BLOCKBUSTING SCI-FI excursion rooted in “humaniods coming in peace – oh, no! They’re lizardy Nazis with false eyes and protruding tongues and rubbery masks come to eat us!” premise, with subsequent alien day trip to earth causing much damage to LA and the ratings. Hovering saucers over the world’s cities wreaking vengeance a-plenty much copied by inferior productions. Broadcast by ITV over one week in July 1984, opposite the BBC’s marathon Olympic coverage. Effects and make-up deemed “revalatory” in ’84 TV terms. The V stood for Visitors. Based on the rise of fascism in Germany, with the aliens even decked out in swastika-esque branding. Robert Englund was among the cast. Spoiler: the humans discovered that dust killed the invaders. It didn’t kill off the chance of a lousy sequel, though: V: THE FINAL BATTLE.
V is for…
Genial, Irish besweatered rocking chair maestro fronted this never-changing pleaser from “the BBC Television Theatre” for pretty much a quarter of a century. Some guests seemingly showed up every week: John Denver, Elaine “Two Ronnies” Paige, horrible 70s supergroup Sky (them of ‘Toccata’) and The Geoff Love Orchestra (‘Up, Up And Away’). Harmless, well-tailored and well-kept entertainment, always discharged with quiet professionalism by the man himself. Christmas Eve specials genuinely fondly remembered by many. Extra bonus points for releasing an album called Val Doonican Rocks…But Gently.
TV CREAM SAYS: "THERE WAS RILEY, PUSHIN' IT, SHOVIN' IT, SHUSHIN' IT"
WITH A CAST consisting of KEN “NOW ‘ERE LISTEN MR MACKAY” JONES, DANIEL “I DO THE ONE TWO THREE FOURS!” PEACOCK and DAVID “A BIT OF A” THEWLIS, this alfresco sitcom, set around a country parkie and his tossy assistants, had to be a winner. The only minor thing holding it back from such a status was that it was an absolute bag of wank. First series shown Fridays at 8.30, criticised by all and sundry for being infantile, so already-commissioned second series was put on kids telly around DANGERMOUSE and DRAMARAMA, then binned altogether. Croony, John Denver-esque theme tune not dissimilar to that of THE SOOTY SHOW, but with words which ended “meet me in Valentine Park”. There’s a tempting offer.
TV CREAM SAYS: UNPROMISING TRAILERS HAD THEWLIS WINKING THROUGH THE BUSHES & JONES SAYING "NOT THAT KIND OF EYE, STUPID - OOOOOOOOOIIIIIIIIIIII!"
BOTTOM HOLE arse-for-the-money drabcom shoved out in this country at 3.25pm to pad out the Beeb’s first daytime schedules. Starred chronic nobody Valerie Harper as a hard-bitten career woman who – hey! can cry too! JASON BATEMAN (SILVER SPOONS, IT’S YOUR MOVE) played support. Spun off into VALERIE’S FAMILY and THE HOGAN FAMILY, to ever decreasing indifference.
TV CREAM SAYS: SON WILLIE HOGAN PLAYED BY THE IMMACULATELY NAMED DANNY PONCE
THRILLING STUFF from the Hanna-Barbera stable, in the GODZILLA vein. A family go boating on the Colorado river and are swept down in a whirlpool that takes them to a lost valley frozen in time and filled with reptiles and cavemen. Most episodes revolved around their surviving and attempts, with the help of the cave dwellers, to get back to the world they once knew. One episode featured the family constructing a windmill that was going to be able to, for some reason, attract the planes that had started flying near the valley. Anyway, Father Caveman got trapped under a log in the stream, the family have to abandon holding up the windmill in the high wind to save him, and the windmill duly collapses.
TV CREAM SAYS: PERENNIAL SWAP SHOP STALWART
DUTCH POLICE inspector played by BARRY FOSTER in a coat, but no-one cared about that. Number one catchy/irritating theme “Eye Level” was what dug hooks into the memory, courtesy of The Simon Park Orchestra.
