that’s the danger. Luckily I wasn’t good-looking and I never left home, so I was all right [laughs].

THE WORK HE’D LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED FOR: Well, obviously there’s The Good Life , which will be remembered. I mean, the public hardly see you on the stage, only 2,000 people might catch you in the theatre, but there was 18 million for The Good Life. One of the best performances I ever gave was Malvolio in Twelfth Night, directed by Kenneth Branagh. And that’s been my sort of favourite part in the classics.

STILL BEING ASSOCIATED WITH TOM GOOD: I don’t mind. It was such a marvellous, successful show and it made the difference for the four of us. I mean, Paul Eddington died, but it made his life. He was quite broke and had three children and if he’d been an ordinary actor, he’d have been struggling for money. And that made him. Afterwards he got Yes Minister and so on. So that sort of thing you can’t measure in gratitude in a way. And we didn’t do that many. I think if you become entrapped in something then you’re thinking, ‘Oh, drat, I should have got out of that’. But on The Good Life, the writers said, after 30 shows, ‘Look we’re really sorry, we just can’t get any more ideas’. I said, ‘Look, I don’t want you to write when you don’t want to write’. The whole point was that they loved their material and they respected their talent. And out of 29 shows, you probably got 24 really good ones. If they’d gone on, down it goes. They always do. Nowadays, they make 75 shows and you think, ‘Oh dear, it’s a bit dangerous’.

AMBITIONS?: None. I think Roobarb and Custard to King Lear is a good range. I wouldn’t give it back.

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Alasdair Milne, 1930-2013

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He's resigned, and he's off home

 

A tribute to the former BBC director-general, who has died aged 82.

When the BBC board of governors were looking for a replacement for outgoing director-general Ian Trethowan in 1981, despite Alasdair Milne (as deputy director-general and managing director of television) being the obvious successor, they still went ahead and placed advertisements in the newspapers seeking “recommendations and applications”.

Intent on highlighting the absurdity of this situation, Bill Cotton went along for an interview, not to put himself forward for the role but solely to “recommend” Milne. The bemused governors eventually gave Milne the post he’d been tipped for ever since joining the Beeb in 1954, but their deliberations uncannily portended five years of unprecedented – and wholly unforeseen – turbulence that would ruin the man’s career.

Milne had shot up the BBC ladder, working to create TONIGHT, THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS and THE GREAT WAR before serving time as controller, Scotland and director of programmes, television. Neither a visionary in the mould of Hugh Carleton Greene, or a networker like his immediate predecessor Trethowan, as DG Milne inspired only qualified loyalty from his staff: a situation that evolved out of the man’s own enigmatic personality.

He addressed other colleagues as “Boy”, preferred settling awkward personnel issues over a glass of whisky, and had a very small, tight circle of friends. Michael Grade, as controller of BBC1 and director of programmes, was only invited to his office twice in three years – and one of those was to be interviewed for Milne’s job.

But Milne adored the BBC, and managed to build one of the best management teams the organisation had ever had, with figures such as Grade, Cotton and David Hatch heading up a team who’d spent up to four decades mastering their craft and serving the Corporation.

Trouble was looming, however, in the shape of an anti-BBC lobby more spiteful and sustained in its criticism than ever before, regardless of the fact the Beeb was delivering some of its finest drama, comedy, current affairs, children’s and factual output. When the machinery of BBC governance, very carefully and smoothly oiled by former DGs Charles Curran and Ian Trethowan, became unstuck, everything reached a head and relations between the governors and the Beeb’s management fell into pieces.

A sequence of controversies, mistakes, misjudgments and bad luck pock-marked Milne’s tenure as DG. Some were revisits to old ground trod by Trethowan (how to cover Northern Ireland), Hugh Carleton Greene (standards of morality) and even Reith himself (the point of the licence fee).

But others were unavoidably contemporary. A terrible catalogue of misfortune blighted the Corporation in the mid-’80s. In short, the governors, led from 1986 by the menacing Marmaduke Hussey, saw everything as being the fault of Milne personally, and became obsessed with contriving his departure.

In one sense Milne was responsible: he was the editor-in-chief, accountable for everything broadcast, transmitted and published in the BBC’s name. But a figurehead is not the same as a scapegoat. To ascribe Milne culpability for all the Beeb’s failures was as ludicrous as giving him sole credit for all its successes. When it came to the fight, however, Milne simply didn’t have the stamina to prolong his survival. His lifelong preference for negotiation and compromise over fortitude and aggression ultimately accelerated his own fate.

