THAT EXCLAMATION mark says it all. More perspicacious production line period palaver from the pens of David Croft – who with Jimmy Perry wrote the vastly overrated DAD'S ARMY and the endless HI-DE-HI! – and Jeremy Lloyd which never seemed to be off the telly and lasted longer than the war it was “gently lampooning”. Entire premise ripped off from SECRET ARMY. Rene (GORDEN KAYE), a moon-faced smart-alec cafe owner who spoke like someone doing a shit impression of Inspector Clouseau, reluctantly agrees to help the French resistance during WW2. Married to a prickly wife Edith who can’t sing (“Youuuuuu stupid woman!”) but also fancies the arse off barmaid Yvette, but who keeps being distracted by Michelle the “collaborator” (“Listen very carefully, I shall say zees only once”), who keeps trying to avoid the machinations of Gestapo goon with a limp Herr Flick, and Helga the blonde Nazi officer who took to appearing in only her underwear, and the gay Nazi officer, the stupid Nazi officer, British airmen in terribly unamusing inability to escape to “Blighty” and uproarious false accents (“I was just pissing by”), “Mother” upstairs called Fanny with comic ear trumpet, the French policeman next door… Oh, dear god. Entire seasons seemed to revolve around Rene being presumed dead and being replaced with his identical brother (GORDEN KAYE, unsurprisingly), or the location of the Fallen Madonna With The Big Boobies, or comically-shaped bratwurst. Each episode opened with Gorden looking stupid (standing in a bale of hay, or appearing dressed as a woman, or appearing dressed as a woman in a bale of hay) and asking us what we thought he was doing. How the hell did we know ? RONNIE HAZELHURST arranged the theme, which didn’t really fit in on account of it being really rather good.
A is for…
TV CREAM SAYS: STILL A SUNDAY LUNCHTIME BBC1 STAPLE IN 2009. IS THERE NOTHING
EPONYMOUS FEMO-BOT spawned by malevolent machine made of giant spinning tape loops and teleprinters proceeds to run (slowly) amok in a Top Secret Government Laboratory on a Remote Scottish Island. Crinkle-faced shiny-haired boffins are powerless to do anything but clasp their hands to their bespectacled moon faces. Turns out Mrs Replica (JULIE CHRISTIE) has – gasp! – a human side, thanks to the fact a) she is a woman and b) she has her clanky head turned by the dapper Professor John Fleming (PETER HALLIDAY). Titular constellation is also to blame, by dint of sending signals to earth which spell out the instruction manual for making an evil bastard computer. Sequel, THE ANDROMEDA BREAKTHROUGH, found Fleming, his cyber missus (now regenerated into SUSAN HAMPSHIRE) and “scheming sidekick” Madeline (MARY MORRIS) taken prisoner in a Middle East state for propaganda purposes (topical) and made to destroy the ozone layer (ditto). Faulty machinery once again to blame.
TV CREAM SAYS: YOU CAN'T GET THE PARTS
A REDUNDANT entry, really. What’s to say? Wanted for a crime they didn’t commit, maximum security stockade, if you can find them, etc. etc. Developed the cartoony stock plot to great levels of standardisation – some nasty pseudo-communist/mafia gang would beat up locals, the ‘Team would arrive and see them off “for now”, then the ever-feckless Amy would be captured, they’d try to rescue her (usually Face – DIRK BENEDICT – with a “clever disguise” i.e. a stick-on ‘tache) then the final showdown, with modified attack vehicle driven by BA (MR T) and made by comedy mentally-handicapped person Murdoch (DWIGHT SCHULTZ). Then GEORGE PEPPARD would go “I love it when a plan comes together,” while smoking a cigar and wearing a crocodile outfit. But then, you already knew that. Other well-worn gimmicks included “hilarious” rivalry ‘twixt “Howlin’ Mad” and BA, and Baracus’s tiresome “I ain’t goin’ on no plane”/”Here, drink this milk”/”Zzzzzzz” routine.
