WE’VE BEEN treated to a succession of vehicles for Scouse stand-up and self-styled “Mr Clean” Tom O’Connor down the years, following the man’s graduation from maths teacher via OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS to THE COMEDIANS. First off was THE TOM O’CONNOR SHOW (1976-7) for Thames, which was yer bog-standard frilly-shirted patter. Then came TOM O’CONNOR (1984-87) in which Tom promised to “take the lid off life” in a succession of “quickfire sketches” featuring DEREK GRIFFITHS, MIKE “BLUE RIBAND” BERRY, CHRIS “321″ EMMETT and CHERRY “HOT SHOE SHOW” GILLESPIE. Best of all, though, was travelling lunchtime entertainment showcase THE TOM O’CONNOR ROADSHOW (1987), in the slot vacated by DOMESDAY DETECTIVES. This entailed O’Connor and ‘Mill-level guests pitching up at some dismal provincial outpost for a week, meeting “the local characters” and attempting to entertain the few busfuls of pensioners who showed up thinking it was Des O’Connor. Highlight was The Accumulator Game, in which three contestants’ scores were symbolised by cardboard buses trundling across the screen. Still on telly, mostly in Dictionary Corner, but there’s no reason at all why this most genial of gents shouldn’t be, say, hosting the Lottery or The One Show. Fact.
O is for…
A MYSTERY entity is on collision course with the Earth. The only thing that stands between total worldwide destruction and safety is Professor Ramsay, Diana Winters and TREVOR “ARE YOU BEING” BANNISTER. Best get started on that DIY fall-out shelter…
TV CREAM SAYS: THERE WAS A SEQUEL, OBJECT Z RETURNS, WHICH IMPLIED TREV AND CO WEREN'T THAT SUCCESSFUL FIRST TIME ROUND
THANKFULLY FORGOTTEN but still rotten comedy with JOSEPHINE “NO APPOINTMENT” TEWSON as the boss of a sweet factory encountering long-lost brother JOHN INMAN – who’s gay! Except he’s not! He’s just very, er, festive! PETER BUTTERWORTH was in it, with a catchphrase that went “How’s your rock, cock?”
TV CREAM SAYS: PRODUCED BY GERALD "CARRY ON" THOMAS, UNSURPRISINGLY
PAUL DANIELS haunted this grim quiz where contestants had to say what was the odd one out (see?) of four things. When contestant accidentally buzzed in when only one thing was revealed, and identified it correctly as odd one out but had to say what linked the other three unseen items, “hilarity” ensued.
TV CREAM SAYS: FONDUE SETS AND GARDEN GNOMES LOOMED LARGE AS OBLIGATORY RECURRING COMEDY PRIZES
SPIFFY, A fastidious cat, shares a flat with Fleabag, a slobby dog. JACK LEMMON and WALTER MATTHAU most definitely did NOT do the voices.
TV CREAM SAYS: "THE ODDBALL COUPLE/THEY'RE A COUPLE/YES, A COUPLE OF ODDBALLS/
THE ODDBALL COUPLE/THEY'RE A COUPLE/YES A COUPLE OF SCREWBALLS"
Municipal hole-digger Selwyn Froggitt, created by playwright Alan Plater and portrayed by Bill Maynard, is one of the great clown turns of sitcom. He’s almost childlike in his relentless, hyperactive enthusiasm (life’s one big double-thumbs-up), yet habitually accident prone, a one-man whirlwind of ebullient destruction.
Living with his train-obsessed brother Maurice and absent-minded, pensionable mum in the Yorkshire town of Scarsdale, Selwyn enjoys a simple life of digging holes, drinking beer and wrecking public property. Despite avidly reading The Times (‘It’s great! On Sundays you get three and a book!’) and bandying words like ‘aesthetic’ about with confidence, Maynard’s stuttering, red-faced hero remains several steps behind everyone else, notably his compadres at the working men’s club, including shifty, gimlet-eyed barman Ray (Ray Mort) and humourless club president Jack (Bill ‘Harry Cross’ Dean, who also penned the lyrics to the lilting male voice choir theme tune, which winningly changed each week to document that episode’s misadventures in between its immortal ‘never mind’ refrain).
Endless mucky holes, flyblown club interiors and pints of cookin’ conspired to make this the brownest sitcom in history. A holiday camp sequel in 1978, SELWYN, backfired, but Yorkshire Television gave Maynard a worthy 1980s successor in THE GAFFER, where his professional incompetence moved with the times into the private sector.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALTOGETHER NOW (THUMBS ALOFT): "MAGIC, OUR MAURICE!"
