SHABBY SITCOM made during the Three Day Week, and it showed. Clement and La Frenais were on script duties, desperately baling “com” into a sit involving BOB HOSKINS as a small time crook who comes out of prison to find his best mate JOHN THAW shacked up with his missus. Except instead of getting the red mist and giving him a kicking HOSKINS moves in with them and tries to “make” the “best” of it. Was to have run for longer, with both stars finding themselves back inside for a dose of, ahem, Porridge. Except Thaw signed to do THE SWEENEY, and a few weeks later RONNIE BARKER donned the overalls.
T is for…
SUPREMELY IFFY spin-off from seminal WELLES/COTTON/cuckoo-clock flick, now with MICHAEL RENNIE as totally different Harry Lime i.e. dull amateur detective (wrong) running import-export business (wrong) but in reality travelling the world and Shepperton Studios solving crime and snapping up pricey works of art (wrong wrong wrong). For a time the Beeb, pissed off with bad behaviour of Frost and co., scheduled it late Saturday nights where previously TW3 had “open-ended” arrangement. In response Frost would end each newly-curtailed edition of THAT WAS… with a full summary of entire storyline of following THIRD MAN episode, including denouement.
TV CREAM SAYS: JONATHAN "LOST IN SPACE" HARRIS AND RUPERT "MAIGRET" DAVIES CARRIED HIS BAGS
SPOOF INVESTIGATIVE reportery with a heavy dose of ROGER COOK-chiding, reworked from Radio 4′s Delve Special which starred, as did DAVID LANDER, the delightfully shiny STEPHEN FRY in a blond wig. Earnest exposing of cover-ups and miscarriages of trivial justice that always transpired to be molehills not mountains. Titular David moniker passed, baton-like, to less appealing fellow Oxbridge simperer TONY SLATTERY for DAVID HARPER follow-up. Bob Wellings to Michael Grade on BBC1′s Open Air: “I saw David Lander and wasn’t very sure about it”…
TV CREAM SAYS: ...MICHAEL GRADE TO BOB WELLINGS: "YES, THAT'S WHY YOU'VE GOT
YOUR JOB AND I'VE GOT MINE"
ORIGINALLY HOSTED by television’s most ill-at-ease presenter (EAMONN ANDREWS), THIS IS YOUR LIFE was a behemoth of a television programme, an institution that spanned decades, crossed channels, yet still was never able to surmount that “I’ll just flick over at the beginning to see if it’s anyone interesting” lack of engagement by the watching populace. Each edition would invariably start with that wonderful fanfare, disingenuously called “Gala Performance” (but quite obviously written so that the viewer could accompany that four note opening salvo with a musical rendition of the show’s title). After that, the camera would pan across to Andrews awkwardly hanging around outside a stage door, or just off set, preparing to present his menacing frame in front of one of light entertainment’s leading figures. From thereon Eamonn (and later MICHAEL ASPEL) would recount a highly tweaked version of said celebrities life to date, usually featuring some old school years battleaxe-with-a-heart-of-gold, plus a pre-recorded message from the celeb’s local boozer, in which friends and family not sufficiently interesting to be allowed through the studio door would indulge in a choreographed mass “cheers!” Each episode could also be relied upon to feature a genuinely interesting celebrity guest who we never got to hear from thanks to the fact they were already positioned on the opposing sofa when that week’s subject was corralled onto the stage. Never much more than a super-charged THROUGH THE KEYHOLE, crossed with a dash of SURPRISE, SURPRISE, THIS IS YOUR LIFE nonetheless provided ageing celebs with a platform for the type of hoary old anecdotage previously confined to the AGM of the Grand Order of Water Rats, and for that we should be grateful.
TV CREAM SAYS: "OH MY WORD, IT'S NOT ME IS IT?"
CUE EXTENDED cymbal roll – it’s LORD MICHAEL WINSTANLEY “championing your rights” in this nightly North West-only five-minute consumer bulletin which pre-dated WATCHDOG by, ooh, at least half a century and got broadcast every weeknight between NEWS AT 5.45 and CROSSROADS. No expense spared titles: show’s name written out in military stencilling typeface. Always mixed up by six-year-olds with THIS IS YOUR LIFE. Later joined by sister programme “for our Asian viewers”, Aap Kaa Hak on a Sunday morning.
