It’s the double-sized Christmas Creamguide number 2014!

Posted in Posted in Blog | 2 Comments »

Christmas Creamguide!
Of course, Christmas isn’t Christmas without your quality TV listings guide. The one that covers telly with genuine enthusiasm – instead of under sufferance – and doesn’t, instead, try and make a beeline towards something more ‘grown-up’ like politics. Nor, indeed, does it employ the services of a TV Editor who, every week, moans about TV or a satirist who makes fun of televisual trends in a ‘What would X look like if Simon Cowell did it?’ sort of way…

Ah yes, that paragraph full of good cheer can only mean the double-sized Christmas Creamguide is now here! It gets sent out to our regular subscribers as an e-mag, but every year, we also like to flag up the fact it’s available here too on TV Cream. So, click on this for part one, and this for part two.

A very telly Christmas to one and all!

See post

The six best Christmas TV Times covers

Posted in Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »

Granted, Radio Times has a history – a now fading history – of terrific Christmas covers, but what of its downstairs rival? We submit that thanks to its more capricious art-editing, and ITV’s lacklustre seasonal schedules, TV Times’ own festive frontispieces present a rather more lurid and appealing advent calendar than the RT.

So Merry Christmas one and all, as we celebrate TVT’s half-dozen greatest Yuletide covers!

6: 1987


A Dr Lowther-bound Hilda Ogden, plus an ebullient Bet ‘Listen Lady’ Lynch, are perfect cover fodder, for once making TVT’s ITV allegiance feel like something approaching a boon. Yes! Their own cover shoot! Of TV’s biggest story! And doesn’t everyone look happy? NB: Don’t miss Ghost Busters!

5: 1977


Harry didn’t have to go to Paris to get an eyeful! Although he’d go on to helm one of the worst ever TVT covers, here he is in another quintessential ITV diorama, shipping, indeed, with George, Mildred and Violet Elizabeth Bott. As the coverline makes clear: glittering entertainment.

4: 1975


The Christmas hats aside, one could argue that this has a more Easter-ly vibe. But we care not! It also feels indicative of those mash-up-of-characters covers Fleetway comics would do when two of their titles merged, so it’s an aye to that. Sooty pumping the balloon an additional genius detail.

3: 1969


An art department triumph! There’s nothing here to indicate TVT even so much as met Des for this cover image, but the appropriation of his mugshot into a Santa face is masterfully done. And the concept of O’Connor-themed wrapping paper – YES. Also, very much appreciate the little telly themed Father Christmasses. Look! One of them is actually a tiny oven with a turkey inside.

2: 1985


Although Minder On The Orient Express would be duffed up in the ratings by Only Fools, who cares when it provided inspiration for this terrific winterscape? Tel and Arthur (holly sprig in trilby band) getting into some bother in Santa’s sled while a discomfited owl looks on. What’ll I get for Christmas for ‘er indoors? This! A smashing painting!

1: 1980


A lavishly budgeted restaging of the 1978 cover, this one has got the lot! Yes! ITV has a Bond, The Man With The Golden Gun actually, plus M&W arguably returning to the near-peak of their powers and – of course – Janet Brown as Mrs T. Roger: “I’ve pulled a few powerful ladies in my time before, but never pushed them…” Janet: “I push Denis around all the time!” Plus, a hint of appropriate shilling to the network, with the inclusion of that for-one-season-only ITV Christmas tag alongside the logo. ALL CHRISTMASSES SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS!


See post

The six worst TV Times Christmas covers

Posted in Posted in Blog | 13 Comments »

Christmas is not all about Radio Times of course. Because whenever John Craven craned out from a festive Back Page so too did a limpid-eyed Katie Boyle. But while the BBC always decked its schedules with the very merriest fare, that’s never quite been the case on ITV, meaning the Christmas TV Times has, if anything, a more eccentric run of covers than its upstairs rival.

We’ve already waxed a little wry over RT X-mas duffs here. But now, come all ye faithful, here are TV Times’ worst ever efforts.

6: 1981


Slap-bang in the ‘so much more than TV times’ magazine era, Harry Secombe, there, firmly on the highway to getting sozzled, in a perfunctory photo-shoot of the ‘let’s just split for lunch’ variety. Sack the art ed who married those red and white hues with a lime flavoured logo.

5: 1976


The concept – to bring together the TV Times family of stars in one Christmas super-shoot. The realisation – hastily scissored faces slapped upon stock Santa hoods. Many, not even looking into camera (“Frankie, over ‘ere!”).

 4: 1967


“Christmas Morning service comes  from the ancient parish church of Bierton in Buckinghamshire.”

3: 1978


M&W mark their first, desultory, Braben-less, Christmas on Thames with a TVT cover. Again, strong concept (and one they’d revisit with far more success in 1980) but shockingly poor realisation. There’s even a light reflection off the cardboard Connery’s shoulder. And as for Eric seemingly about to blow his own head off… well, perhaps the realisation of all of this was just sinking in.

2: 1965


Who’s that? A young Jan Leeming perhaps? “Here’s the news: It’s Christmas!” In fact it’s – as the cover caption tells us – The Boy Jesus by Florence Kroger. Turns out that shit vanity covers by ‘name’ artists aren’t just the province of modern day RT.

1: 1983


We’re fans of the over-sized heads school of caricature, but, in all charitableness, that’s probably an inadvertent feature of this horrid imagining of a – we’re going to say it too – ‘right royal Christmas’ with Charles, Di and William. What’s that Wills is reaching for? And is Di really leaning on a mattress, adjunct to a Ferguson TV set?

Dishonourable mentions for…

Everything generic, creepy Santa illustration which they’ve run in perpetuity since the mid 1990s.


See post

Crackers, nuts and rugby union

Posted in Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »

The art of the Christmas TV schedule

A very telly Christmas
Everyone knows how massive Christmas telly is. That’s why the TV listings magazines come out weeks and weeks in advance and why TV Cream is constantly speculating from about August what the big Christmas Day film’s going to be. But it’s not just the programmes that make Christmas so special it’s when these programmes are shown.

One way to spoil the Christmas season is to put the wrong programmes on at the wrong time. Take 1989, for example – you had loads of great shows, like The Jolly Boys Outing episode of ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES, the last ever EVER DECREASING CIRCLES and, er, WOGAN’S CHRISTMAS FANCY DRESS. But on prime time in Christmas Night BBC1 gave us CROCODILE DUNDEE and MISS MARPLE: A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY – rubbish! They’re too long and much too hard to concentrate on when all your relatives are making a right racket.

There are times, though, when the broadcasters – or, at least, BBC1 get it exactly right and put together a killer schedule of back-to-back classic shows, keeping you glued to your sofas all night. Of course, nobody watches any other channel at Christmas, so we’ve scoured the archive to find those evenings on BBC1 when it was all killer and no filler. So what are the perfect Christmas nights of the past?


