JUST HOW DID all those tribes of native American Indians live so peacefully alongside the bluff lovable old coves of the 19th century US Cavalry? Through laughter, of course! KEN BERRY led the way as Captain Wilton Parmenter whose promotion was secured when ranks mistook a sneeze as “Charge!”. Specially prepared ultra-barren wilderness canyons also peopled by LARRY STORCH (Corporal Randolph Agarn) and FORREST TUCKER (Sergeant Morgan O’Rourke).
F is for…
“FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION Coaching, Tactics and Skills” is what it stood for. BOB WILSON and assorted footie stars play keepy-uppy and try to avoid ball-in-groin outtakes. Early morning Saturday slot ensured minimal audience.
TV CREAM SAYS: AS MICHAEL OWEN SAYS: "I WAS TOO BUSY PLAYING FOOTBALL TO WATCH THE TELLY"
THE PREMISE: in 2074, we’re all going to be idle proles (Names), apart from those of us who happen to be among the technologically-literate elite Numbers), searching for a scientific proof of mankind’s soul, and never the twain shall meet. Oh, and we’ll burst into song at the merest opportunity, this being a musical. Only stage magician Zax (MARTIN SHAW in a blonde wig) will be able to break down the barriers between Names and Numbers by romancing cold-hearted scientist SUE JONES-DAVIES. Very much an of-its-time offering from former agitprop dramatist and David Hare collaborator TONY BICAT (with, as ever, his brother Nick providing the score), now doomed to raise snide chuckles via its combination of unashamedly ’80s hair, the all-white costumes, rock opera lyrics about soul, love and test tubes, laser light tunnels and clomping choreography. A relic from a more earnest, on-the-nose era of drama. Best not judge too harshly, but that said, if Central didn’t bury a tape of this in a time capsule, we want to know why.
TV CREAM SAYS: JOHN LE MESURIER LEANT HIS PIPES TO PROCEEDINGS
A GRUMPY JOHN FREEMAN (never seen) pelts doomed celebrities (in selfless close-up) with prurient questions about whether they cried as a child and whether they like HP Sauce. Encounters were preceded by a Gallery-style peruse through a portfolio of crap line drawings supposedly depicting the “essence” of that week’s subject, a conceit that probably did more to scare the guest shitless than any of Freeman’s interrogations. GILBERT HARDING blubbed, TONY HANCOCK gurned, ADAM FAITH philosophised, MARTIN LUTHER KING proselytised. Revived in the 90s with a looking-for-work JEREMY ISAACS on sticky-beak duties, entertaining the likes of KATE ADIE, KEN DODD, GERMAINE GREER and BOB MONKHOUSE.
TV CREAM SAYS: "...PLEASE EXCUSE ME, I SEEM TO HAVE GOT SOMETHING IN MY EYE"
PROFESSIONAL RED and sirer of luvvies LYNN REDGRAVE took centrestage in this Guardian-derived sitcom (hailing from Jill Tweedie’s ‘Martha’ column). “Gentle” send-up of feminist extremism, i.e. whose turn is it to wash the dishes tonight? JONATHAN NEWTH and SARA SUGARMAN didn’t know.
TV CREAM SAYS: JOAN SANDERSON PLAYED (OF COURSE) THE GRANNY
GEOFFREY PALMER more or less exported Jimmy off of FALL AND RISE OF REGINALD PERRIN into Harry Truscott for this decent enough saga of incompetent right-wing rabblerousing militia full of more undesirables (in Hazza’s eyes) than there are to fight in the “real” world. Terribly hush hush, don’t you know. JEREMY SINDEN, LIZ FRASER and RAY WINSTONE among the “wet leftie feminist loonies”.
TV CREAM SAYS: "TREACHEROUS CHAPS, WOMEN"
VARIATION ON textbook “anthology” format, this time with recurring elves/pixies overtures. Long forgotten, probably not missed. Rolling Stones, bizarrely, provided theme in shape of ‘Through The Past Darkly’. BOB DISHY, PETER BONERZ and RICHARD LIBERTINI starred.
