SKITS AND spoofery adapted from STEPHEN POTTER’s 1950s titular “guides” to modern living, brought to screen by BARRY “DEAR BBC” TOOK and performed by RICHARD BRIERS and PETER JONES. INSTANT SUNSHINE leant their well-polished pipes to the theme and a number of, naturally, topical songs.
TITANIC NAUTICAL saga which steamed through BBC1 Sunday nights for nigh on a decade. PETER GILMORE was your Cap’n and head of the family; ANNE STALLYBRASS his missus; BRIAN RAWLINSON (who regenerated into JAMES GARBUTT), JESSICA BENTON, MARY WEBSTER and JILL GASCOINE were other offshoots. Much Victorian vapours and 19th century ne’er-do-wells, with endless marriages, betrothals, betrayals, betrayed betrothals and kelp. WARREN CLARKE, FREDERICK JAEGER, JANE SEYMOUR and KEN HUTCHINSON helped weigh anchor. Swaggering theme was from the opera Spartacus by the composer Khachaturyan.
TV CREAM SAYS: SALTY
“BUSH, BUSH, BUSH, BUSH, BUSH, BUSH, BUSH”. Still your best chance of getting a glimpse of a branch of Supercigs or Spud-U-Like, JOHN SULLIVAN’s uber-com – originally to be titled READIES – is alternately great and woeful. In the great bracket: “It’s Barratt’s!”, the Peckham Pouncer, “Cwying!”, ‘The Longest Night’ (best episode ever) and – yeah – we’ll say it: the Batman and Robin bit. And as for the woeful? ‘If They Could See Us Now’ (worst episode ever), Raquel, that one with the bottled water, all the Omen stuff and the clunky pop cultural references (“Have you ever spent a night with Trigger? It’s like holding a seance with Mr Bean”). But, to be fair, anything up until Cassandra arrives is top, and a different opening and closing theme is bonus points in anyone’s book – particularly when there’s the none-more-eighties line: “Ball games, gold chains, whassa-names, and at a push, some Trevor Francis tracksuits”.
TV CREAM SAYS: WHEN DAVID JASON NEARLY QUIT IN '86, LYNDHURST WAS EARMARKED FOR SPIN-OFF TITLED HOT ROD. THANK GOD DAVE HAD A CHANGE OF MIND
“I’M H. A. P. P. Y…” Three patients spend four years in hospital even though there’s absolutely nothing bloody well wrong with them. The stars were socialist worker Roy Figgis (JAMES BOLAM) and snobbo dandy Archie Glover (PETER BOWLES), roping in neutral feebling Norman Binns (CHRISTOPHER STRAULI) into their “capers”. Pre-’Grave RICHARD WILSON was the doctor, hospital orderly Guptah was a restrained racial caricature for the time. Last episode, when they all left and ended up in the same restaurant, set new standards for baked bean endings.
TV CREAM SAYS: "I'M SORRY FIGGIS, IT LOOKS LIKE YOU'LL HAVE TO HAVE GLOVER'S
BLOOD AFTER ALL"
YOU’RE OFF school – again – with an upset tummy. You’ve seen that episode of HOW WE USED TO LIVE at least three times. YOU AND ME no longer excites. And Channel 4 doesn’t even kick off until after lunch. Where else to seek solace but in the ever-welcoming portals of BBC Manchester’s Palace Of Glittering Delights, thrown open to all and sundry for an hour every morning to let the green-biro brigade sound off about last night’s telly. At the helm, the thinking man’s Pat Butcher PATTIE COLDWELL, BOB WELLINGS and an early incarnation of EAMONN HOLMES. Guaranteed regulars: MICHAEL GRADE or BILL COTTON jovially brushing aside complaints about THE LIVES AND LOVES OF A SHE-DEVIL; “big name stars” from the latest all-action blockbuster drama hitting BBC1 screens tonight, usually RAY BROOKS; behind-the-scenes “exclusives” from the set of NO PLACE LIKE HOME; and someone moaning about too much swearing before 9pm.
TV CREAM SAYS: THEME TUNE WAS THE AURAL EQUIVALENT OF A RUBIK CUBE UNRAVELLING
TIGHT-ARSED STUTTERING grocercom rendered watchable by RONNIE “TWO” BARKER’s saucer-eyed suffering performance. Playing second fiddle: DAVID JASON as the world’s oldest Hungarian errand boy and LYNDA BARON as “pneumatic” Nurse Gladys. Knackered till, knackered bike, “bit o’ supper”, “dangler”, “ter-ter-treacle” “ter-ter-toffee”, trying to get off with the milkwoman etc. all present.