The Posedion Adventure
It could be said that Christmas Eve is the most exciting day of the holidays, as you anticipate all sorts of excitement in 24 hours’ time – before your expectations are slightly crushed. What you want, then, is loads of big, brash light entertainment to stop you from jumping up and down for a bit to accompany the thrill of it getting darker and darker.


6.05pm Little and Large
6.35pm Top of the Pops
7.15pm Are You Being Served?
7.45pm The Kenny Everett Television Show
8.15pm The Poseidon Adventure

If you were nine years old in 1981, this must have been the most exciting evening’s television you’d ever seen, with a whole host of kid-friendly comedy stars proffering slightly mucky but generally harmless fun. Surely every kids’ comic staples in 1981 were Sid Snot, Mr Humphries and Eddie Large in a dress? In between them all, because it’s a Thursday, it’s Pops – not the Christmas show but a normal weekly edition with the neon turned up to eleven and cracking pop from Dollar, Altered Images, Human League (the one with Phil getting a load of silly string in his face) and, er, Elvis Costello. Then after Cuddly Ken’s first appearance on the Beeb it’s a Christmas cinema staple – not a premiere, that was in 1979, but still a big draw and exactly the sort of cheap thrills we demand from Christmas Eve telly. Indeed, so amazing was this line-up that one Andrew Collins, in his diary, renamed 25th December 1981 as “The Day After The Poseidon Adventure”.


It's Noel!

We all know that Christmas Night is the broadcasters’ shop window, but there’s still the rest of the day to get through first. Obviously, you don’t want anything here that you need to actually sit down and watch, but a bit of excitement while your dad’s rummaging around for spare batteries wouldn’t go amiss.


8.35am Play School
8.55am Muppet Babies
9.20am Knock Knock
9.35am This Is The Day
10.05am The Gnome Mobile
11.30am Roland’s Yuletide Binge
11.55am The Noel Edmonds Live Live Christmas Breakfast Show
2.00pm Top of the Pops

This timing works out brilliantly, we think. Before it begins there’d be some festive test card music and suitably seasonal Ceefax graphics to accompany you opening your stocking, then the first two programmes would help fill the gap after you’d got bored of coughing into the
toilet bowl to wake your parents up. Surely they’ll have surfaced by the time the religion comes on and then you can abandon the box to open your presents, switching back on after the film’s finished. Surely, at 45 minutes, that must the smallest amount of religion ever
broadcast on Christmas Day, compared to the three and a half hours from TV God Michael Hurll, who produced all of the last three programmes. You knew whenever you saw Michael Hurll’s name in the Radio Times credits that the programme would be unsubtle, trashy and
brash -– ie, exactly what you want to see on Christmas Day.


Point of order, no one ever called it "The Old" Generation Game

You don’t need us to explain this, do you?


6.05pm Bruce Forsyth and The Generation Game
7.05pm The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show
7.35pm The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show
8.35pm The Odd Couple
10.20pm News
10.30pm Gala Performance
11.35pm Lost Hearts

Well, everyone bangs on about 1977 as the ultimate Christmas Night, but because it was a Sunday, you had to sit through an hour of religion before it all came on. All the big hitters are here as well, without the need to be bashed around the head by a vicar beforehand. The weak link is probably the Gala Performance, an hour of light classics presented by Michael Flanders, but we quite like the scheduling as, if you fell asleep during that, you’d wake up for MR James’ shit-scary ghost story and it’d be even more terrifying. The added bonus here was that this was one of the last times for a while you got to stay up late before the three day week put the kybosh on late night telly. And don’t forget, you can see this very Gen Game on BBC2 this Boxing Day. Hooray!


No more presents to open. The Beano Book long read. Boxing Day can be tough work, so you need some indulgent telly to get through it. With the relatives probably packed off, this is the time to sit back and enjoy some serious telly watching.


5.15pm Bob’s Christmas Full House
5.50pm No Place Like Home
6.20pm Escape To Victory
8.10pm Dallas
9.00pm Miss Marple
9.55pm Dave Allen

So you’ve got “your Boxing Day bingo boy” and sitcom silliness to start you off, then a cracking bit of cinematic fluff, here getting its TV premiere. Dallas is perhaps the odd show out, and is only really here because it’s Wednesday, but at least it’s not on Christmas Day like it was in 1980 and 1981. We slagged off Miss Marple earlier on, but although it’s not a Christmas Day show we think it’s just right for the more involved Boxing Day slot – and it’s the first one ever too. Then for a while Allen was the official fun-poker at the festive season.


It’s official – New Year’s Eve telly is bloody awful. Always has been, always will be. The idea is that everyone’s out, so it’s a waste putting anything new and interesting out. It’s tough to find a great New Year’s Eve, so here’s the least worst.


6.00pm Pinocchio
7.35pm Larry Grayson’s Generation Game
8.25pm Murder On The Orient Express
10.30pm News
10.40pm The 70s Stop Here!
12.01am A Toast To The 80s

This is still pretty rubbish, starting off with “an opportunity to see in one evening the story enjoyed by so many as a serial last year”. At least the film’s a premiere, and everyone in the world’s on Penelope Keith’s splurge of clippage, while there’s no better way to welcome in the new decade than with Reginald Bosanquet, Aiden J Harvey and Andy Cameron on the cliched Scotch quota-filler at midnight. In fact the only reason we’ve chosen this is because they repeated the Gen Game on UK Gold a decade or so ago, and left in Larry announcing at the end, “1980 is nearly upon us, and the Orient Express is waiting at the station”. We just wanted to mention that.


As opposed to the previous night, New Year’s Day is the night where you’re not even expected to move away from your sofa. One of the “big” days of the holiday, this is perhaps second only to Christmas Day it terms of prestige, and you expect something extra-special.


5.40pm Blankety Blank
6.15pm Twenty Years Of The Two Ronnies
7.00pm Wogan
7.35pm The Bounty

A cracking triple bill of light entertainment kicks the evening off. It’s a bog-standard normal Blank, but none the worse for that, especially with a line-up of, from the top left, Ian McCaskill, Kathy Staff, Sir Ken of Bruce, Bonnie Langford, Bernie Clifton and Aimi McDonald. Then there’s sundry spoonerisms before Wogan, what with it being a Friday, and a pre-recorded show where Fry and Laurie join Dawn French to launch that year’s Comic Relief. We’re not sure if this is the show where the Comic Relief representatives ended up giggling when they had to explain how they were going to try and stamp out diarrhoea in Africa, and then later one (Hugh?) picked up a fact pack only for everything to fall out and said “as you can see, it’s got a trap door bottom”, and another (Stephen?) said, “Ooh, back to diarrhea again”. Maybe that was another year. Either way we have fond memories of it. Then there’s a big brainless Mel Gibson film to round off the holidays, and there was still a weekend to come! Result!