In the end Hussey and his deputy Joel Barnett virtually removed Milne themselves, collaring him after a board meeting on 29 January 1987 and, presenting themselves as “men of honour”, ordered him out, agreeing to dress the entire charade up as a resignation. A flummoxed Milne made no pretence of objecting, or of wishing to consult colleagues over the legitimacy of his dismissal.

This same passivity permeates Milne’s autobiography, where not only does he leave the circumstances surrounding his sacking to the very last few pages, but chooses to sum up the pivotal, dreadful confrontation with Hussey and Barnett in just five words (“What terrible people, I thought”).

By any measure, Milne’s exit was a tragedy. His successors worked hard to hasten his total expunging from the BBC’s history – a process the man, with typical perversity, seemed happy to encourage.

Disappearing into almost total obscurity, Milne takes to his grave the details of precisely what happened that day in January 1987.

His name, and work, was all-too quickly forgotten, but not just thanks to the passing of time: those forces who had chased him out of the BBC re-focused everyone’s attention away from Milne’s demise by perpetuating, not healing, the rancour. The Corporation is still dealing with the legacy of those events today.

Fundament, Al

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Jimmy Savile, 1926-2011

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"Wow! You see? This little girl, wot I have 'ere, is just one of the millions of little bleeders who I, Mr Fix It, 'ave 'elped, you see, over my terrific career in wot is called 'the biz'."TV Cream is very sorry to learn about the passing of Jimmy ‘Sir Jim’ll’ Savile, who had been fixing things for people for years, before he sadly passed away. A true TV Cream hero, he’ll be much missed.

In 2007, we were lucky enough to chat to Jimmy, under the guise of our now-defunct sister site, Off The Telly. You can read the full thing here, but here’s a favourite bit, where Jimmy talks about the genesis of his FIX IT programme, which lay in his previous TV effort, CLUNK CLICK…

You see, if you do things on TV, and anything even remotely successful, then of course, there’s so few successful people on TV that they’ll do everybody to death. I refused two television jobs yesterday. And I refuse probably three or four a month, because I don’t work like that. So, er, initially they said to me, “Will you do something other than Top of the Pops?”. Because, some well-known faces, they’ve got three or four programmes running, you know what I mean? You lift up the toilet seat and there’s all these well-known faces saying, “Hello! How are you?” So, I was doing the “Clunk-Click” adverts and they said, “Alright, we’ll do a programme called Clunk-Click. What will it be?”. I said, “I don’t know, but we’ll do something”. And I added, “I want some of the people I know, who I bump into all over the country, to come down and I’ll talk to them on TV”.

I frightened the programe-makers to death one day. We’d have a figure who would be sitting there through the programme and talking to me – it was like a guest artiste, but it was an ordinary person. For one edition we didn’t have anyone. So, of course, I went in and said, “I can get one out of the audience”. They said, “Do me a favour, what are you talking about?”. And I swear to you, true story, I walked down into the audience, and they were going, “10, nine, eight,” and I was looking around and I saw this girl. I said, “Come here”. “Five, four,” I sat her down. “Three, two, one”. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, it’s Clunk-Click, Bob’s your uncle … Now then [to the girl], what’s your name?” This was a girl who was very attractive, and – what was she? – she was a welder working with 700 fellas! Can you believe that? And of course, everybody just went, “Hallelujah. He scared the shit out of us, we had nobody!”.

 

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“Let’s see Betty Turpin, putting on a jerkin”

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In memory of Betty Driver, 1920-2011
(courtesy of John Shuttleworth)

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“I received a letter from Joe Maplin this morning…”

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By way of a tribute to David Croft, here’s a bit of Hi-De-Hi at its best (for it was often thus), in the capable hands of the marvellous (for he was always thus) Simon Cadell:

While here’s a scene from Are You Being Served that’s as reassuring in its predictability as the latest “sales drive” was in its inevitable, forgotten-about-in-30-minutes failure. “Then I shall have to go over your head!”

David Croft RIP

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John Howard Davies, RIP

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"Can I have some more... of that waspish, frumpish charm, Penny dear?"

A fond farewell to one of British television’s most dependable, dutiful producers and directors, who went from this:

"Can I have some more... reliably entertaining and reassuringly mainstream situation comedies?"