TV CREAM SAYS: WHO THEY?
PREPOSTEROUS VINEYARD vagaries courtesy of shameless DALLAS rip off relocated to Napa, er, Tuscany Valley. Seemed to be on every afternoon on ITV for a period in the mid 80s. Horrible theme and horrible titles (helicoptered aerial antics above acres of boring wine plants). About a thousand people in the cast. LANA TURNER showed up at one point. Requisite posh Brit for Yank women to eye up: SIMON MCCORKINDALE.
TV CREAM SAYS: "DAMMIT WOMAN, I KNEW THOSE GRAPES HAD BEEN PREMATURELY HARVESTED!"
SUPREME ROSSITER-ITIS. From the top: bored commuter (Len) lives in ghastly suburban bliss with wife Elizabeth (PAULINE YATES) and cat Ponsonby on Poet’s Estate. Hapless lifeskill-lacking army brother Jimmy ‘Major James Gordonstoun’ Anderson (GEOFFREY “LAMB” PALMER) constantly pops round for sugar and the like (“bit of a cock-up on the catering front”). His daughter Linda (SALLY-JANE “NEWCOMERS” SPENCER) lives in profoundly revolting wedded bliss with pipe-smoking, winemaking hippie liberal Tom Patterson (initially TIM “PORTERHOUSE BLUE” PREECE, latterly LESLIE “JOHNNY BRIGGS’ DAD” SCHOFIELD) instilling sickmaking Guardian values in their two small children, Adam (“I done biggies!”) and Jocasta. His dropout other son (DAVID “SHANG-A-LANG” WARWICK) thankfully drops by only fitfully, looking for handouts to support his eternally fledgling acting career in a “Wedgwood Benn for Pope!” t-shirt. Len commutes every morning to the dilapidated confectionery empire Sunshine Desserts, run by bullet-headed, cliche-spouting go-getter Charles ‘CJ’ Jefferson (JOHN “DOOMWATCH” BARRON), with awful, Tony Blackburn-alike colleague Tony ‘Great!’ Webster (TREVOR “PROFESSIONALS” ADAM), even more awful, drippy colleague David Harris-Jones (BRUCE “STRANGERS” BOULD), lazy, hypochondriac company medic Gerald ‘Doc’ Morrissey (JOHN “HOT METAL” HORSLEY) and vivacious temptress of a personal secretary Joan Greengross (SUE “RENTAGHOST” NICHOLLS). What to do in this repetitive hell, after a disastrous safari park excursion, an abortive affair with Joan, a dinnerless dinner party with the boss and dodgy uncle Percy Spillinger (“I say, what a lovely pair!”) and numerous disturbing hallcinations, but to fake one’s own suicide (in flute-led Brighton front titles) and, after a brief stint on a pig farm, return as bearded, long-lost relative Martin Wellbourne (having spent time in the Amazon basin), and woo Elizabeth all over again, while earning a menial wage at a sewage farm as bucktoothed Donald Potts? Plan soon uncovered by first Linda, then Elizabeth, and Reggie returns as himself once more. Sacked by CJ, he returns to the pig farm. Elizabeth gets a job at Sunshine Desserts. CJ comes onto her, clumsily. Reggie gets sacked. So does Elizabeth. Out of desperation, Grot, a shop selling 100% rubbish (square hoops, Tom’s wine, his dentist’s pictures of the Algarve), is born. It’s a success. Ex-Sunshine employees are poached. In fact, everyone. Including CJ. Having built a success from nothing, Reggie is intent on destroying it again. He fails. Back to where they started, again, Reggie and Elizabeth go off to Brighton, and return as Mr and Mrs Gossamer. The novelty, again, wears off. The idea of Perrins, a commune for the disenfranchised suburban middle-classes, is born. Jimmy, Tom, David, Joan, Doc, CJ etc. are predictably employed. It, predictably, becomes a success. It angers the local community of, er, suburban middle-classes. Violent attacks force it to close. Reggie gets a job at Amalgamated Aerosols, run by suspiciously familiar FJ, alongside the suspiciously familiar Muscroft (“Marvellous!”) and Rosewall (“Teriffic!”). Back where he started, again, again, what else is there to do, but… A case of diminishing returns, to be sure, but repetitiveness was, of course, the point, and in present age of would-be “dark” sitcom bollocks, it’s worth remembering how this ace DAVID NOBBSfest created an incredibly depressing world (many of the early episodes end with Rossiter, alone, screaming in despair – hardly an audience-rousing “you have been watching” punchline) out of the archetypal cheery, harmless sitcom cliches, a feat only equalled by the similarly exceptional EVER DECREASING CIRCLES. 1996 Rossiterless revival was, naturally, appalling, ditto the bizarre 2009 MARTIN CLUNES remake-that-wasn’t-a-remake.