TV CREAM SAYS: BAH BAH BAH BAAAAH, BAH BAH BAAAAAH, BAH BAH BAAAH BAH BAH BAAAAAH
GIRLS, Guns ‘n Gambling-festooned great grandaddy of all those ‘maverick Private Eye with a snazzy car and Vietnam flashbacks’ imports, starring Robert Urich as Casino-hopping Las Vegas Strip ‘tec Dan Tanna, forever caught up in homicidal wranglings over nightspot-bequeathing wills, mysterious deaths seemingly connected to sequinned crooners and sub-Siigfried & Roy illusionists, and post-Patty Hearst kidnapped heiresses and society gals, more than one of which was brainwashed into repeating and obeying the mantra “KILL… DAN… TANNA!”. Needless to say, real-life Vegas headliners from The Captain & Tennille to Muhammad Ali were regularly engaged in ‘guest of the week’ capacity to utter a couple of plot-free lines and fill a conspicuous amount of airtime with their stage antics, while the TV-straddling Ulrich’s (ahem) ‘unique’ take on the role made him a regular namecheck for Clive James and company. Writers somewhat incongruously included erstwhile Cybermen creator Gerry Davis, presumably brought in on account of his familiarity with characters that weren’t required to display any emotion.
TV CREAM SAYS: "KILL... DAN... TANNA!"
EX-KENNY EVERETT Video Show dance troupe, one-time Sarah Brightman backers and basically Legs and Co. in leather, just…sort of danced about. To hits of the day! All the women were white, all the blokes black, for no adequately-explained reason. Much low-key complaining about the mild eroticism. Better than contemporary Hot Shoe Show on BBC with WAYNE SLEEP and BONNIE LANGFORD, but then so are most things.
TV CREAM SAYS: MASTERMINDED BY ARLENE "BRUNO, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT!" PHILLIPS
THE PERMANENTLY knackered University of Lowlands was the setting for this bracing slice of higher edutainment with PETER “COME ALONG, TEGAN” DAVIDSON as blue-eyed ingénue campus doc Stephen Daker, brightly and naively walking into a nightmarish world of self-interest and mutual exploitation, and getting the sharp end of the stick right in his pleasant, open face. Yes, once again it’s a case of ‘sick and twisted institution becomes metaphor for Thatcher’s Britain’ (see also The Old Men at the Zoo), but as this is Andrew Davies on script duties, the ‘do you see?’ symbolism seldom gets too outrageously clunky, and even when it does, it does with all the eye-rolling splendour the cast can muster.
And what a cast. Daker’s departmental colleagues-cum-bitter, scheming rivals come first, with white-coated, smouldering crypto-lesbian ultra-feminist Rose Marie (BARBARA FLYNN), nerdish private enterprise wannabe and all-round amoral walking nervous breakdown Bob ‘Let’s get ON with our lives, buddy!’ Buzzard (DAVID TROUGHTON) and ultra-soused, self-mythologising, not-terribly-wise old man Jock McCannon (GRAHAM CROWDEN). Davidson’s love interest sparring parters were no-nonsense sports therapist-cum-copper Amy Turtle (AMANDA HILLWOOD) in series one, and permanently cross Polish art student Grete Grotowska (JOANNA KANSKA) thereafter. JOHN BIRD was ineffectual, paranoid vice chancellor Ernest Hemingway (do you see?) at the start. Second series involved the purchase of the university by your standard shady, defence-linked American conglomerate headed by Commie-fearing smoothie Jack B. Daniels (do you continue to see?) with his eye on the main chance of closing down all that bothersome ‘learning’ and setting up a big old ‘research’ facility. Other one-off cameos included HUGH GRANT’s early turn as a priest with busy hands, JAMES GROUT as blithe nudist humanities don George Bunn, JOE MEILA as weird, saturnine creative writing tutor Ron Rust, who’s supposedly the writer of the series they’re all appearing in, and TIMOTHY WEST as sexually frustrated Professor John Thomas Fury (do you – look, there’s a lot of this sort of stuff). Excellent stuff all round, filmed round the convincingly bleak environs of the University of East Anglia. One-off revival A VERY POLISH PRACTICE got bleaker still, relocating Stephen, Greta and Bob to… well, you can probably guess.
TV CREAM SAYS: "IT'S A LONG WAY FROM ANYWHERE..."
IN A brave attempt to push kids-costume-drama conventions to a dangerous extreme, this languid effort (based on book by Ray Brown) opted for the titular Victorian engineering construction as basis for familiar mystery/family-ties brooding. Plucky bunch of kids try to prove that one of their relatives helped build Stephenson’s Rocket, decide to knock through a wall in an old house, find a full size steam engine, which improves relationship ‘twixt lad and stepfather. Etc.