TV CREAM SAYS: YES HE WAS A REAL PEER
THAT OLD “successful corporate banker from the city (ROLAND HINES) who packs up and moves to the English countryside with his brother (MICHAEL “BOON” ELPHICK)” chestnut. Cue asking directions from country bumpkins, stuck in car behind herd of cows on road, etc. VIRGINIA STRIDE was Hines’ wife, left back in London to shag his business partner.
TV CREAM SAYS: NOPE, JUST THE ONE YEAR
DOG-EARED CASSOCK-RIPPER following Father RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN through 40 grim years of bible-reading and breast-fondling in Australian outback. Each episode about five hours long over a week or two on BBC1. “Young” Rich had grey hair by end of part one. BARBARA “BIG VALLEY” STANWYCK and CHRISTOPHER “EDELWEISS” PLUMMER gazed down their noses disapprovingly. Another enormously expensive show from nowhere. Holds slots number three and four in the all-time list of National Grid power surges. Probably.
TV CREAM SAYS: CITED IN HOUSE OF COMMONS BY DOUGLAS HURD AS PROOF OF BEEB'S NAFFNESS
THE END of the world, Sheffield-style. Nuclear war followed by nuclear winter on the mean streets of Ecclesall. Lots of shit, piss, blood and vomit, including the demise of REECE DINSDALE. One of the most nightmare-inducing bits of telly you could watch as a kid in the 1980s. Utterly without relief, and even the aftermath is appalling: radiation victim, pregnant, gives birth to a hideous lump of flesh.
You might also want to see... Words and Pictures.
TV CREAM SAYS: "EVIDENCE IS GROWING OVERNIGHT THAT THERE HAVE BEEN TWO
NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS IN THE MIDDLE EAST"
INITIALLY DON MOSS, then ventriloquist RAY “LORD CHARLES” ALAN, fronted this wordy afternoon quizfest, the latter “aided and abetted” by his glamorous wife BARBIE (hmm). Couples conveyed mystery words to one other, by way of three related clue words (see?) For instance, if the mystery word was Egg, you might say Chicken, Boiled and Cup. Never far from becoming enervating. Adjudicator – Sue Anne Snook.
TV CREAM SAYS: PISS. RIGHT. OFF.
A POST-TISWAS LENNY HENRY, pre-US TRACEY ULLMAN and, well, DAVID COPPERFIELD club together for a three-way averagefest of songs and sketches and jokes old and new. Henry perfected Nathaniel Westminster, Ullman did her dizzy bit and then went onto GIRLS ON TOP, while Copperfield did the old half-bride half-groom dressing up shenanigans. “GAGFAX” teletext joke section bewilderingly popular. Large chunk of show performed in ’80s LE staple of a completely white studio.
TV CREAM SAYS: "I'VE GOT A FUNNY NAME. MY NAME IS SHEILA LEGDRIBBLE." IF THAT
MAKES YOU LAUGH, YOU'RE IN!
MIDDLING MID-EVENING middlebrow stalwart, featuring opposing grandparents MICHAEL “BOON” ELPHICK and ANGELA “MANOR BORN” THORNE as rough and ready cockernee and refined Cheltenham snob thrown together for incompatible flatshare baby-sitting sitcom high-jinks and “will they, won’t they – who cares?” sexual non-tension. Any watchability was mainly due to presence of proto-Hurley LYSETTE ANTHONY as Thorne’s daughter.
You might also want to see... Night and Day.
TV CREAM SAYS: CUE THE GAG ABOUT TAXIDERMY
A SUPERLATIVE anthology of hour-long suspenseful playlets about well-tailored middle class types methodically doing each other in, THRILLER was a textbook example of straightforward, unpretentious telly drama doing its job to perfection. Mastermind BRIAN CLEMENS conceived and wrote most of the six series: forty three stories of suspense and horror, sometimes with supernatural overtones, often with an American guest star on the books for export purposes, always with plenty of plot twists.