TV CREAM SAYS: "IT'S BEEN A FUNNY OLD DAY..."
THE Open University for anyone not predisposed to quadratic equations and the joys of Sophocles in the original Greek. Catered shamelessly for the “life skills” constituency, i.e. mature students, thick students, students used to working with their hands, and lazy bastards. As you’d expect, lots of snobbery was directed at it from Russell Group-educated pundits, especially when GAZ TOP capered on screen in the inaugural transmissions wearing brightly coloured overalls. Just as the OU was very much a product of its Marxist, woolly-faced era, so the OC was of the late ’80s – corporate sponsorship kept it afloat while it preached to the signing-on masses the virtues of getting on their educational bikes, Tebbit-fashion. One of the early programmes was even called I COULD DO THAT, in true Yosser Hughes-style optimistic fashion. Programmes divvied up between lunchtime slots on Channel 4 and – erk – early morning outings on weekend TV-am. FRED HARRIS was deeply involved. Younger types with big hair promised factsheets on how to replace a fan belt. Ident, unlike the OU’s horrendous modernist cacophony, was very much in the pleasant, tinkly, Windows startup mould. Disappeared from the screens, for some reason, shortly before every single college in the country got the right to call itself a university.
TV CREAM SAYS: "NOW, YOU MIGHT THINK THAT'S A BIT TOO COMPLICATED..."
HAROLD WILSON’S “University Of The Air” put down roots in the overspill tundra of Milton Keynes and quickly spread across Sunday mornings in a riot of impenetrable symbols, magnetic boards with graphs on them, beards, lapels and that avant garde trumpetty theme. Professors of the less than telegenic likes of ALAN SOLOMON, MIKE PENTZ, JOY MANNERS and the legendary STUART FREAKE became household faces, and two decades of easy cultural laughs began. Still, a Sunday morning in with the OU, though often well nigh impenetrable, compared favourably with the offerings on the other two channels (MORNING WORSHIP, GETTING ON, LE JOURNAL FRANCAIS).
Your TVC OU course handbook:
The Arts and Humanities – Most often someone stood in front of a modernist painting, talking about it. Quite often the same painting for the entire half-hour (though the Old Masters and Florentine architecture were often served up, too, their antiquity signified by a blast of crumhorn-led Early Music). Sometimes Clement Greenberg, the Lester Bangs of the art-crit set, was interviewed about Pollock while smoking like it was going out of fashion. Speaking of which, 70s fashions were kept in the background in these shows, which means the OU felt they can still get away with screening them as late as 1998 without too many twentysomethings pissing themselves.
Sociology – In terms of unfair “that’s not a proper subject” cheap gags, sociology was to the 70s what media studies is these days. The OU, needless to say, got some in. One course in particular made no attempt to hide its political agenda. Over an animated proto-HIGNFY title sequence, a Tom Robinson type plaintively warbled, “We socialise and we vandalise/We lock the sane away/Politicians’ policies/Keep changing every day…” It’s stuff like this that led Margaret Thatcher to rage: “The OU? They’re all a bunch of Marxists, and anyone with an O-level in Divinity can get a degree.”
Mathematics – Now we’re talking. The backbone of the OU weekend schedules, these programmes provided the definitive beard-in-front-of-equations cliche that kept Jasper Carrott in back-up routines for decades. And, truth be told, the no-nonsense presentation did, for the most part, look like that. A bit of Radiophonic musique concrete heralded Block IV, Module 2 of Graphs, Networks and Design, and you were straight into the animated diagrams, old BBC weather forecast-style stick-on magnetic sums, and quiet, unmodulated vocal delivery. Sometimes they jazzed it up with a location shoot, a bit of chumminess (cue the OU’s very own Ian McCaskill, Alan Solomon – “well, I don’t know about you, but working that lot out seems rather daunting!”) or some weird chromakey-related concept (eg. presenters shrunk to BACKYARD SAFARI size to play about with enormous models of conic sections). Solomon and US chum Mike Pentz spent many a happy Saturday mid-morning together using trigonometry to work out where a chopped down fir tree would fall (well, there were very few public amenities in MK at the time). Sunday lunchtime saga Mathematical Models and Methods even cribbed the GREAT EGG RACE format, though two teams using calculus to work out where best to fit a lamp on a bicycle was pure bewilderment for audiences switching over from BLIZZARD’S WONDERFUL WOODEN TOYS.