TV CREAM SAYS: SET IN DEPTFORD
ATTENTUATED ATTEMPT to create a UK version of BIG JOHN LITTLE JOHN. Only they decided to stick it in the Victorian era, and through some barely explained magic, the lad and his father swapped places. PETER “RICHARD DE VERE” BOWLES – yes, even though he was succesful at the time – was the father; unfortunately, and inevitably, the kid was rubbish and wouldn’t have been able to pass as a child, never mind being a grown man in a child’s body.
TV CREAM SAYS: MADE THE FRONT OF THE TV TIMES AN' ALL
YOUNG BOY (yes, Vicky can be a boy’s name too, like Lesley, or Stacy) warrior gains respect with his Norse chief dad and the ragbag army of vikings he leads. Had “bright ideas” by scratching head, rubbing nose in three different places, then clicking fingers with stars and the like spewing out from behind him. “I know! We’ll invent the catapult!”
TV CREAM SAYS: "HI HO VICK, HI HO HI HO, HI HO VICK, VIKING LET'S GO..." WAS FIRST THEME, THEN "HEY HEY VICKY/HEY VICKY HEY/YOU AND YOUR VIKING FRIENDS"
TECHNOLOGY SHOW for kids who found MICRO LIVE and 4 COMPUTER BUFFS too stuffy (“Games, a degrading waste of new technology” – Ian MacNaught-Davies). Presented by MICK BROWN (see Kelloggs’ BMX Championships and those Pat Sharp duets), some woman and some cocky 14-year-old. Fairly broad outlook on computers but FUN! Games reviews had whatever presenter CSOed onto the game display. Cue Brown ducking to avoid planes in Fighter Pilot, or making “come on, then” gestures over Frank Bruno’s Boxing. Attempts to seamlessly blend with colour clash-adorned ZX Spectrum graphics unsuccessful.
TV CREAM SAYS: MAGIC MICRO MISSION MARGINALLY MORE MEMORABLE
DREADFUL AMERICAN SHOW about what was “hot” and what was “not” on the international fashion runways. Had a smarmy female voiceover, interviews with designers and models you’d never heard of, and lots of shaky camera work mixed with anonymous Eurodance tracks (that’s the ‘video’ bit). See also BPM for exactly the same shaking camera & music track, this time concerning the dance music “scene”, but with no actual content.
TV CREAM SAYS: BARELY RECALLED
ANOTHER AFTERNOON vehicle for the redoubtable FRED “GAMBIT” DINENAGE. The object was to guess the age and/or value of various items. The scores were kept by man with old cars, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, but alas he always got them wrong. The opening credits consisted of everyone driving around on an open top bus to the music “Get Out And Get Under”.
TV CREAM SAYS: "YOU GOT A PROBLEM THERE?"
Dialogue-shunning artistic hotchpotch that took the most unpromising of briefs and created a nostalgia monolith. Commissioned by BBC children’s department head Ursula Eason to jazz up worthy but unremarkable longstanding monthly 15-minute magazine FOR DEAF CHILDREN, producer PATRICK DOWLING slung out the faintly patronising, “does he take sugar?” elements (lots of smiley slow talking to camera), gave presenter PAT KEYSELL a bigger role, and let the visuals do the talking. It wasn’t an overnight revolution, but after a couple of years on air, which saw the recruitment of lanky mime artist and all-round suspenders-wearing adrenaline factory BEN BENISON and laid back paint-and-pastel polymath TONY HART, the newly styled Vision On began to outstrip its meat-and-potatoes educational origins.
By 1970 the format, taking its cue in part from SESAME STREET, had evolved into the familiar loose assemblage of bits of film surrounded by studio business, which comprised a big Tone-based painting, a bit of mime with Benison and Keysell, a running gag (usually involving a contraption created by venerable straw boatered inventor and missing link between Vivian Stanshall and Mike Harding WILF LUNN running amok) and of course that non-returnable vibraphone tinged viewer showcase The Gallery. And, if all else failed, they could always bring on The Woofenpuss: a feather boa being pulled about the set on a string accompanied by a Swanee whistle, which Dowling borrowed from Charlie Cairoli and would recycle on his summer holiday suggestion box WHY DON’T YOU..?