TV CREAM SAYS: "HAVE A NICE DAY AT THE OFFICE" "I WON'T!"
HE WAS, as he kept telling us, the unknown stuntman, who makes Eastwood look so fine. He was also a bounty-hunter in his spare time, whence came his action-packed adventures. Films like The Stuntman and Hooper loomed large in the background. LEE MAJORS was Colt Seavers, who’d never spent much time in school, but he’d taught ladies plenty. It’s true he hired his body out for pay… He’d been on fire with Sally Field, blown up for Raquel Welsh, but somehow they just didn’t end up with him. In fact, though he’d been on fire in the movies and TV, the hardest thing he ever did was watch his leading ladies with some other guy while he was bandaging his knee. A sort of “unsung hero/loner” theme developing here… He might jump an open drawbridge, he might roll a brand new car, but he’s the unknown stuntman who made Redford such a star.
TV CREAM SAYS: BUT WHEN HE ENDS UP IN THE HAY, IT'S ONLY HAY... A-HEY HEY!
FOLLOWING ALAN PARKER’S shouty 1980 big screen sweatband-and-leggings bonanza, here came more high-kicking high-falutin’ histrionics from life at New York’s School For The Performing Arts, “where fame costs and right here’s where you start paying.” All your cliches were here: enthused wannabes to prima donna drama toffs, more popular students comprising sullen street dancer Leroy, synth-playing nerd Bruno, aspiring singer/comedienne Doris and studiously boring cellist Julie. Always way more popular in Britain than in the US, ‘Kids From Fame’ franchise milked the lucrative cow of transatlantic success with such hits as Hi-Fidelity and Starmaker. Fostered a ludicrous desire on the part of revolting stage school brats to take the showbiz glitterati by storm. DANI BEHR, JENNY POWELL: remember their name, remember, remember…
TV CREAM SAYS: ASIDE FROM JANET JACKSON, NONE OF VER KIDS WORKED AGAIN
BASICALLY THE latest new NEW FACES since the last one, with ex-GIDEON TIM BROOKE-TAYLOR and ex-celebrity STAN “JEEEEMANS!” BOARDMAN introducing shit stand-ups and wanky singers. Novelty came in shape of supposed “interactive TV”, in that a “cross-section of the public” (i.e. about a hundred homes) had a votey-button thing for each act.
TV CREAM SAYS: "WE'RE GIVING YOU THE POWER THE DECIDE WHO STAYS...AND WHO
GOES." NAH, THAT'LL NEVER CATCH ON.