…to wit, the title role in David Lean’s 1948 film version of Oliver Twist, to helming the likes of these:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrHWoDj8FWw

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Robert Robinson, RIP

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"Aye, but hush, pish..."

Ah, would that it weren’t, would that it weren’t.

“It’s always a surprise to find out it takes so much to produce so little”:

“I wish you’d said ‘mongeese’. I just wanted to live to hear someone say that”:

A dazzling line up of bluffers, including Geeson, Woodward, Bakewell and – it being the late 70s – Edmonds:

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John Sullivan: We salute you

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We salute youTV Cream again finds itself in the ghastly position of posting up another RIP for another timeless TV name who has a show returning to the schedules over the next week.

John Sullivan, former scene-shifter turned one-man TV sitcom powerhouse, passed away on April 23, 2011 at the age of 64. The creator, of course, of TVC favourites such as CITIZEN SMITH, JUST GOOD FRIENDS, DEAR JOHN and ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES, his OFAH prequel, ROCK & CHIPS airs on BBC1 on Thursday.

Thanks, John, for all the laughs, plus the gold chains, whassa-names, and at a push, some Trevor Francis tracksuits.

John Sullivan, 1946-2011, RIP

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Elisabeth Sladen: The Doctor’s best friend

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Elisabeth Sladen, 1 February 1948 – 19 April 2011

TV Cream is saddened and not a little shocked to learn of the death of Elisabeth Sladen – presenter of Stepping Stones, the best-ever Doctor Who companion and, in person, seemingly ageless. But it was not to be.

We were lucky to meet and interview Elisabeth a couple of times over the years. Here are some favourite bits from our chats…

On her brief time in Coronation Street

“I went for an interview – ‘What? Barmaid? Me? Oh no!’ I couldn’t believe I got it. Six episodes. It was at a time when the cast were treated like royalty. I mean, you could not believe the silver service. They would bring, at 3pm, afternoon tea to them on trolleys. I was actually told not to sit in Uncle Albert’s chair. Christ! I’d been working in rep. Ha ha! Oh yes. And they were all on contracts forever. Pat Phoenix was the Queen Bee and she had just married… oh God, what was his name? And she was so proprietorial, she’d swan in in her mink coat.”

On how Doctor Who affected her career

“Who knows? Who knows? I know a lot of things I got offered afterwards were very different to what I got offered before, in the way of, scripts for a little girl all the time. But having said that, I did feel I still did stuff that I thought was stretching for me. I really am honestly, genuinely so pleased to be involved with such an iconic programme. Do you know? It’s no hassle. It’s really…  I’m very pleased to be part of it. Oh, I would defend the programme to anyone.”

On the day she realised Doctor Who would never leave her

“After I’d been to America, because I wouldn’t do conventions here because someone else was playing the assistant – and I did totally walk away. But they were playing the videos in America – they had recorders before we did – so, you would be … they would show scene-by-scene and you would be quizzed. All of sudden, the videos were out here. It was around that time, and then Jon and I, at the beginning of the 1990s, did the radios together and he said, ‘You idiot Lizzy, you’ve got to get out and promote these!’. And that’s when I just started to think, ‘Well, yes. It’s not going to make any difference now I don’t think’. So that was the kind of turnaround.”

On Stepping Stones

“Oh my lord! With Keith Baron. It was great fun, I loved doing it. I went up to Yorkshire to do that. We had to wear our own clothes, they had no budget. So I got a bed jacket, a second-hand Oxfam thing, and I thought, ‘They’ll have to buy me stuff now, it looks so awful’. They made me wear it [laughs]. I had to wear it!”

On returning to Doctor Who and working with David Tennant

“Well, I spied him at the read through and he spied me. And we circled a bit, and I thought, ‘Well, how ridiculous’. So I said hello, and I got the biggest hug of my life. The first day on the set, you think, ‘God!’ We were shooting one of the crucial scenes, and we’d just done some running together and I don’t know if it’s in the programme, but it’s a long shot of David and I, and, you know, the corridors were much longer than we had [on the old show] and we just seemed to run forever. And there was a round of applause, it was almost iconic. ‘It’ll be on the previews’, and it wasn’t! It wasn’t at all! And I have a feeling they might have cut me up to my waist looking puffed, but there should be a wonderful two-shot of David and I running forever, and I hope it’s still in. And I just thought, when we came to do the scene, ‘Oh, that’s what the Doctor looks like now, he’s regenerated’. You just take that leap.”