PRIDED ITSELF on being the only place on television you’d be likely to see the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, which was probably a good thing too. PETER PURVES’s favourite programme. BOB HARRIS claims chief association with the thing, but it was actually started with IAN WHITCOMB and RICHARD WILLIAMS calling, or rather mumbling, the shots. Despite the noise, it always felt like you had to watch it in silence. Flourished during the years when “a pop song” could be 20 hours long. ELP, Yes and ELO turned up every week, either in the studio or “on film, midway through their latest rekkerd-breaking world tour”. Then punk came along and Sir Bob looked a little lost, so ANNIE NIGHTINGALE, DAVID HEPWORTH, MARK ELLEN, RICHARD SKINNER and ANDY KERSHAW took over, perching on monitors to introduce Gang of Four and Spizz Oil. The whole gang got put in charge of Live Aid, because they were the only people who the Beeb thought “knew how to introduce live music” – hence footage of Ellen, Skinner and co beaming their way into the homes of millions of bemused Duran Duran fans.
TV CREAM SAYS: HARMONICA-LED THEME PLUS POINTY LIGHTBULB-OUTLINED MAN MIMING CROWN GREEN BOWLING SET A SUITABLY GNOMIC TONE
The brilliance of Troy Kennedy Martin’s TV drama is known to all, or at least it darn well should be. Most agree that Edge of Darkness sits at the top of his considerably well-stocked pantheon of hits, but great as it is, we’d like to raise a glass case of rare insects to this adaptation of Angus Wilson’s weird Cold War parable.
Stuart Wilson plays Simon Carter, the young, modernising Secretary of London Zoo, a creaky institution staffed by irascible, cranky old duffers, most of them one concrete ledge short of a penguin house. Trouble begins when a much-loved old zookeeper is kicked to death in the bollocks by Smokey the giraffe, setting in motion a train of bickering sessions between the Dad’s Army of ancient oddballs, before our old friend World War Three turns up, and the zoo – and Britain – erupt into a post-apocalyptic fascist dictatorship where, appropriately enough, the population find out what zoo life is like at first hand.
OK, so if you’re after subtle, nuanced character study, best to look elsewhere. This is one of those affairs, like Lindsay Anderson’s later films, where in amongst the chaos, Big Things about the State of the Nation are assumed to be said. (Fortunately, in this case, they actually are.) But the slowly building zany menace of Wilson’s book is perfectly updated by Kennedy Martin into that sort of vague, just-like-the-present-but-somehow-scarily-not future that works so much better than your Bakelite-encrusted fantastical visions of scientific progress.
And most importantly, the eponymous aging gents are played by a cast to die for: from Robert Urquhart and Maurice Denham as the reactionary and progressive warring department heads, through meek Andrew Cruickshank’s insect specialist and Marius Goring’s Teutonic psycho to the mighty Lord Godmanchester, played with superlative stately fruitiness by – who else? – Robert Morley, it’s a masterclass in top drawer carpet chewing.
Throw in a militant, bestial young animal liberationist, a rather nifty animated title sequence of the coloured pencil variety that you just don’t get nowadays, a ‘good old rare old Armageddon’ and a stuffed Yeti, and you quite simply can’t do better in the bonkers satirical allegory department.
TV CREAM SAYS: NICE ONE, TROY
CHIEFLY REMEMBERED for having starred LOUISE “DICKIE DAVIES HAIR” JAMESON fresh from DR WHO as leather-clad inarticulate Leela, this BBC psychic drama revolved around JAMES HAZELDINE, who played a journalist sent to cover a story about a clairvoyant. Unwittingly he begins to display signs of his own psychic power and comes to the attention of an obscure govt department called Department 7, set up to study the paranormal, in the shape of Jameson, JOHN CARLISLE and the intriguingly named BROWN DERBY. Lots of “Can I trust the government? Are they doing experiments on me or being my friends?” paranoia ensues, with rather silly stories all shot on video with loads of over-the-top synth music and sound effects.
TV CREAM SAYS: WAS RUSSELL T DAVIES WATCHING?
SINGLE-HANDEDLY KEPT ITV in business in the early 70s, so this endlessly-mocked transportation-tweaking torpitude has got to count for something. All the critics loathed it, naturally, but fifty thousand billion viewers watched its 74,000 episodes, not to mention the (count ‘em!) three film spin-offs. Roll call: REG VARNEY was the cheeky bus driver with an eye for the ladies; BOB “EDDIE” GRANT was the cheeky clippie with an eye etc; MICHAEL ROBBINS and ANNA KAREN were the comedically dire couple with a motorbike and sidecar; STEPHEN “DON’T DRINK” LEWIS was Blakey, the miserable inspector with an annoying donkey-style voice. Franchise travelled the world. Unlike the buses.
TV CREAM SAYS: THE THEME RECKONED "YOU CAN GET IT ON THE BUSES/UPSTAIRS OR
DOWN INSIDE." CHEERS.
BOB HOSKINS is an illiterate removals man, driving a van with arrow on the side. En route to somewhere or other he learns how to spell “furniture”. Adult education for Sunday teatimes, its rousing message laid out in the theme tune: “On the Move/On the Move/ So much to see again…Life is an open book!”