The pre-title sequences were reassuringly formulaic, setting the tone for each week’s dose of macabre happenings in, more often than not, a superficially cosy remote provincial setting.. A charming cottage was seen being cased by a sinister type in a Gabardine coat, or maybe a flashy TR7 would pull into the driveway of a well-appointed country house, arousing the suspicions of the gardener. Something was clearly afoot. Then came the credits, a blood-tinged fish-eye lens title sequence with jarring musical chords, signalling ‘suspense’ in no uncertain terms. Corny episode titles belied the finely-tooled drama they would herald. ‘The Eyes Have It’ was a case in point: a daft pun introducing a largely silent, almost unbearably suspenseful tale of blind medical students (including DENNIS WATERMAN and SINEAD CUSACK) thwarting PETER VAUGHAN’s gang of taciturn terrorists. Elsewhere, the likes of ‘Murder in Mind’ and ‘K is for Killing’ served up exactly what they promised, and needless to say, if Clemens could bodge up a title by working the word ‘scream’ into a well-known expression, he did.
Primark Hitchcock it might have been, but the suspense was well-made for all that. Essentially, the series toyed with clichés. Young married couple freshly moved into mysterious rural location, stranger turning up who may not be all he seems, unidentified killer on the loose etc. It was the masterly variations and wrong-footings wrought from these familiar scenarios that made the programmes riveting, even when acting and production values started to exhibit the tell-tale signs of mid-series sag. Quite often, however, there were great performances, both from name actors (witness DIANA DORS’s sinister country nurse, ‘taking care’ of a bed-ridden American diplomat’s daughter in ‘Nurse Will Make It Better’) and those yet to find fame, particularly one that stops everyone in their tracks, HELEN MIRREN as the potential victim (or – ahem – is she?) of serial wife-knobbler MICHAEL JAYSTON in ‘A Coffin for the Bride’. DINSDALE LANDEN’s turn as suave private eye Matthew Earp was so popular he became the series’ only recurring character, when he was brought back for a second episode. When everything came together, as with the endless double-crosses and revelations and a brilliant cast led by PETER BOWLES in ‘The Double Kill’, you couldn’t ask for a better way to pass an hour of prime time.
This was, as you might expect, a very early ’70s kind of intrigue. Try and play a postmodern drinking game, quaffing along with the hero, or taking a sip every time a detective is seen entering a living room refracted in a crystal decanter, or a white shag-pile carpet is stained crimson with blood, or an anonymous black-gloved hand picks up a telephone receiver and slowly dials a very long number, or a blonde American in a trouser suit merrily announces that she’s ‘new in town’ and you’ll be under the glass coffee table before the first victim. And, quite frankly, serves you right. The show signalled its era in other ways: ‘If It’s a Man, Hang Up’ had Clemens’ stock glamorous soubrette-in-peril (more often than not called ‘Suzy’, the significance of which remains a mystery) menaced by an unknown stalker leaving threatening messages on a big, clunky old telephone answering machine. One of the main things mitigating against any modern revival of the programme is the number of plots that revolve around young women not being able to get to a phone box in time, or killers cutting the phone lines to a remote country cottage. In that sense, as well as that of the many swish glass-’n'-chrome bachelor pads dreamt up by the set designers, this is period drama.
They weren’t wall-to-wall classics. Each of the six seasons served up a couple of makeweights and duffers. (As a rule, seasons three and four were the closest to perfection, while five and six became increasingly silly.) ‘File It Under Fear’ was a library-oriented serial kill-in which had JOHN LE MESURIER, JAN FRANCIS and MAUREEN LIPMAN to play with among others, but still fumbled its chance, while mystical entry ‘Someone at the Top of the Stairs’ was fantastic for forty minutes, then ran smack into one of those tediously long-winded explanatory denouements that plague so much bad telefantasy, even if the masterly DAVID DE KEYSER was delivering it (with his fingers placed on the tip of his chin just so). At the very bottom of the pile, ‘Murder Motel’s daffy PSYCHO homage, despite the appropriately-cast RALPH BATES, stank the place out.