Science – As with maths, really, but with added gravity (in the literal sense, at least). The optics course was one programme that stood out, as it came with a ‘home experiment kit’, delivered to the student’s door in a huge crate, and full of hi-tech goodies (“I bet the first thing you unpacked was the laser!” drooled the lecturer). At the other end of the scale, dated forays into the world of IT (“the House of Fraser’s computer covers 500 square feet, and can store up to one ‘mega-byte’ of pricing information”) and examinations of the bizarre, boxy solar-heated houses and wind turbines that were MK’s initial stock-in-trade, provided a bit of anachronistic amusement before they were noticed and replaced. Stuart ‘Super’ Freake was the presenter to watch out for.
Odds and sods – Open Advice was a rather dull general queries programme, often presented by Howard ‘Teacher’ Stableford, detailing the drab-looking “summer schools” during which students would actually all meet up in MK, drink cheap red wine and attend seminars, just like a real college. An odd programme that seemed to be on all the time involved a bloke dressed up as a fairground owner explaining the perils of running a small business while riding a rollercoaster. What course was that, exactly? In the 90s, as The Learning Zone heralded a makeover and the ’78-vintage shows were mostly replaced with newer, fresher programmes, a few oddities still managed to get through – the famous Hotel Hilbert : a comic, dramatised exploration of infinity with Susannah ‘Dead Donkey’ Doyle checks in at Patrick ‘Brent’ Barlow’s infinite hotel; Traps, and How to Get Out of Them: a truly odd programme consisting of Carol ‘Playschool’ Leader and some bloke acting out circular discussions about how to get out of a room, whether she fancies him and, finally, whether the programme itself has been any good or not, all to what educational purpose we can but guess; and of course those perennial midnight schedule fillers, What Have the ’60s/’70s/’80s Ever Done For Us? and Bach: 48 Preludes and Fugues, both of which occasionally rear up if there’s nothing from BBC4 to show instead.
TV CREAM SAYS: BOWED OUT ON BBC2 IN 2007, SADLY, TO CONTINUE IN ONLINE FORM ONLY
ARCH SATIRE on power games in the PR department of a large corporation and one most-literate series ever to grace the screen. The late PHILIP MACKIE wielded the pen, charting “the machiavellian machinations of middle-management”. Richard Pershore (PETER EGAN) is unemployed and wants to get a job in the public relations department of the conglomerate The Greatrick Organization. With this in mind he enlists the help of Chantry and Blount behavioural and motivational psychologists who coach him in getting the job. He gets it. He meets the director of the department David Pullman (DONALD SINDEN) and the new deputy director Peter Frame (ANTON RODGERS) who has just replaced the sad and useless Ken Grist (NORMAN BIRD). Also in the department are press officer Rodney Spurling (BERNARD HEPTON), Eve Manship (who edits the company magazine) and the rather lovely Veronica (ELAINE TAYLOR) who starts as Pullman’s secretary but goes on to higher things later. Much chicanery among the bulldog clips. Classic take-that ending.
TV CREAM SAYS: BRISTLING
PAPERFOLDY SHOW similar to the later ART OF… Sinister old bloke (RICHARD HIDDLEMAN) in Chinese overalls, ex-army brilliantined haircut and glasses, looking for all the world like a sinister doctor (or that bloke on the MASTERMIND box) sat at what appeared to be a card table, folding bits of paper and pressing down the folds with the butt-end of a pair of sinister lacquered tweezers. He was accompanied by an assistant, plainly native English yet made up to look oriental and dressed as a geisha girl. Her role was to follow his moves at a discreet time-lag and to be addressed as ‘Netsuko’ or something similar. She never spoke; whether this was because she was not an Equity member or because he ruled her with an iron fist we can only speculate.
TV CREAM SAYS: JUDGED "TOO FOREIGN" AND SOON AXED BY OFFICIALS
KIDS’ SPINOFF from CRANE featuring SAM KYDD as the titular blarney-peddling hoodlum-pounding scruff. Ran for ages. MARC BOLAN – when he was still Mark Feld – appeared in an episode or two as a Teddy Boy. Swarthy manboy capers.