See post

The six best Christmas Radio Times covers

Posted in Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »

IT’S NOT HARD. You’ve all year to think about it. You’ve been doing it for almost a century. And it’s not like the occasion hasn’t been responsible for inspiring, at the last count, 134,932 carols, songs, films, plays, musicals, myths, costumes, jokes, rituals, foodstuffs, fluids, religious fables and drunks shouting.

And yet the Radio Times Christmas cover is often so poor, so throat-narrowing, colon-clenching, Scrooge-besting poor, you have to wonder just what the magazine has been up to over the past 12 months*.

Anyhow, let’s not dwell on the periodical equivalent of a Brussel sprout dry fart. Let us instead look back to half a dozen festive fancies we’d drop everything to save from the flames of an Advent crown, fireproof tinsel or no fireproof tinsel. Doff your paper hats to the six greatest Radio Times Christmas front covers.

*Aside from not watching TV programmes, of course.

6: 2005

Oh, and by the way...

Celebrating Dr Who’s return to Christmas Day after 40 years, the Tardis gets plonked in a globe along with a snowman sporting Tom Baker’s scarf, the inevitable pepperpot, and blobs of space junk looking like baubles. Nobody would’ve expected this 12, even nine months earlier. Sod Narnia; please Mum, can I have a Dalek for Christmas?

5: 1959

Claus for thought

Not for the last time, RT puts a bunch of pricks on the cover. But there’s Claus for thought in the shape of not one but two Saint Nicks, one vaguely resembling Alan Whicker, the other crouched behind a camera thumbing a red nose at the electricians’ union. Why can’t you give Santa the sack? Because he’s already got one. Ho bloody ho.

4: 1964

Er...Ponce alert! Radio Times goes a bit way out as it dips a toe into the cold Serpentine of mid-60s abstract art. It could be the British Isles, it could be a dove of peace, it could be what happens when one of your Woolworths baubles falls on the floor. Whatever, it’s rather splendid.

3: 1927

A dose of the clap

Got your number, ducky. RT goes gay with a swinging toast to the roaring 20s, offering up its own Christmas Reith in the guise of a bell ringing out – huzzah! – radio waves. ALL THE CHRISTMAS PROGRAMMES too, should there be any doubt.

2: 1968

Hanging looseGroovy typeface adorns a preposterously pendulous bauble, star-encrusted with the famous and not so (who’s the chap on the far left with the teeth and suit?). It looks like a poster for the original (and best) Casino Royale. If only this HAD been the cast of the original (and best) Casino Royale.

1: 1963

Toppermost of the poppermostThe most imaginative seasonal cover ever – and the most gorgeous. Carol singers with no eyes, a clump of Lowry parishioners trudging to worship, reindeer that look like the Black Rabbit from Watership Down, and an angel with a bouffon. Bold, unique, and utterly baffling: the true spirit of Christmas.

Honourable mentions for…

A hard-working family, yesterday

1923: a hard-working family

What fascist undertones?

1926: what fascist undertones?

That's what they call you

1929: that’s what they call you

Christmas Deco-rations

1933: the Deco in decoration

Pop goes Christmas

1966: taking Christ out of Xmas

Oh no it isn't - oh yes it is!

1988: oh yes it is, oh no it isn’t

Now see the six worst Christmas Radio Times covers

See post

The six worst Christmas Radio Times covers

Posted in Posted in Blog | 16 Comments »

Worried about heating your home this Christmas? Dig some of the following disgraces out of your attic, douse with a bit of brandy, then WHOOOMPH: a conflagration that’s both physically and sanctimoniously satisfying.

Alternatively, use these covers as an alternative to wrapping paper – on presents for people you dislike deeply.

6: 1949

What the..?

Let’s be charitable and say this was done for a dare. On the other hand, let’s not, and wonder how the hell this grisly confection ever made it past the proofs. As if 1940s Britain hadn’t had enough of terrifying things falling from the skies.

5: 1936

By golly

Not merely a gollywog, but a gollywog looking desperately pissed off. The tree’s fallen to pieces as well, while a box of cigars lies ready for a child to begin a lifetime’s addiction to narcotics. Merry fucking Christmas.

4: 2009

Pro - cras - ti - nate!

What could be funnier that a Dalek in a Santa hat? Quite possibly everything. But look: the RT Christmas issue has now somehow become LEGENDARY. Who could have known? We prostrate ourselves in front of your biblical self-righteousness, oh mighty tome of insufferable cant.

3: 1993

Grow some teeth, kid

An ugly kid pulls a gormless face, and we’re meant to feel festive? Come back when you’ve grown some teeth, son – not to mention some manners.

2: 2010


Ah look, Wallace and Gromit are back. Well, yes, in the sense they were on the front of the Christmas Radio Times just 12 months earlier. But no, in the sense of them starring in a brand new adventure that’s the centrepiece of the Christmas schedules. In fact there was no new Wallace and Gromit on TV at all. This was just an idle, lousy reworking of the previous year’s cover. Thank heavens they never tried that again. Oh, wait…

1: 1974

A failure, yesterdayBritain’s unfunniest comedy creation gestures at a tube of tatty shiny paper. To pour piss into the wound, look at that long, long list of names, any one of whom would have been 100 times better as cover star. “I’m a failure!” And so say all of us.

Dishonourable mentions for…

No, us neither

1952: fright before Christmas

Oh no, it's "me"

1978: oh bollocks, it’s “me”


1985: plonkers needing stuffing

Get back in your box

1996: typographical trauma

Not wild about Harry

2000: not wild about Harry

Get out, Claus

2007: call Crimestoppers now

Now see the six best Christmas Radio Times covers

See post

Creamvote #6 The most unforgettable sports theme!

Posted in Posted in Blog | 9 Comments »

Look at his face! Just look at his face! Because it’s week six of…

TV Cream’s Most Unforgettable Theme!

Here we are with unarguably the four strongest themes yet to do battle. Although, we have to admit, we haven’t been able to procure the golden era World of Sport theme, thanks to the baffling fact someone has actually gone to the trouble of ensuring it’s copyright protected on Soundcloud. Nonetheless, we do like the rather stately version above, but you can still hear the more familiar banners-in-the-sky take at the end of this link.

This poll will close on 4 December 2014 at 1700. And it’s the last one we’re running for this year. New theme battles will commence in January!

  • Which is the most unforgettable sports theme?

    • Grandstand (36%)
    • Ski Sunday (23%)
    • Sportsnight (21%)
    • World of Sport (20%)
    • Loading ... Loading ...
      See post

      Creamvote #5 The most unforgettable kids’ factual show theme!