YEAH YEAH, “turkey” and all that, but there was much more to it than that. An American format, it was brought to British screens by WILLIAM G STEWART, who moaned that only ten thousand families bothered to apply for the first run. LORD BOB MONKHOUSE was in charge originally, heralded by some mental violins and brandishing a stopwatch when he demanded contestants “Name it!”. Lovely touches abounded, not least the fact that the winners got a colour photo marking their day, while the losers only got a black and white one. Talk about rubbing it in. Bob did a hundred shows but when he innocently said, “Here’s to a hundred more, eh?” to Central’s Head of Light Entertainment at the party, only to be met with, “Oh, I doubt it”, he decided to bail out. In his place came MAX BYGRAVES, who turned out to be a complete disaster, with the man himself admitting he was far too slow and lumbering to keep the excitement up, never mind the fact he never listened to anything anyone said (“Jimmy McFee!”). Normal service was resumed, however, when LES DENNIS took over in 1987. A colour Mister Babbage came with him, but nobody liked it, so the old one came back again, and Les kept things running smoothly for over a decade – same “funny” answers, same silly dances when the families were introduced, same prizes (like the Agatha Christie Murder Weekend), same “Ooh ‘eck!” face from Les at the end when the winners kissed him. And still nobody passed when they were invited to play or pass. The only innovation came with the offer of a car or holiday if the winning family got all the top answers, and bafflingly every single family chose the car, however that could be shared between five people. However it all came to a sad end, when it was moved to daytimes. Les quit and was replaced by the charmless ANDY COLLINS, who was rubbish and the only memorable moment of his reign of terror came when some girl’s tit fell out of her top, which has been repeated on Channel Five every five seconds since.
TV CREAM SAYS: RE-APPEARED ON ITV IN 2006 WITH ANDY COLLINS STILL INVOLVED...AS
THE WARM-UP MAN
DOCU-SOAP BEFORE they’d been invented, and indeed, the best one ever made. Lives of the Wilkins family of Reading laid bare for all to see. The mother was an old bag armed with a rolling pin and a nice line in vicious put-downs. Her attempts to subjugate the rest of the family were usually met with a combination of apathy and stubborn resistance and her husband would arrive home from driving buses to find everyone fighting and his tea in the dog. The kids (neither of which were his) comprised a surly blonde daughter who was engaged to a “wholly unsuitable” local lad with bad habits and a Zapata moustache and a monkey-faced pre-pubescent son who deserved sympathy rather than blame. Despite being representative sample of millions of households around the country, the Great British Public rose up in droves to protest before rushing to their newsagents to buy copies of the papers the day after the son got married. The missus turned up on WOGAN in the mid-80s to reveal everyone had since split up. Obviously the media, not the state of Ma Wilkins’ cooker, was to blame.
TV CREAM SAYS: PAUL WATSON, MASTERMIND BEHIND IT ALL, RECYCLED TRICK DOWN
UNDER FOR SYLVANIA WATERS
MUCH-TRUMPETED “prestige” adaptation of the venerable Blytonian underage derring-do saga, adapted by RICHARD ‘FLYING KIWI’ SPARKS from the musty-smelling Hodder and Stoughton paperbacks that everyone read whether they wanted to or not, and lavishly filmed in various privately owned chunks of the New Forest for that idyllic “eternal summer of youth” vibe.
It was, of course, all updated for the go-ahead seventies. Starched collars and Pathfinder shoes were ditched to make way for zip-up cagoules, ten-speed Grifters and those lovely polyester polo shirts with an off-centre brown zig-zag up the front. Blyton’s busting out! But only by about so much, as the Enid Blyton Foundation, jealously guarding their intellectual property as well they might, weren’t too keen on that many liberties being taken with those timeless storylines. So despite the Tartrazine-coloured Year of Three Popes costumery, our intrepid heroes still found themselves going after gorblimey smugglers and swarthy gypsies, and the local bobbies still turned up on a rickety old bicycle in the nick of time. (“Constable! Thank goodness you’re here!”) We were still firmly in “lashings of ginger beer” territory, which to your average ’70s child was as exotic as Servalan’s homeworld. And what were the odds, in 1978, of happening across an Aunt Fanny still able to get about under her own steam? Yet here she is, baking scones in a sparkly top. Something doesn’t quite fit.