Even in otherwise grand entries, Clemens’ unabashed disregard for research (particularly his habit of just sort of guessing what the police might decide to do) got the goat of the more pernickety viewer, along with the inevitable ‘yes, but what about..?’s and ‘hang on, why didn’t she just..?’s that always plague the best laid plots of Agathas and Roalds. Oh, and the dialogue, with the possible exception of one or two Matthew Earp bon mots, never rose, or even aimed above speakable. But even when it was unspeakable, even when the plots were riddled with inconsistencies, and even when the entire set-up seemed like a dead goose from the off (“there’s this professor of Pavlovian psychology, right, and he’s trained some murderous psychos as his servants, and he invites some young students to dinner…”) the twists, turns and sheer gusto of the whole thing kept your attention front and centre, niggling doubts only edging their way in as the end credits wound to a close. Which, Clemens would argue, was his job done.
One thing that initially puts off the modern viewer is Thriller’s directorial style, which, if it could be said to exist at all was very much the old school approach: four days in the studio, one day on location, bash it out, onto the next one. What would nowadays be considered glacial pacing (the long, deliberate tracking shot across an empty room accompanied by sinister oboe cadence was something of a motif, for instance) was integral to the atmosphere. Rather than cut rapidly from shot to shot, the direction took its time, almost taunting the viewer with its creeping progress. When all the other elements were working, a vivid sense of foreboding was the result. Lew Grade’s ITC hired a roster of big names and gave the scripts relatively lavish treatment, but, being mainly studio-bound, with a couple of sets (all of them meticulously dressed, with nary a wobbling column in sight) and a minimal amount of location filming, they look visually primitive these days. However, this simplicity had the virtue of putting the emphasis firmly on script and action, in lieu of fancy camera angles. In fact, the technical limitations had an atmosphere all of their own: the videotaped interiors were claustrophobic and tense, while the grainy, overcast countryside film inserts looked like they could be hiding untold menaces.
Various ITV series followed in kind – the supernatural ARMCHAIR THRILLER and HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR, and the twist-happy TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED, which was the one that ran off with all the nostalgia value, more through being repeated a lot during ITV strikes than anything else – but for sheer no-nonsense cliffhanging effect, nothing beats the original.
TV CREAM SAYS: "DID YOU REALLY THINK I COULD FALL FOR SOMEONE LIKE YOU, ALL FLAB AND INDULGENCES?"
THE JEWEL in the popular Anderson crown, though we’d plump for CAPTAIN SCARLET and the psychotic SECRET SERVICE every time. But then we would say that. We don’t need to go throught the roll-call of characters, do we? Suffice to say that 2 was the best ‘Bird, and the little yellow Thunderbird 4 was the dullest (as driven by Gordon Tracy). The best episode, by general consensus, was the original “Fireflash” supersonic jet one where the undercarriage got stuck, and those specially-designed trucks had to be driven under the wheels. Oh, and the “Vault of Death” one, which was really just the old “don’t touch the floor or the alarm’ll go off” routine, but very well done (with loads of those giveaway “real hand” close-ups). “Thunderbird 6″ was the feature-film-based Barnstormer biplane.
TV CREAM SAYS: T-BIRDS FANS SHOULD NOT VIEW THE ENTRY BELOW
UP IN ARMS bastardisation of the Gerry Anderson stringathon which was actually an in-name-only bog standard cartoon with a nifty computer title sequence which quickly gave way to the usual cack.
TV CREAM SAYS: USED COMPUTER ANIMATION FOR CROSS SECTION SHOTS OF VEHICLES; USED ATARIS FOR DIGITAL READ OUT SCREENS
EARDRUM-RATTLING ENSEMBLE of busily-animated animal superheroes, with more than a nod to the likes of He-Man. Each week main man Liono, bruiser Panthro, brains Tigra, woman Cheetara, irritating brats Wileykit and Wileykat, and stupid comedy-relief-character Snarf wielded their superpowers to thwart mystical bandage-wearing Mum-Ra, before reconvening for a brisk discussion of what everyone had just learned. When they were on the move, so the theme tune informed you, they were “loose”. Over a hundred episodes were made, each and every one in the DVD collection of Andi Peters.
TV CREAM SAYS: ENEMIES GRUMBLED IN FEAR AND CONFUSION
“TICKLE ON THE WHAT?” Overweening whimsy for small children set in the shop of a stereotypical English hamlet (called Tickle) and touched by the string-picking hand of singer RALPH McTELL. A different professional character (postman, teacher etc) dropped by each week for the usual song ‘n’ story treatment. The milkman was played by KENNY LYNCH.