Anyway, never mind the bloody programme, it’s the ephemera we’re interested in. MIKE POST-penned the theme tune, which was of the highest order, especially when performed by the band of the Coldstream guards marching up and down on the concourse outside the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios. After an ignominious final season which, amongst other sacrileges, introduced us to BA’s mum, the show lived on, for a bit, in a thousand playground recreations (“You can be The Face because you’re gay!”) and some cheapo plastic action figures, the ads for which, along side those fast-talking bloke-with-tache Micro Machines spots, single-handedly kept TV-am afloat for about eight months. “The A-Team!/They’re soldiers of fortune/The A-Team!/Helping people in need/You can pretend that you’re Hannibal, Murdoch or Face/Or maybe BA Baracus, you know each one is an ace!/Each is sold separately, with rifle and gear/When there’s trouble to face, you know the A-Team’s here!” After disbanding, Peppard and Benedict settled into cameoing semi-retirement, Schultz went for a steady career of voice-over work, and La T became America’s Big Daddy, surrounding himself with children in the nicest possible way, and appearing in bizarro spin-off shows like the Mr T cartoon (from the barrel-scraping “you though Ruby-Spears churned out a crock of shit? Have a gander at our back catalogue” Sunbow Productions) and the has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed schmaltzfest Mr T’s Christmas Dream. And for the record, we’ve met Justin Lee Collins, and he’s one of the nicest people in showbusiness. There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio…
TV CREAM SAYS: SEE ALSO MR. T (IF YOU MUST) AND BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
DOLEFUL LOOK-AT-THIS “local people with a story to tell” effort showcasing regionalia in as lumpen a manner possible on a budget made up of whatever was left in the float after deducting the local weatherperson’s Luncheon Vouchers. Various ITV regions joined in, more, you suspected, out of duty rather than love. The original series, ABOUT BRITAIN: TOUR, cleared its throat by way of Tyne Tees taking us around Northumberland, the Yorkshire Dales and the Borders. Then HTV came up with The Splendour Falls, touring Wales. In ’73, a more changeable round robin format allowed each company one or several weeks’ worth of bucolic biggings-up – Walking Westward, Jorrocks Country, Lullaby of Broadland, etc. By ’74 it was a pretty much immovable feature of the afternoon weekday schedules, although because it was ITV there was always one too many “take me as you find me” crinkle-faced shouting tinkers for comfort. Highlight was the bit in the titles when, thanks to mysterious primitive computer magic, an electronic spinning map (foreshadowing textbook Peter Snow’s “There they go!” business) honed in on the relevant region (“I bet it’s East Anglia again” etc.) to a defiantly mid-70s parping band. None of which failed to stop episodes being repeated in the coveted 4am slot until at least 1989.
TV CREAM SAYS: “TO MOST PEOPLE, LUNDY IS JUST A NAME HEARD ON WEATHER-FOR-SHIPPING FORECASTS…”
TV adaptation of Dario Fo’s uncompromising militant left-wing dramatisation of the suspicious circumstances of the death of an anarchist railway worker who plunges from the fourth floor of a Milan police station while being ‘questioned’, during the Italian government’s controversial ‘strategy of tension’ of the late 1960s, which played far right and far left terrorist groups off each other in a cynical…
“Woah, woah, steady on there, TVC! Bit outside the usual remit, this, isn’t it? You’ll be using the words ‘Brechtian’ and ‘discourse’ in a minute!”
Ah, well, not really. For one, this play isn’t some hectoring heap of stony-faced symbolism and political grandstanding, it’s a farce of the highest, daftest order, with plenty of falling over, chatting to the audience, knees-bent running about and hoary old gags of the CRACKERJACK (“Crackerjack!”) variety bunged in. (Fo’s original script even has a line comparing the relative retirement prospects of judges and coalminers that bears an uncanny similarity to Peter Cook’s BEYOND THE FRINGE Mr Grole monologue, high-art-cribbing-from-popular-comedy fans.) Secondly, this version comes courtesy the Belt and Braces Theatre Company, a fringe theatre group who eschewed the usual po-faced pomposity for a laid-back, gag-strewn approach to agit-prop.
The main driving force behind the group was GAVIN RICHARDS, latterly known to the world as Tiffany’s dad off EASTENDERS and, more pertinently, Captain Bertorelli off ‘ALLO! ‘ALLO! The latter loon shares a manic disposition (to say nothing of a false moustache) with Richards’s character here, “The Maniac”, a demented Marx Brothers-esque agitator who impersonates an esteemed judge carrying out an inquiry into the plummeting incident, to the consternation of the jittery station Superintendent (the Cleese-esque CLIVE RUSSELL) and clueless Inspector (the diminutive JIM BYWATER). It all takes place in front of a KENNY EVERETT SHOW-style milieu of tiny, t-shirted audience and chuckling technicians, in the smallest studio Thames Television can provide (the fourth wall is not so much broken as falling down before the opening credits have finished rolling).
Cue an hour and a quarter of insanity, with pratfalls, punch-ups, Quantel tomfoolery, arsing about with prosthetic limbs, the requisite “Channel Swore” quota of half a dozen “fuck”s, mass anarchist singalongs, mass train impersonations, derisory comments about the show’s tiny budget (on spotting a supporting actor doubling up roles – “Your face rings a bell!” – Richards moans, “Couldn’t they get a different actor to play you? Who’s directing this thing, Ian MacGregor?”), appallingly corny gags (“Don’t worry, they get worse!”), an in-studio coffee break complete with charlady and tea urn, TISWAS-esque mucking about with the Thames Television cameras, references to both the General Belgrano and Arthur Negus in the same breath, and a climactic destruction of the avowedly wobbly set by means of a comedy bomb. All topped off with a dollop of good old revolutionary socialism. It’s got the lot, folks.