TV CREAM SAYS: WORKED IN A BOATYARD, LIKE ALL SCRUFFS IN THE 1960S
CHUNKY CHROMAKEYED puppetry, involving the tales of worm ORM and scraggy bird CHEEP, plus Crow, Mole and co. RICHARD BRIERS narrated the plaintive if peculiar ramblings. “If only Cheep could fly,” lamented the signature tune.
TV CREAM SAYS: THEME ALSO CAUTIONED: "IF CHEEP COULD USE HIS WINGS, HE'D STILL BUMP INTO THINGS"
MORE CHROMAKEYED black velvet marionettage for summer holiday mornings, here concerning the titular happy-go-lucky rabbit and his adventures in the land of Rubbidge, a vicious (yet oddly sympathetic) pterodactyl (“G-Nashers”) in a cave (complete with washing line of death), a knight with a clock in his body, and various other weird elements. See also DAILY FABLE, and the bits with the puppet caterpillars in RAINBOW.
TV CREAM SAYS: JAUNTY THEME ACCOMPANIED OSCAR IDLY NODDING HIS HEAD ON A SWING
NOW THIS is what we call obscure. Apparently, Oskar was a ten-year-old kid in a rural village, who gets bored one summer and decides to build a laser, as you do. Oskar goes to a lecture about lasers, and thus makes a laser (out of a bit of glass painted red – no rubies required in this tale) which he totes about in a sort of wooden box a bit like a a school satchel. Strangely, he never had to plug it in after the first episode or so. The laser causes all manner of mayhem on the farm, his dad flips out and confiscates it, he gets pissed off and sneaks out one night with the laser and Kina (a goose, of course) in tow. The laser starts talking to him and advising him to head off to… some kind of wacky adventures or something. Much later whole thing ended with multiple tear-jerker when said laser ran out of power and shut down for good. We’re continually surprised as to how many people actually recall this badly overdubbed (an English narrator’s voice barely conceals the original Eurodialogue still faintly audible underneath) wonder.
TV CREAM SAYS: A LIKELY STORY
WELL, WE know THIS one existed: LORRAINE CHASE’S first comedy series (see LAME DUCKS, if you dare), based, as her entire career was, on that “Naaah, Lu’on Airpawt!” Campari ad. She was the cockney mistress of a Tory MP. Concept ahead of its time, comedy miles behind. Cunning idents into and out of adbreaks proclaimed “Coming up the other ‘arf”. Next step for La Chase – Cats UK.
TV CREAM SAYS: YES, SHE DID THE THEME AS WELL
PIDDLING TITFER scripted by the Esmonde-Larbey GOOD LIFE dream team had RICHARD BRIERS and MICHAEL GAMBON, both playing themselves, as two reps who worked together but were rivals and hence were forever trying to usurp, cough, The Other One. Much Spanish-baiting (the Spaniards had their misunderstood dialogue subtitled). Notable scenes included Richard Briers calling himself “a lone wolf” in a pathos-trowelled moment where he was plainly trying to remain upbeat despite having no friends; plus Gambon’s enduring “Hello, hello, first cow of the day!” spiel whenever they drove past a field of bovines, because he’d said it once when he was a young boy and they’d got chocolate swiss roll at lunchtime.
TV CREAM SAYS: OH FOR THE SWISH OF A PENELOPE WILTON SKIRT
IT WAS the best of times, it was the blurst of times. Having manufactured, variously, a menstrual egg-timer, record sleeves made of sandpaper, a desk that hung from a boardroom ceiling and numerous long-running feuds, the late great TONY “ANTHONY H” WILSON decided to turn his hand to, naturally, a late night magazine programme. After all, Manchester was where it was all happening back then, even if it amounted to little more than yet another re-release of Blue Monday. Hence this: a pretentious-as-hell “arts review” which somehow landed a slot on night-time network ITV. From within a set entirely furnished by IKEA (when they only had one store in Warrington and they were trendy), Tone held forth on acid house, himself, the opening of the Liverpool Tate (“Have they got the Rothkos right?” Anthony says: yes!), Martin Amis, Peter Greenaway, Factory Records, himself, why Manchester was the greatest city in the world, the Hacienda, why Ian Curtis would have been bigger than Bono, and himself. It’s claimed every single person who saw the show later went off and formed a band. Sadly, they were all shit.