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.
TV CREAM SAYS: STILL A SUNDAY LUNCHTIME BBC1 STAPLE IN 2009. IS THERE NOTHING
A futuristic dystopian britain provides the setting for a hard-bitten “and-the-moral-is” fantasy runaround, with EDWARD WOODWARD smuggling top scientists in the back of a caravan through a beauraucratic dictatorship chock-a-block with ID cards, surveillance cameras, post-recession financial collapse… Hey! It could happen! Robert Lang was at the heart of it all, as the head of the crypto-fascistic Public Control Department. Lots of bleakly sinister deserted, overcast British landscapes, firmly in the 1970s manner, but a cracking good yarn once you managed to work out what was going on (taking a risk that paid off, the script didn’t spoon-feed the viewer with any tedious overlong explanatory dialogue – you had to sort it out for yourself). Oh, and the whole thing was inspired, rather disappointingly, by VAT.
TV CREAM SAYS: OPENED TO A WONDERFULLY SINISTER ELECTRO SCORE WITH HYPNOTIC "MAN IN CONTRACTING ROOM" PIF-STYLE ANIMATED DIAGRAM TITLES
HAND JIVER extraordinaire TED ROGERS flipped his wrists throughout this hour-long Spanish-derived mystery quiz rambling epic of an extravaganza, seemingly involving the whole Yorkshire Television studio complex every Saturday night and relying upon the most convoluted set of rules imaginable. Three dopey couples tried to outwit each other on the quest for a forrin oliday or a fitted kitchen (Moben, Schreiber etc.) while avoiding radio-controlled, red-nosed booby prize Dusty Bin. Fiendishly impossible rhymes, given by “guests” after they’d done their turn, were never guessed correctly. Many a bin won in this rather tight game show, mostly recalled for the way the Yorkshire logo would take off in flight at the very start of the opening titles. How would you have fared?:
Sample Clue: “The Arches Might Provide A Clue, Not Strolling But He’s Going Too”, accompanied by some sheet music.
Ted’s Baffling Explanation: “Well the first three letters of arches might have been clue enough, but we also said not strolling but he’s going too. Well if you take away HES from arches, all you have left is ARC. If you rearrange that with the sheet music, you’re left with ‘Music Maestro Please’. So what do think that means? Maestro! The British Leyland Maestro! You’ve won the car!” We didn’t make that up.
TV CREAM SAYS: "PEOPLE FORGET ABOUT THE MONEY THEY WON EARLIER..." "AND NOW, THE BRIAN ROGERS CONNECTION!"...
US SEMI-ED kid’s show. Two girls, one boy in a sort of jollied-up loft apartment learn about “stuff”, e.g. making volcano with cardboard, papier-mache and sherbet, or learning about death, decay and grieving for their lost “Crazy Uncle Harry”. Old-school funk/rap theme.
TV CREAM SAYS: "WOW! SO THAT'S HOW A TRAIN WORKS!"
AGAIN WITH THE home computers. This one wasn’t a patch on the likes of MICRO LIVE, though, not least due to lazy bastards not having any opening titles and instead asking viewers to program them on their home computers. The fools. Result: a series of psychedelic distractions, each as indecipherable as the next, over a burbling programme-provided synthpop theme. Experiment never again repeated. Then there was the monumentally ill-judged ‘software by lightpen’ scheme. Flashing cursor at bottom right hand corner of screen could be converted into free software using – a) the guts of a lightpen; b) a suction holder towel thingy painted black; c) black PVC insulating tape to hold b) and a) over aforementioned flashing cursor. Biddy Baxter-pleasing shenanigans apart, it didn’t work. All that, Guy Kewney on the computer newsdesk, a step-by-step guide on how to convert your ZX81 into a maze-following robot, and someone inexplicably driving a Sinclair C5 with converted sunroof into the studio in the last show. How prophetic.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALSO A POINTLESS "DRAMA" WHEREIN A THIRTYSOMETHING COUPLE STRUGGLE TO COME TO TERMS WITH THEIR COMMODORE
VINTAGE WORTHINESS from Four’s fledgling days, with DAVID STAFFORD and PENNY JUNOR sitting in a huge studio with loads of yellow TV sets and plastic furniture (look it’s the 80s!) helming watchdoggery very much of the “placing power in the hands of you: the consumer” kind. One of the many shows to be graced with amusing-for-a-couple-of-minutes “Four”-fuelled title from the channel’s tepid toddlership (4 COMPUTER BUFFS, 4-MATIONS, 4-PLAY et al).
TV CREAM SAYS: HANDED BRIEF ONTO C4 DAILY'S STREETWISE
NOOOO! YOU don’t want to give something that’s supposed to be a far more sleek and with-it rival to Ceefax a name that sounds like a badly-translated Spanish business management course! Typically pedantic moniker handed to “not alternative, but complimentary” brother of Oracle whenever it showed up to fill gaps in the C4 schedule (of which there were countless). Exchange rates, viewers’ letters, linkups with 4 COMPUTER BUFFS and blocky comic strip Adventures of 4-T about a talking superhero dog and his mates. All of ten people must have seen it.
TV CREAM SAYS: WHICH WAS STILL MORE THAN THE ART OF LANDSCAPE
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.