Unsurprisingly, this is one of those early doors Channel Four programmes tuned into by curious younger viewers on the off-chance of seeing a bit of naked flesh, leading to swift disappointment. Except with this show, they kept watching, if only to try and work out what the heck sort of a programme this thing was. By the first ad break, they were hooked. One of those rare occasions when station controller Jeremy Isaacs’s notion of What Channel Four Should Be Doing meshed perfectly with our own. Or, to quote the Maniac, “This is commercial television in crisis!”
TV CREAM SAYS: A REALLY RATHER ENTERTAINING EXAMPLE OF CHANNEL FOUR BEING CHANNEL FOUR WITH A CAPITAL "FOUR"
JIM-MORRISON-ALIKE BOY magician Tarot (MICHAEL MACKENZIE) has adventures through history, for which read cheap studio set representing pyramid, cheap studio set representing Stonehenge and so on. DR WHO-style menace on a budget. Fought enemies such as Madame Midnight, Mr Stabs and Mama Doc, aided by an owl called Ozymandias (played by FRED THE OWL). Tarot cards and tarot phenomena abounded; much worthy roustabouts ensued. Prog-heavy title theme babbling – “Jet white dove/Snow black snake/Time has turned his face/From the edge of mystery” – singularly failed to assault the charts.
TV CREAM SAYS: "IRON ROADS/ASPHALT SKY/WINDOWS MADE FROM WATER" YIKES!
DREADFUL HALF-ARSED cheapo kids’ drama-workshop-on-screen string of semi-improvised (hence title) sketches and bollocks, the most notable thing being when cast regular DUNCAN GOODHEW (yup, the bald swimmer) pretended to be Dracula flapping his cape as he swooped down on a victim. The interview DG gave on CBTV around the same period confirmed impression of him as a twat. Co-conspirators IAN BARTHOLOMEW, OONA KIRSCH, LIZ LIEWS, CRAIG LYNN, BEVERLEY MARTIN, DAVID NUNN, NICK ROWAN and TILLY VOSBURGH may have fared little better. See also SUNNY SIDE UP.
TV CREAM SAYS: THINK "WHY DON'T YOU..?" WITH ADULTS. THEN THINK SOMETHING ELSE
TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY GENTLEMAN charmer in preposterous cape and cane combo (GERALD HARPER) gets frozen in a block of ice and thawed out in the swinging sixties – and what a lot of changes he encounters! Also along for the renewed crimebustings: Georgina Jones (JULIET HARMER) and comedy sidekick William Simms (JACK MAY). Feted at the time, in reality it was little more than loads of characters sitting about on their posh arses looking foppish and mouthing off.
TV CREAM SAYS: WHERE WERE THE BEATLES? DIDN'T THEY RUN BRITAIN IN 1967?
CREEPY. KOOKY. And altogether, er, ooky. Memory burning finger-clicking theme heralded ever-so-slightly darker brand of supernatural sitcom shenanigans than the contemporaneous THE MUNSTERS. That family roll call in full: parents Gomez and Morticia, Uncle Fester, manservant Lurch (“You raaaaaang?”), and kids Pugsley and Wednesday. And lest we forget, a disembodied hand in a box (Thing). Fun if predictable antics ensued in their suitably spooky pile.
TV CREAM SAYS: THEIR HOUSE WAS A MUSEUM. YOU REALLY OUGHTA, ER, SEE 'EM
WHAT NOW GET OUT OF THAT was to BBC1 evenings, THE ADVENTURE GAME was to BBC2 teatime. Basically, an alien-planet-set game show, where a team of three comprising child-friendly celebs (FRED HARRIS, DEREK GRIFFITHS, MAGGIE PHILBIN – you know the score) and affable boffin-types (IAN “MICRO LIVE” MACNAUGHT-DAVIS, world Rubik Cube champ DAVID SINGMASTER) are forced to work their way through impenetrable series of logic games by human-impersonating aliens (including, at one point, MOIRA STUART). But it wasn’t a simple as that. Wildcards included the Drogna Game involving logic-stepping-stone floorplan and geometrically-themed plastic ‘local currency’ called Argond (the only alien available to ask about the currency was usually mute, and merely pointed to a sign saying “Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain”). Later additions to the mix included much banter between the ‘aliens’ about “grandad turning into an aspidistra”, green cheese rolls, and moles, or something; LESLEY JUDD as a two-timing alien saboteur; backwards-talking aussie bushwacker BILL HOMEWOOD, aka Ron Gad; and a bizarre version of tag against an invisible vortex on a gantry suspended in space to guarantee their safe return to ‘Earth’. Which is being a bit harsh, even for us. The bizarre “charm” was maintained pretty well throughout the entire run, bolstered immeasurably when there was someone of the calibre of Derek Griffiths or Johnny Ball to play off. All alien names were derived from ‘dragon’ – Arg (The planet), Drogna, Gronda (traditional salute), Rangdo (the aspidistra-like “uncle”) and Dogran (little BBC Buggy-derived thing, notionally controlled by Fred or whoever – always one of the blokes in the team – via a state-of-the-art BBC micro around a pitch black maze). Suffice to say, if you never saw it, you missed a minor gem.