If the studio business was merrily oddball, the film segments punched their way straight into the febrile junior subconscious. The jazzy montage of hand held 16mm abstract shots of buses and manhole covers was easy enough to swallow, and Tone’s alfresco attempts to paint a giant elephant with a football pitch line marker were positively therapeutic stuff, but after that the weirdness mounted. DAVID CLEVELAND’s maniacal Prof put the wind up a few infants when his undercranked demonstrations of bad science ended in stylised self-mutilation. But it was the plethora of cartoon shorts, coming from as near as David Sproxton and Peter Lord’s pre-Aardman set-up just down the road and as far as darkest Czechoslovakia, that played a game of Russian roulette with the vulnerable child’s mind.
Some of it was fine. Humphrey Umbrage, a photo-montage tortoise, served up pure whimsy, and The Burbles, chatty unseen creatures who initially dwelt within a grandfather clock but later moved into tins of paint, were guilty of nothing more mentally wrong-footing than the occasional puzzling half-joke. But what of the poor cubist-headed city gent who was forever harassed by a malevolent cuckoo clock with a penchant for shedding its numbers? Or the bizarre lightbulb-headed pipe cleaner duo Filopat and Patafil? All were soundtracked with some judiciously selected avant garde instrumental workouts, which if anything amplified the sense of inexplicable unease. (Even the off-kilter supper club stylings of Gallery theme Left Bank 2, which went on to become a ready-made signifier of retro-sophisticated tweeness to a generation who weren’t even born when Pat signed her last goodbye, was, in context, an aural incubator of mounting disquiet. Listen to it again, and note its woozy tendency to slip in and out of tune at random. Then imagine an endless row of macaroni acrobats and cotton wool sheep slowly gliding past. See what we mean?) Topping the nightmare stakes was Grogg, an ingenious frog-cum-bug made from the programme’s cursively written title reflected in a mirror, which provided older children with hours of frustration trying to replicate it on pencil cases, and their younger brethren with nights of sleepless horror in anticipation of it coming up the stairs to eat them. See, this is what happens when you unleash the imagination, you impetuous fools!
As the years wore on, Benison left to be replaced by SYLVESTER ‘Sylveste’ MCCOY, who couldn’t compete in the gangliness stakes but made up for it with a nice line in trouserless masochism. Twelve years and plenty of international televisual gongs later, Dowling sensed a format running out of fresh ideas, and canned the ‘On in favour of the marginally less bizarre and much less frenetic Tone showcase TAKE HART, which corrected Vision On’s one major flaw by allowing Tony some proper vocal contact with the viewer at home, thus tapping into a well of breezy avuncularity that would power the children’s department for a quarter of a century. Imperial phase ‘On director CLIVE DOIG, meanwhile, took McCoy and Lunn with him to the fresh pastures of JIGSAW, doing for words what Vision On had done for pictures. All fine stuff, but nothing, save perhaps the odd psychologically progressive schools maths programme, has since come near the levels of faintly sinister queasy confusion that Dowling and gang put out on a weekly basis for nigh on seven years. Please, don’t have Audrey the Dinosaur-shaped nightmares.
You might also want to see... Tony Hart 1925-2009.
TV CREAM SAYS: "AND IF I JUST ROTATE THIS 90 DEGREES..."
LAST (OR rather, first) piece in the Allen TV jigsaw had Admiral Nelson (RICHARD BASEHART) and Captain Crane (DAVID “FLY” HEDISON) aboard crack nuclear sub the Seaview, encountering rubber monsters of many kinds. There were many, many of these buggers, often repeating the same monster plots over and over again, involving werewolves, malignant orchids, superquids and, inevitably, Nazis. Don’t forget Kowalski, Sparks and Sharkey, or the all-time classic line from the Menfish episode: “Quick! Prepare the wet mattresses!” Paregoric fun.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALSO FEATURING JAMES "SCOTTY" DOOHAN, JUNE "LOST IN" LOCKHART, WERNER "HOGAN'S" KLEMPERER & GEORGE "SULU" TAKEI
RUBBISH PSEUDO-EDUCATIONAL time travellry with some fuckers called Phineas Bogg (ha!) and Jeffrey Jones traipsing aound various (American) historical events, and learning…well, sod all. Purported to “fix” parts of history that had somehow gone wrong, a procedure which inexplicably meant characters such as Lincoln and Aristotle meeting up.