TV CREAM SAYS: "DEAR BARRY TOOK. WHY DID YOU WRITE THIS PROGRAMME?"
TYNE-TEES SATIRISES itself with a kids’ series about a regional-as-hell TV station broadcasting from a lighthouse to no-one. ARTHUR MULLARD and CRACKERJACK’s PIP HINTON man the studio.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALSO FEATURED AN EARLY APPEARANCE FROM WARREN "DIM OFF CLOCKWORK ORANGE" CLARKE
FROM THE prolific pen of BOB (THE GOOD LIFE/GET SOME IN/EVER DECREASING CIRCLES) LARBEY, ON THE UP was a pretty typical BBC sitcom, albeit one broadcast at the fag end of the Corporation’s love for conventional 2.4 set ups. Here the sit involved rough-diamond-made-good Tony (DENNIS WATERMAN) and his various and tedious run-ins with “‘er indoors”, namely his wife Ruth, (JUDY BUXTON). All the while sidekick extraordinaires SAM KELLY and JOAN SIMS were wasting their immaculate comedy timing on material that was never better than average. Sadly, ON THE UP was pretty much completely forgettable. It wasn’t even sufficiently of-its-time (unlike series such as THERE’S NO PLACE AT HOME or JOINT ACCOUNT) to latterly gain a retrospective museum-piece curiosity value. Eminently unmemorable.
TV CREAM SAYS: IT'S DORA BRYAN, SAM KELLY, JOAN SIMS AND DENNIS WATERMAN, BUT IT'S COMPLETELY FORGETTABLE - DOES NOT COMPUTE!
“LARD! LOTS of lovely lard!” Above average summer Saturday morning pantheon hailing from the short-lived Beeb studio at Brunswick Dock, Liverpool, herded into existence by its script editor, one RUSSELL T DAVIES. Offered up a Fab Four for the filofax generation: “small but perfectly formed” BERNIE NOLAN, leggy woman in mad glasses KATE COPSTICK, large-foreheaded ANDREW O’CONNOR and TERRY “the other one” RANDALL. Pitched itself way above the heads of your average Cheerio-munching primary schooler, courtesy of sketches such as purposefully-craply-drawn still-frame-animation Lantern Jaw (“Lan-tern-Jawwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!”), the Lardy Brothers, THE FLASHING BLADE overdubbed with FERDINAND DE BARGOS-style “new” “comedy” dialogue, and celebrities interviewed about roof hatches in their cars. Theme tune optimistically stated “the party starts right here, yeah!”
You might also want to see... Saturday Mornings.
TV CREAM SAYS: QUICK! SCOUR THE ARCHIVE TAPES FOR REFERENCES TO MR SAXON!
PETER DAVIDSON’S first gig after getting smothered to death by Peri’s breastage in DR WHO. Here he turned his pleasant, open face and sort of reckless innocence to a JACKANORY-plus-nursery-rhyme gubbins, leavened with shadow puppetry off of BUTTON MOON, Oscar the Rabbit and others. Occasionally deputised for by MARK WINTER, big star of the 60s and an even bigger star of the, er, ahem. Each episode started with the presenter making a picture on a “tree trunk” using cut out geometric shapes. The shape was invariably “a magic teapot” or similar which would then turn up in the tale.
TV CREAM SAYS: "LET'S HAVE ANOTHER LOOK AT THE PICTURES IN TODAY'S STORY"
WELL-REMEMBERED if pretentiously-titled Gallic cartoonery, aiming to encapsulate all of human history in now-serious, now-jokey cartoon form. Educational value somewhat in doubt, as regular characters throughout time, according to this show, included a hyperactive monkey, an old bloke with a white beard that covered his entire body, and a calendar with limbs and eyes. Boasted officially the scariest title sequence of all children’s television, as, to the cheery sounds of Bach’s doom-laden Toccata and Fugue, the evolution of life was squeezed into 60 terrifying seconds beginning with amoebas in the dust and ending with – aaaargh! – a man running for his life to climb into a space rocket and escape the full-blown fuck-off total destruction of earth.
TV CREAM SAYS: "I SEE YOU HAVE DISCOVERED LUTHERISM!" "YES!"
ENDLESSLY REPEATED French animation epic purporting to make plain the workings of the human body through cheery-faced cartoonery. In shocking defiance of all known physiological findings, the brain was revealed to contain a thousand white-coated bug-eyed blokes operating a thousand computers (with big reels of tape and flashing lights), watched over by a gaffer with a giant white beard prone to falling asleep. In fact pretty much everything in the entire body was revealed to have a face, including red blood cells (here depicted as gung-ho proto-warrior upstarts), platelets (St John Ambulance emergency tykes) and white blood cells (crack troops a la the Desert Rats), while muscles and bones were built and maintained by cloth-capped working class hordes. Hugely entertaining and shockingly vivid, especially the very last episode where the gaffer fell asleep for ever and, yup, the “body” died.