TV CREAM SAYS: DOOGY REV!
DIMLY-RECALLED KIDS series from the arse-end of the 60s about a group of kids in an English town who decided to write up their weekly adventures as a newspaper. The main kid in it was about 14 or so, with longish black hair and – inevitably – a bit on the podgy side. One episode revolved around a windmill. Not literally. Though that would’ve been an improvement.
TV CREAM SAYS: THEME MUSIC WAS A LARRY ADLER-ESQUE HARMONICA DITTY
SCI-FI COMEDY outing, little remembered now, with IAN HENDRY as the quixotic space traveller, and RONALD LACEY as Sam Chopanza. Quite well done stuff for such an early effort. Also featured KATE “TRIANGLE” O’MARA and GRAHAM “SUN TRAP” CROWDEN.
TV CREAM SAYS: "MY WORD, LOOK: A PLANET MADE OF GIANT SKYSCRAPERS!"
MORE OLD black and white stuff which strayed far into the colour era. Recurring summer holiday fodder due to its 12 episodes (though it always felt like more) taking you neatly up to the start of autumn term. Hailed from across the Channel, replete with classic ten-second orchestral theme plus hand disappearing below the water titles. Suffered by having one too many flashbacks to Rob’s life as a kid. Forget the adolescent angst – just get to the making a den on the island, dammit!
TV CREAM SAYS: "DA DA DA DAAAA, DA DAAAAA, (BOM BOM BOM)"
DEFINITIVE SMALL-SCREEN sleuthathon saddling JEREMY BRETT, for good or ill (the latter, as it turned out) with the role of a lifetime. Hard to find a word to say against this meticulously turned-out period perfectionism, at least not during the early years when Brett was on top hair-dyed, rake-thin, pipe-chimney, violin-scratching, blind-fury, arch-pompous, bone-dry-wit form. Accompanied first by the almost too-youthful DAVID BURKE, who regenerated into EDWARD “COLDITZ” HARDWICKE in 1986, here was the humorous (“Watson, this is no time for eating humbugs!”) and the introspective (“It seems death is all around us”) just as thrilling as the discovery of the next dead body. A fully-functioning Baker Street, slung up just round the corner from the Rovers Return and peopled with numerous rozzers, coppers, tinkers and nabobs, kept Granada in pocket to boot. Later years, saddled with numerous name changes (THE RETURN OF…, THE MEMOIRS OF…, THE CASEBOOK OF) and two-hour one-off specials, hampered by less money and Brett’s fading health. Final episodes almost ghoulish in their intimations of mortality. Still, the best of its kind and no fooling, with the finest late-Victorian smog (“Hmmm, it’s a real pea-souper this time!”) on the box.
TV CREAM SAYS: "WATSON I FEAR MY PRACTICE IS TURNING INTO ONE FOR THE RECOVERY
OF LOST LEAD PENCILS"
AUSSIE KIDS Molly (AMEILA FRID – the original Cody Willis in NEIGHBOURS) and Spike (GARY PERAZZO) holiday on a Greek island, where they have the expected nondescript adventures with local girl Tik (REBEKAH ELMALOGLOU, better known as acne-ridden Sophie Simpson from HOME AND AWAY). They were also joined by Zenton, played by an actor whose real name was, somewhat startlingly, ZENTON CHORNY. The only storyline that sticks in the collective memory was something to do with Zenton finding an old skeleton in a cave, and ending up inheriting a pile of rubble masquerading as a house as a result. It was followed, sensibly, by ADVENTURES ON KYTHERA II, which reunited Zenton and Spike but left the girls out of proceedings (although there was the occasional reference to them having sent “letters”). Both series were shown back to back by ITV over the summer of 1991, in the hope of capitalising on the soap opera links. Theme music suspiciously similar to WHO PAYS THE FERRYMAN.
TV CREAM SAYS: ELMALOGLOU'S NOTORIOUSLY WELL-DEVELOPED PHYSIQUE - SHE WAS 16 - MADE HER PORTRAYAL OF A 13-YEAR-OLD, ER, UNCONVINCING
25-MINUTE GUNG-HO adventures of Ernest Laverdure and Michel Tanguy, young strapping pilots in the French air force. Black and white derring-do which came on before HECTOR’S HOUSE and badly dubbed into English.