On the essence of The Sarah Jane Adventures and Doctor Who

“I never think of this as science fiction and I never thought of Doctor Who as science fiction. It was all about relationships. How you care for someone else and if you do care that much you don’t mind how stupid it makes you look – you go for it.”

On Sarah Jane’s latter day brittleness

“Oh no, that’s lovely! I love that. Because there’s an element where she still doesn’t want to get that close, and when she does, she kind of doesn’t handle it all so well. I mean she’s just learning to loosen up, which I quite like. As you get older you learn to.”

On using Doctor Who’s past in modern stories

“If you’ve got a past life, use it! Don’t ignore it. Because everything is ammunition. I claw back! I relish that I’ve got a past. The kids [her co-stars on The Sarah Jane Adventures] will come and say, ‘What’s that line about?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, that’s when she was blah blah blah’. ‘Ah, I see!’ How fortunate are we? How many programmes can do that? It’s set in a reality. It isn’t just a moment like, ‘Oh, we’ll pluck that out of our derrière!’ Please, don’t muck about with it!

On being ‘Doctor-ed out’

“I’m a bit Doctor-ed out at the moment. I am a tad. But when I go in tomorrow to do ADR, I’ll just love it. Cos I won’t have seen the episode [of The Sarah Jane Adventures]. I don’t know which episodes I’m doing tomorrow. Oh, I might be doing the last bit, actually – nine, 10, 11 and 12. Oh, I’m dying to see… Yes! Eleven and 12, ‘Goodbye Sarah Jane’.”

Elisabeth Sladen, 1948-2011, RIP

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Nicholas Courtney: A real trooper

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Splendid chap! He's pretty sure that's Cromer And, of course, five rounds rapid...

We were very sad to hear about the death of Nicholas Courtney. Our condolences go out to his family. More details here.

TV Cream was fortunate enough to chat to the actor in 2008, when he was returning to the role of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart for The Sarah Jane Adventures. “You’re a Doctor Who fan of old?” declared the Brig. “Well, that’s alright. Good!”

Explaining the amount of time it had taken for his character to return to the DW fold, he continued: “After Sylvester’s last one, Doctor Who was off the screen for a long time. But then when they started the new series they had to wait a long time while they worked out how to reintroduce him. I’m glad they reintroduced him in Sarah Jane, because it’s a good script and I enjoyed it. It was good seeing Lis again – so I think it was quite a good idea.”

As far as Nicholas was concerned, during the interim the Brig had been in Peru “on some damn fool mission!”

“It wasn’t odd being with Lis again. Having been on camera with her before, it just came quite naturally, like the character of the Brig keeps coming back. But I’ve done a lot of audios as well, so he’s been around, but not on the screen.

“The Brig aged with me, and put on some weight too. Perhaps a bit too much! He’s not quite the lithesome Brigadier of old. When I first played him, why I had a moustache was because Douglas Camfield thought I looked too old. I started my own facial hair from The Five Doctors. Before then I didn’t think it grew military enough.”

Finally, he had some more fundamental thoughts about the character. “He was a bit nervous about women, the Brig. So that’s why he called them ‘Miss’. He was happier with a sergeant, probably. Having a pint.”

Nicholas Courtney, 1929-2011, RIP

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Bob says it’s a TV Cream Bob photo clippage special

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Prompted by Monday night’s superb BBC4 documentary, TV Cream has riffled through its own Monkhouse memorabilia for a few snaps from the great man’s Golden age.

"Love is blind. That's why you see so many spectacles in the park."

"Love is blind. That's why you see so many spectacles in the park."

"My New Year's Eve couldn't have been duller if I were Adam."

"My New Year's Eve couldn't have been duller if I were Adam."

"I went to a Gay Nineties Party. All the men were gay and all the women were ninety."

"I went to a Gay Nineties Party. All the men were gay and all the women were ninety."

"Ronnie Corbett's had his pocket picked. Now that's what I call stooping low."

"Ronnie Corbett's had his pocket picked. Now that's what I call stooping low."

"I went to my taxman and said: have a heart. He took it."

"I went to my taxman and said: have a heart. He took it."

"I find that life is like a shower. One wrong turn and you're in hot water."

"I find that life is like a shower. One wrong turn and you're in hot water."

"If it's true that history repeats itself, where are those 1950s prices?"

"If it's true that history repeats itself, where are those 1950s prices?"

"The government wants a working majority. They should do more to get a majority working."

"The government wants a working majority. They should do more to get a majority working."

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