      Posted in Posted in Blog | 5 Comments »

      [Looks up from some busy work] Hullo! Welcome to this week’s…

      TV Cream’s Most Unforgettable Theme!

      This time, we’re voting on the theme tunes to four popular children’s factual television shows. Feel free to support your favourite, which, obviously, should be Windmill, because, otherwise Terry Nutkins has got this all-but sewn up.

      This poll will close on 27 November, 2014 at 1700.

    • Which is the most unforgettable kids' factual show theme?

      • Magpie (33%)
      • Animal Magic (29%)
      • The Really Wild Show (22%)
      • Windmill (16%)
      • Loading ... Loading ...
        See post

        Creamvote #4 The most unforgettable sitcom theme!

        Posted in Posted in Blog | 12 Comments »

        So many questions! And an exclamation! It’s the fourth ever-lovin’ week of our quest to find…

        TV Cream’s Most Unforgettable Theme!

        And here’s our choice of the greatest ever sitcom themes. Which is the best? Lodge your binary opinion below…

        This poll will close on 20 November, 2014 at 1700.


      • Which is the most unforgettable sitcom theme?

        • Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (49%)
        • Are You Being Served? (22%)
        • Sorry! (20%)
        • Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (9%)
        • Loading ... Loading ...
          See post

          Creamvote #3 The most unforgettable emergency services-related theme!

          Posted in Posted in Blog | 5 Comments »

          Welcome! Welcome to week three of…

          TV Cream’s Most Unforgettable Theme!

          This time around we’re pitting four 999-flavoured compositions against each other. You know the drill by now; listen to the above, then vote for your favourite below.

          This poll will close on 13 November, 2014 at 1700.


        • Which is the most unforgettable emergency services-related theme?

          • The Sweeney (55%)
          • Juliet Bravo (30%)
          • Angels (9%)
          • The Bill (6%)
          • Loading ... Loading ...
            See post

            Creamvote #2 The most unforgettable news theme!

            Posted in Posted in Blog | 5 Comments »

            It’s week two of the electrifying electoral eclectica the nation has dubbed…

            TV Cream’s Most Unforgettable Theme!

            We’re in the process of identifying the very best theme tune ever heard on British TV. In this heats stage, we’re battling themes of a similar genre. This time around, that’s News themes. Listen to the four above, then vote for your favourite below.

            This poll will close on 6 November, 2014 at 1700.


          • Which is the most unforgettable news theme?

            • World in Action (49%)
            • News at 10 (26%)
            • Nationwide (20%)
            • BBC One o'Clock News (5%)
            • Loading ... Loading ...
              See post

              Creamvote #1 The most unforgettable political show theme!

              Posted in Posted in Blog | 13 Comments »

              Welcome! To the opening salvo of what we’re calling…

              TV Cream’s Most Unforgettable Theme!

              Over the next umpteen weeks, we’re going to be asking you to vote on an array of different theme tunes as we ultimately progress to identify the very best ever heard on British TV. We’re in the ‘heats’ stages right now, wherein we’re battling themes of a similar genre. And so we begin in the world of politics. What do you need to do? Simply listen to the four tunes (above) and then vote for the best, below…

              [NB. To get around Soundcloud copyright issues, we’ve added 30 seconds of actual continuity at the start of the Weekend World track. But, everyone loves actual continuity, right?]

              This poll will close on 30 October 2014 at 1700: Vote early and vote often…


            • Which is the most unforgettable political show theme?

              • Weekend World (55%)
              • On the Record (19%)
              • BBC General Election Night (14%)
              • Question Time (12%)
              • Loading ... Loading ...
                See post

                The 50 Greatest Things About Match Of The Day

                Posted in Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »

                The warhorse of football highlights turns fifty years old on 22nd August. It’s had its ups and downs along the way but remains, despite everything, the place we turn to of a Saturday night between August and May. Time, then, for us to pay tribute to its finest moments…

                1. “As you can hear we’re in Beatleville”
                Highlights had been shown on Saturday nights since 1959 and ITV had actually shown a live league game in 1960 as part of an experiment the Football League instantly brought a halt to, but it wasn’t until Kenneth Wolstenholme and a BBC outside broadcast unit pitched up at Anfield on 22nd August 1964 that football highlights became a standard part of television culture.

                2. The 1967 Charity Shield
                It was supposed to be the first game ever shown in colour, but the special VT machine broke down. Never mind, we did get Ken being completely confused by Pat Jennings scoring from a long kickout and then hailing Bobby Charlton’s howitzer as “good enough to win the league, the cup, the World Cup and even the Grand National”

                3. Sandy Brown’s own goal
                A moment everyone seems to recall, Brown headed into an open net in the Merseyside derby. “He must wish the ground could open up” declared a sympathetic David Coleman.

                4. Barry Davies
                Poetic of linguistics, stern of moral, appealingly clipped of description (see the first comment here from his first commentary on the programme), it’s hard to think Barry was was originally an ITV man, covering Granada and working the 1966 World Cup. When Brian Moore was brought in from BBC radio he saw he wasn’t required, jumped ship and became the purist’s choice until leaving in 2004. Refused to state his birthplace until after his retirement from the programme lest he be accused of bias (Islington, for the record)

                5. Ronnie Boyce’s volley
                The cameras were at West Ham’s game at Manchester City to catch Jimmy Greaves’ debut; they got that, and a goal, but better still was City’s Joe Corrigan booting the ball downfield on an allotment patch of a pitch only for Boyce to smack the ball straight back from near enough the halfway line.

                6. Barry Stoller’s masterwork
                Debuted in 1970 by the library music composer, the theme was named the most recognisable TV theme in
                the country by PRS For Music in 2010 but it’s never been officially released – if you have a version, it’s most likely former Manfred Mann member Mike Vickers’ cover from a year later.

                7. The donkey kick
                Willie Carr flicks the ball up between his heels from a free kick, Ernie Hunt volleys in. The first ever goal of the season, and practically banned on the spot.

                8. “Leeds will go mad! And they have every right to go mad!”
                Jeff Astle ends Leeds’ 1970-71 title charge with a goal that isn’t offside (it’s not even passed!), Barry urges on the fans and coaches invading the pitch to protest.

                9. John Motson
                Brought in from the radio in 1970 at Coleman’s suggestion. Never the stats automaton of legend – see the end of the 1979 Cup final or Spain-Yugoslavia from Euro 2000, where he lets the occasion carry him along. Though actually he remained quite prosaic in the face of…

                10. Ronnie Radford
                Despite the legend not his first commentary for MOTD (he’d already covered the leading game twice) but that which made his name as the Radford rocket stirred a nation. BBC bias, though – Ricky George, a mate of Motson’s from when he played for Barnet and John was a local press reporter, gave Motson a lift to the ground and went on to score the winner.