On top of the period elephant in the room, there was the small matter of the production values not being quite up to scratch. Lots of lovely countryside and stately old piles, yes, but, with all due respect to GARY ‘Dick’ RUSSELL and pals, the acting, direction and pacing were Children’s Film Foundation level at best. Every other shot ended in a pause so long you could practically hear the key grip lighting up a post-take fag. Line delivery was firmly of the posh-gosh declamatory style. The odd medium-big name guest star provided a bit of variation, but much of the action was as flat as the browned-out ’70s film stock that captured it. All kids telly is prone to this to some degree of course, but here it was acute and chronic. Luckily the crims were as stiff as everyone else, otherwise nationwide anarchy would have ruled by the end of the first season.
And yet… everyone watched it. Slothful story progress, niggling period worries and the suspicion that Julian was a bit of a git weren’t nearly enough to offset the fact that here were some kids getting to muck about outdoors on the telly. Which, as it turned out, was all anyone wanted entertainment-wise during those heady Callaghanian summers. Look-In strips and spin-off books (OK, the original books but with cagoules on the cover) abounded. The oddly tuneless school choir theme tune (“Julie and Dick Annan, Georgian TIM-my the do-O-og…”) was, as was seemingly compulsory for all Southern kids TV themes, released as a single for nobody to buy. Hay was well and truly made.
Ironically enough, none of the Five ever went on to become truly famous by themselves, although Dr Who conventions are occasionally set on a roar when some wag claims that old Who is best because at least Tom Baker could operate a punt without falling in the water. The best part of twenty years on, ITV went back to Blyton, this time keeping the thing firmly in the time of grey flannel shorts and postal orders for six shillings. They’d learnt their lesson. Don’t decimalise Dick!
TV CREAM SAYS: "I'LL LET YOU OFF, JUST THIS ONCE..."
“HE’S NOT your average teenage kid – unless you call a kid who turns into a wacky werewolf average!” Well, of course, you wouldn’t, would you? And therefore, neither was he. A Ruby-Spears production. Basically, Scooby Doo with the dog becoming a bloke now and again. Actually, less a wolf than a Tasmanian Devil Warners rip-off with a baseball cap. After this effort, Spears went off to manufacture board games, and Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
TV CREAM SAYS: WOLF HAD TRADEMARK "WHOEOEERWGWGHHGGGGARGH!" CATCHNOISE, READYMADE FOR PLAYGROUND IMPERSONATION
BIZARRO BERMUDA Triangle adventures with a shipwrecked crew in the aforementioned polygon encountering future man-aliens, pirates, green fog and RODDY MACDOWELL. Starred Jared Martin, he of the tight perm and mispronounced first name. Show opened with about 15 people studying the Bermuda Triangle on a boat – including IKE EISMANN, his TV Dad, two blonde ladies – one of them being SUSAN HOWARD from DALLAS – your obligatory black jive-talkin’ dude, and a few others. Landing on the island they encounter Jared, who bizarrely is dressed as a caveman and had a tuning fork thing weapon. First you think he’s bad, but Jared saves the team from some menacing buccaneers and gets a haircut/perm. Then they split into two groups, but both ended up at a big tower block in the desert – could be Atlantis?? This is where the pilot ended, and when the show started proper. Dad and the women got sent home by the Atlanteans (or the network didn’t want them) and Jared, Ike etc. almost had their brains sucked by a big brain but where saved by a new women who could turn into a cat. We found out that the crew were in a big island that was separated by time barriers that made them fizzle and beam into a new zone the next week. Format was now: beam into zone, meet and overcome obstacle of the week (one being Joan Collins) and then beam out. Roddy McDowell, as rascally android maker, joined up after week three or something. They never made it home.
TV CREAM SAYS: FANTASTIC IN THE PEJORATIVE SENSE
THIS, ON the other hand, was an animated knock-off of the Racquel Welch-baiting original film, with a variety of missions involving a shrinky little sub. None of the original cast – obviously – transferred, although with with an eyepatch-wearing ship’s captain and who needed them? Animation to the usual Filmation standard, ie. pretty stiff and poor.