                11. “Every man jack of this Leeds side is now turning it on”
                Imperious Leeds, 7-0 up against Southampton, keep the ball between themselves in increasingly extravagant ways for more than thirty passes. “Poor old Southampton just don’t know what day it is” a spellbound Davies remarked.

                12. George Best against Sheffield United
                A commonly replayed clip from Best’s Mancunian dotage, running across the defence before slotting home from an acute angle.

                13. Jimmy Hill
                Invented the modern way of football presentation on LWT’s The Big Match alongside Brian Moore (not to mention John Bromley and Bob Gardam offscreen) and was the region’s deputy controller of programming for a while to boot but got asked what he was doing these days by taxi drivers outside London one too many times so jumped channels in 1973 so he could speak tactically and forthrightly to the nation. The beard lasted another decade until Gillette paid him £100,000 at a charity auction to shave it off.

                14. Francis Lee sends Barry Davies over the top
                “Interesting… very interesting! Oh! Look at his face! Just look at his face!” Davies’ favourite moment of his storied career, voice cracking as he goes.

                15. Keegan and Bremner’s fight
                Entertaining Charity Shield spat followed by shirt disposal somehow filled out by Davies’ scented-handkerchief moralising.

                16. Mickey Walsh
                “Ainscow coming square, that’s the ball…” A great example of how MOTD exposure could make a local hero into a national figure, Walsh’s turn and drive for Blackpool against Sunderland in 1975 was a totemic goal of the season.

                17. “A quality goal by a quality player”
                Motson could turn words on a dime too, watching Tony Currie turn a West Ham defender inside out in that same season.

                18. The penalty spot repainting
                Doesn’t sound like the greatest television as the mark gets lost in a notorious bog of a pitch at Derby’s Baseball Ground, but you haven’t seen the groundsman’s little run to the penalty area. Tape measure and everything. Motson sounds positively enthralled.

                19. Andy King
                Scored the winner in the Merseyside derby, got pushed off the pitch by a policeman. A full day’s work.

                20. The annuals
                Entertainingly scattershot around the turn of the Eighties. 1979, for instance, features Eric Morecambe admitting he “sneaks a look” at MOTD despite his LWT contract, Jimmy on campaigning to enforce the non-movement of keepers at penalties, a competition to match the players to a photo of their knees and Archie Macpherson described as “a man with hair resembling rusty steel wool”.

                21. “Look at that! Oh, look at that!”
                We already are, John. Liam Brady’s strike lit up a 5-0 derby win for Arsenal even further. John Radford told MOTD after the game he’d be celebrating the win with champagne. Jimmy: “I can well remember the day when players celebrated with a light ale on Saturday nights”

                22. ITV couldn’t do this
                And we mean that literally. After one of many protracted contractual disputes, this one after Michael Grade’s LWT had attempted to snatch the lot in 1978, ITV’s regional programming was obliged to switch to Saturday nights with MOTD taking up Sunday afternoons. ITV struggled and lost viewers, BBC settled into shirt sleeves and more time for Jimmy to work his oracle, and once the contract was up Central’s Gary Newbon declared “we don’t want Saturday night football ever again on ITV”. If only Brian Barwick had listened in 2001, eh?

                23. Attempting to tamper with the theme doesn’t end well
                1979 – synthesiser pre-set. 1990 – ambient post-Madchester. Both dropped within a month, the former, according to Jimmy, complained about by “a lot of gentlemen and even more ladies”.

                24. Justin Fashanu
                Norwich might have lost the game 5-3 to Liverpool, but Fashanu’s flick up and volley was named goal of the season and stayed in the opening titles for an age.

                25. Clive Allen hits the stanchion
                Improbably, all three officials managed to miss Allen’s free kick for Crystal Palace going in as it rebounded from the support at the back of the Coventry net.

                26. The game of three goalkeepers for one team
                First choice and first outfield reserve injured by the same player, at that. And Leicester still beat Shrewsbury 5-2 – Gary Lineker’s favourite game as a City player, apparently.

                27. Ian Rush’s four in the Merseyside derby
                Not to mention Glenn Keeley being sent off on his Everton debut, and it turned out swansong.

                28. Commentators introducing their matches in-vision
                For a while at the start of 1983-84 Motson and Davies would preview the games they were covering with predictions. Very much a Jimmy idea, this.

                29. David Pleat runs across the pitch
                After saving Luton from relegation. Makes that Derby groundsman look confident.

                30. Kevin Keegan’s farewell
                No, the first one, as a player at Newcastle, where he seemingly attempted to shake the hand of everybody in the stadium.

                31. Graeme Sharp’s volley
                A monumental strike in the… Merseyside derby. Some games are more equal than others.

                32. Match Of The Day Live
                Highlights fell out of favour with television so after plenty of toing and froing the league allowed a number of games to be shown live on Friday nights from 1983. The first ended Manchester United 4 Spurs 2. Before too long BBC1 was running Wogan over the first fifteen minutes of “live” games.

                33. Guess Who’s Been On Match Of The Day?
                He has, in his big shorts.

                34. Sutton United
                The BBC lost the league rights to ITV in 1988 but kept hold of the FA Cup and were on hand to witness a famous giantkilling of Coventry. Sutton manager Barrie Williams quoted Kipling in his programme notes; the programme ended with the goals accompanied by Richard Burton’s reading of If, perhaps the only time poetry and football action have actually worked well together.

                35. 15th April 1989
                The best broadcasters adapt to their surroundings. Lynam had been at Hillsborough that day intending to host the show from the ground. When tragic events transpired as they did he returned to London and expertly marshalled and questioned a series of interviewees while attempting to make sense of what had happened.

                36. Motson makes the sheepskin coat iconic
                Caught in a sudden snowstorm while waiting to tell Football Focus viewers that the FA Cup game at Wycombe had been postponed, the image of warming outerwear made the man.

                37. 1990 FA Cup semi-finals
                The first year both were shown on live TV, with a return of thirteen goals and Crystal Palace beating Liverpool.

                38. “Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is, you know…”
                “Schoolboy’s own stuff”, Barry mixing metaphors, as Gazza puts all he’s got into a free kick against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final and then goes completely to pieces in an entertaining way with Ray Stubbs afterwards.

                39. Mickey Thomas
                “The magic little man at the venerable age of thirty-seven” indeed.

                40. “Stands the church clock at five to three, and is there football again to see?”
                It was never going to be Alan Parry quoting Rupert Brooke by way of introducing a new top division, was it? The BBC got the rights back for the Premier League and had a subtle new approach to show off, chiefly involving…

                41. Alan Hansen
                He’d done some work for Sky on Italian football but hated it and was only too keen to take up the offer from editor Niall Sloane, where he was given free reign to redesign the art of sharp football punditry at a time when Andy Gray, who always had much more time to work out his analysis, was still faffing about with counters on a Subbuteo pitch.

                42. The discreet charm of the editor
                Gerald Sinstadt voicing over a goals round-up. Pitchside post-match nterviews with distracted players. A shot of a man eating a pie to denote half time. Now that every game is cut to the quick we miss all this.

                43. “Bruce! Yes!”
                The 96th minute goal that tipped the first Premier League season Manchester United’s way. Yet more of Barry carried away in the moment, if not half as much as Brian Kidd, who he then proceeds to ignore.

                44. Everton’s escape
                A nuts game in which Everton beat Wimbledon 3-2 to stay up, but also one of the first instances of MOTD, now they were able to show action from every Premier League game rather than just two or three, being able to switch between games to heighten the last day tension.

                45. The BBC videos
                101 Great Goals. The 60s-70s-80s double VHS pack. The Entertainers. The club-specific histories. No shelf was complete without them.

                46. Blackburn winning the title
                More smart cutting between two games, Rovers’ and Man Utd’s, and with a twist in the tail, topped with various Blackburn players in assorted states of inebration while being interviewed.

                47. Matt Le Tissier against Blackburn
                Southampton actually lost the game but it’s the Goal Of The Season-worthy jinking run, lazy top corner chip and non-celebration that people remember.

                48. Manchester City taking the ball to the corner
                Drawing with Liverpool they chose to run down the clock erroneously believing the score would prevent them from being relegated. Hansen’s apoplexy can only be imagined from his face.

                49. Match Of The Day 2
                Especially in its first year or so when Adrian Chiles and Gordon Strachan made every week a combination of knowledgeable debate and post-modern double act.

                50. It’s still there
                And perhaps uniquely, especially when you consider all the Trojan-friendly online streams, pub satellite hook-ups of borderline legality and lunchtime and early evening live games, still with roughly the same number of viewers as it had twenty years ago. Fifty more years!

                See post

                Mike ‘Smitty’ Smith: 1955-2014

                Posted in Posted in Blog | 3 Comments »

                Time for Factasia!

                The following appeared in our Creamguide mail-out just a few weeks ago. We represent it now in light of the extremely sad news Mike Smith’s death. So here’s an opportunity to look at some of the highlights of his career in TV. Sure, he did loads on radio too – we’ll need to get to that. In the meantime…

                MIKE SMITH

                CBTV (Thames 1982)
                Yes, several hundred words on Mike Smith. Don’t worry, there’s loads of funny clips coming up. Smitty, as we always called him, started out on the radio and at the start of the eighties was getting plenty of attention as Capital’s breakfast DJ. In this capacity he reported on the first London Marathon and met his wife-to-be Sarah Greene, and indeed among his earliest TV appearances were various uncredited anonymous appearances on Blue Peter as Saz’s partner as she learned to dive. But it was on Thames’ post-Magpie Blue Peter baiter where Mike got his first regular telly work and here he is up there inviting a bunch of kids to interrogate Toyah. Sadly for Jim Sweeney an awkward camera angle about three minutes in rather spoils the illusion of the chute he “slides” down. In fact since we’ll probably never have the opportunity to talk about CBTV again we’ve got some other clips, including the rather odd theme tune, and some later stuff, post-Smitty. And much of it is far more middle class than Blue Peter, natch.

                TOP OF THE POPS (BBC 1982)

                By the end of 1982 Mike had been poached by Radio 1, a station he’d previously worked at as jingle maker and helper. He was immediately included on the Pops presenting rota, famously introducing the debut of Wham! on his first show, which doesn’t appear to be online anymore but his horrendous jumper does still exist at the above link. Mike continued to present the Pops for six years and even had the honour of still fronting it during a two year spell from 1984 he wasn’t on Radio 1.

                BREAKFAST TIME (BBC 1983)

                Mike was part of the original team bringing us breakfast telly, originally as pop correspondent but, within a few months, being promoted to one of the main presenters, in the words of Frank Bough “proving DJs can be cerebral as well as noisy”. Mike stayed on the show for four years before going back to Radio 1 and competing with it, but he made so little impact we can’t find a single clip of him doing it on the internet, and his most memorable moment came when he tried to get a bit more comfortable on the red sofa and ended up getting stuck in it.

                SHOW BUSINESS (BBC 1983)
                FRIDAY PEOPLE (BBC 1985)

                One of umpteen attempts to create a TV show based around entertainment news, Show Business went out on Friday evenings for a couple of months in 1983 and Mike was the anchorman – getting a writing credit and everything, though we don’t know if he was responsible for the cock-up he has to do an apology for up there. Dullards may note that the Late Late Breakfast Show trailer after it is clearly filmed on a redressed Top of the Pops set, thanks to a strike. Eighteen months later, with the requirement to find fillers for the newly vacated 5.35 slot, it was back with a new name and Mike still in charge, though it still didn’t catch on and sadly the clip we have doesn’t feature the theme tune, which was the ace Garden Party by Mezzoforte.

                THE LATE LATE BREAKFAST SHOW (BBC 1984)

                Although The Late Late Breakfast Show had recovered from its atrocious start, it still wasn’t doing much, so a new co-presenter was sought. Noel had been something of a mentor to Mike in his early career so he seemed the logical choice and it turned out to be pretty inspired, the pair’s banter becoming a much anticipated part of the show. As we’ve mentioned on TV Cream before, Mike’s role on the show was to spend a dank Saturday night in somewhere like Bealieu Motor Museum watching a punter drive a Honda Melody through a burning hoop, and for a while it was hugely successful before it all ended in unpleasant circumstances, Mike falling out with Noel over it due to the internal ructions at the Beeb.

                LIVE AID (BBC 1985)

                As we know, the responsibility of televising Live Aid fell to the Whistle Test team, a role they were woefully underequipped for, and Janice Long and Mike were the only representatives from the other side of BBC pop involved in the broadcast. Mike’s role didn’t involve him going to Wembley, though, but that equally iconic location, er, Legends nightclub. He anchored the late shift until 4am, mixing performances from Philadelphia with clips from earlier in the day and interviews with whoever turned up, and here’s the last hour or so of it, happily editing all the music out.

                SECRETS OUT (BBC 1986)

                A rather thankless task for Mike here, replacing the great Johnny Ball on this kids quiz, but he had a decent go at it. Basically it’s What’s My Line for kids – and this is when What’s My Line was still on the telly, so it couldn’t even pretend to be original – but here’s some nice clips with Pip Schofield showing up to jolly things along and the Grange Hill cast as resident panellists, who were a bit more cheerful than Gilbert Harding or George Gale.

                FIRST AIDS (LWT 1987)

                A big show of the kind you don’t seem to get on telly anymore, this ninety minute extravaganza aimed to increase AIDS awareness as part of a week of programming on all channels on the subject. Now Radio 1 breakfast DJ, Mike was very much the voice of youth so drafted in to anchor proceedings, while comic relief came from, among others, Rik Mayall, and we vividly remember the sketch linked to above because a juvenile Creamguide was so embarrassed at the sex talk we actually asked our parents to turn it off.

                SEASIDE SPECIAL (BBC 1987)
                THE FUNNY SIDE (Granada 1988)

                Two bog-standard light entertainment formats here, where Mike did his usual professional job but couldn’t rescue their rather uninspired concepts. Despite being officially billed as Seaside Special 87, there was nothing particularly dynamic about the Jersey-based variety show, following a format that harked back to the earliest days of television, especially when the big innovation was a revival of Beat The Clock. The Funny Side borrowed from a slightly more up-to-date format, one of dozens of shows following in the slipstream of Game For A Laugh mixing studio games and guests to little effect, but sadly all we can recall is the Herbie Hancock-inspired theme tune.

                TRICK OR TREAT (LWT 1989)

                If Danny Baker’s Pets Win Prizes is the thing we’d most like to see on YouTube, this is a close second. Trick or Treat was a Saturday night quiz which, on paper, looked pretty conventional, but on screen certainly wasn’t, as Mike was joined by Julian Clary as co-host. Each week Clary would flounce around the audience until he was “strangely drawn” to a punter who he’d invite to play a game with Mike which was almost always fixed to make them look stupid, and then win a prize that might be genuinely good but just as likely be totally worthless. You could argue this was an attempt to subvert the conventions of light entertainment years before Shooting Stars but it was a bit of an awkward mix that didn’t really gel and just baffled and bored the audience. Love to see it again, though.

                RAILWATCH (BBC 1989)

                Of all the shows he’s done, Mike reckons this is the worst. After the success of Hospital Watch, seemingly the idea was you could stick a camera anywhere and it’d be interesting, so for a whole week Mike was at York station, crossing to reporters up and down the East Coast Main Line. No doubt the whole thing is fascinating in a proper edited documentary but live for an hour a day next to nothing happened, Mike remembering the most interesting thing of the entire week being a trolley blowing onto a line, and he was thoroughly relieved when it was all over. Happily, though, you can relive the whole week online!

                THAT’S SHOWBUSINESS (BBC 1989)

                This series has its roots in A Question of Sport, which was then repurposed in 1988 to become A Question of Entertainment, which, despite the presence of Doddy and Larry Grayson, never really caught on. Not wishing to write the whole thing off, though, another revamp saw all traces of Pringle removed and a new name. The first few series of this show were hugely enlivened by the presence of Cuddly Kenny Everett as team captain alongside Gloria Hunniford, though only a fraction of that era exists online. What we’ve got more of is the show from 1992 onwards where there were no regular captains, while the horrible synth theme was replaced by a horrible sax-driven theme. Eventually it ran to over a hundred shows, though it’s a fair bet only Mike remembers much about it.

                THE MIKE SMITH SHOW (BSB 1990)

                Mike was very much the Beeb’s golden boy in the eighties but he was one of the first presenters to make the leap to the brand new frontier of satellite television, Mike throwing his lot in with the classy, professional BSB. Mike’s shows were on Now, the barely watched “Channel for Living”, and according to the ads in the Radio Times (as nobody watched the actual shows) met people with unusual hobbies and reviewed the week’s news. In addition Mike also fronted the very exciting glossy promo video you can see up there, striding around Marco Polo House (which has just been demolished, fact fans) while parroting dodgy statistics about “the fed-up factor”.

                GHOSTWATCH (BBC 1992)
                THE EXCHANGE (LWT 1995)

                The nineties weren’t so kind to Mike, becoming perhaps more famous for stuff he did off camera, including complaining about Cheggers turning up at his house for The Big Breakfast, joining and then leaving Hearts of Gold with some harsh words for Esther Rantzen and applying to be Controller of BBC1. On screen there were a few notable appearances, including his first official co-starring credits with his wife. You know about Ghostwatch and we think he was quite good in it, while The Exchange was another attempt at an adult Swap Shop, Mike here promoting the Bad Influence-style datablast coming up. But by the end of the decade Mike decided to jack in the telly and concentrate on his business interests, in which he’s had huge success and still contributes to many top TV shows via the aerial photography company he runs which is responsible for virtually everything you see filmed from a helicopter on TV. So well done to him.

                See post

                Once in every lifetime: A tribute to Rik Mayall

                Posted in Posted in Blog | 10 Comments »

                Once in every lifetimeIf you didn’t like or understand The Young Ones, you were just too old. We all said it, and it rings true now. Every generation blames the one before, as we’ve been told, and while parents of kids born in the 1960s and early ’70s despaired at what now passed for comedy when four dysfunctional, vulgar, self-obsessed prats turned up on their BBC2 screen in the late autumn of 1982, the kids knew better. It was marvellous; it was something made by them for them, and their parents were squares for not understanding it.

                It wasn’t even Rik Mayall’s favourite work, nor even the work that launched him initially to a television audience, and like any sitcom that represents an era, it dated before the rust enveloped the pin badges on his jacket. But it was totally definitive. His brainchild (with girlfriend Lise Mayer), his jokes, his university mate Ben Elton merely called in to “churn out the gear” and make it half-an-hour long. His career made, a cult movement veering into the mainstream. He is probably the most important individual to come from the fabled alternative comedy boom of the new wave era as a result.

                Alternative comedy – loosely defined as an X-rated stand-up and character led antidote to gag-tellers whose material was offensively old hat – was a necessary phenomenon. Terry and June were worrying about the boss coming round to dinner, and Jim Davidson was inexplicably nick-nicking his way to variety show stardom. Mayall, brought up in Worcestershire, went to Manchester University as an 18 year old in 1976, but when back home during holiday time spent every evening down the pub with his friends because his parents’ telly was full of stuff made just for his mum and dad’s generation.

                “I don’t half feel sorry for you, having to stay in every night,” he’d say to his folks, both actors.

                “I don’t half feel sorry for you, having to go out every night,” they’d reply.

                Back at university, he developed a plan to try to find a new source of entertainment for his student generation. He had theatrical ambitions but was a natural comic, something ingrained in him since a gurning session during a school nativity play in the 1960s reduced the audience of parents to hysterical jelly and got him the cane from a mortified teacher. With fellow undergraduate Adrian Edmondson, he formed a raucous comedy duo, 20th Century Coyote. The name nodded to the famous failed cartoon Acme customer, a favourite of both men, and they followed the slapstick model of cartoons but with little emphasis on self-protection, resulting in hospital treatment for each when they were genuinely set alight or knocked out cold by a flying kettle.

                The Comedy Store opened in London in 1979, with Alexei Sayle and Arnold Brown performing on the opening night, and soon 20th Century Coyote were there too, eventually moving on to their self-formed Comic Strip Club nearby, evolving into The Dangerous Brothers as they did so and getting on the telly. Mayall’s reputation as a singular performer was also growing; a spotty, spoiled, political activist with appalling poetry was starting to get laughs, mainly via his scripted incompetence and petulance, while investigative reporter Kevin Turvey, Brummie and condescending, was Mayall’s solo route to recognition. Little was recalled of this character once The Young Ones hit the headlines, but nevertheless he remained a key ingredient of the growing Mayall legend, and once he became a superstar, the BBC cobbled together a disparate bunch of Turvey lectures on to video for release.

                The poet, just called Rick (leading to lifelong confusion as to how the actor spelled his forename), had much more going for him as Mayall began plotting his next move. Noting the soon-to-be-launched Channel 4’s commissioning of a stack of Comic Strip films, the BBC asked him, and others, to come up with ideas to make them look like they too wanted to acknowledge the emergence of this comic boom. Mayall suggested a sitcom. Given the go-ahead, he fleshed out the characters, co-wrote the jokes, hired Elton to turn them into dialogue and liaised with assigned producer Paul Jackson (who was instantly hooked) to develop the programme’s course.

                "You utter, utter, utter..."What we got was a student house full of unlikeable people, and the most generationally divisive cultural phenomenon in years. The humour was as much in the surprise element as it was in the script, though some of the jokes, verbal or physical, were instantly brilliant. Mayall portrayed his alter ego as a childish, hypocritical, self-absorbed nonentity-in-waiting, and did so spectacularly. Edmondson as the psychotic punk, fellow Comic Strip performer Nigel Planer as wimpish house-slave hippy Neil and Christopher Ryan (an unconnected actor auditioned at the last minute after Planer’s performing partner Peter Richardson fell out with Jackson and withdrew) as smooth-talking, borderline villain and house leader Mike, made for riotously brilliant television. It introduced slapstick, mindless violence, second degree swearing, masses of fake bodily fluids, surrealism, barking mad cameos, unrelated sideshows and audience participation, plus the innovative interlude featuring a live band. It was spectacularly different. And like with anything else, the people who complained tended to be the people who were not in the target audience: the mums and dads, who had to find a way of preventing their youngsters from watching this “vulgar”, “unfunny”, “bad influence” of a series without, in some cases, coming across as killjoys. Most failed.

                The Radio Times and national newspapers, without exception, used one of two buzzwords in their synopses of the show when it featured in their listings. One was “anarchic”; the other “offbeat”. However, despite its narrow intentions, it became a hit beyond the target teenage crowd. The slapstick element helped, as a well-timed smack in the face with a large piece of crooked wood and a judiciously chosen sound effect will always raise a laugh, even if humans are doing it instead of a cat and mouse. And when Vyvyan was electrocuted by his own hamster, or Dawn French’s barking mad God-squadder was crushed by an enormous sandwich chucked from the skies by Keith “Pestilence” Allen, you couldn’t help but laugh. The element of surprise was key, and it was Mayall who made sure it was there.

                "Lord Flashheart, Lord Flashheart, we wish he were the star..."Two series were made, along with a spin-off single by Planer, and that was deemed enough. Mayall wanted to move on. “I don’t know what it will be yet, but it will be different,” he said at the time. The Young Ones was missed, but unsurprisingly it did date, which was why it became an adored comic museum rather than an overblown parody of itself and not many people begged for more. A year later, with Elton now recruited to co-write the failing Blackadder dynasty (in which Mayall had appeared once as Mad Gerald – “close the bloody door!”), the character of Lord Flashheart was created, specifically for him. In Blackadder II’s first episode, Flashheart turns up at the eponymous peer’s wedding, attacks Percy, flirts with the Queen and Nursie, mocks Melchett, tries to castrate Edmund and then buggers off with the bride – all in one scene and all with a healthy dose of fourth-wall shoving. Mayall’s totally over-the-top portrayal of this seafaring narcissist, recreated as a squadron commander at episode length in Goes Forth four years later, was outrageous and beyond hilarious, and despite the character being somewhat irregular, contributed much to his comic armoury, while leaving his co-performers visibly aghast at his energy. It was the first time we’d seen him as the hero, the wit, the heart-throb, the attractive cad. And he was, and remained, the only man to truly equal Rowan Atkinson in a Blackadder scene.

                "Yes, daughter..."Mayall loved Filthy, Rich & Catflap, the next venture after The Young Ones which Elton wrote alone. He starred as Richie Rich, a clapped out actor of negligible talent, with Planer as his alcoholic agent and Edmondson as his drifting, violent minder. It aired in early 1987, six months after The Young Ones had reunited for a day’s recording for Comic Relief alongside Cliff Richard, but, despite good reviews and strong figures, the BBC didn’t touch it again. Every time he was subsequently asked how come, Mayall would always say: “I don’t know why – that is, I genuinely don’t know why – it wasn’t seen as a success.” Certainly his character retained some of Rick’s infantile self-obsession but, befitting the self-indulgence of showbiz life Elton intended to satirise. Planer’s character of Ralph Filthy proved he was a proper actor, and often he stole the show. Yet it never floated the BBC’s boat, and it has still to be repeated terrestrially, took years to come out on video, and is only occasionally spotted on digital channels.

                Although there was always little affinity with Mayall’s characters, there was something pitiable about them that made them hard to hate. His next creation, however, was quite the opposite. Having bumped into Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran at a promo event, and admired their work as writers of Shine On Harvey Moon, he asked, nay instructed, them to create a sitcom for him. The result was The New Statesman, based in the House of Commons in which Mayall’s character, Conservative MP Alan B’Stard, trod a fine line between believable malevolence and his love of the slapstick. He wanted 20 laughs per page; if he got 15, he’d create the other five himself just from a gesture, a sneer or a chuckle, all now guaranteed comic tools in Mayall’s armoury. B’Stard was appalling; the programme was ITV’s best sitcom since Rising Damp and there hasn’t been a better one on the network since. During the same period, Mayall reprised the character on the BBC for a Comic Relief skit (“Cor, bloody hell, Cecil Parkinson and a whip!”) and narrated George’s Marvellous Medicine for Jackanory, with parents missing the point completely when they complained to the BBC about it being “frightening” and “chaotic.”

                "Doink! Bang! Doink! Bang!"When Mayall and Edmondson reunited for Bottom in 1992, a sitcom of squalor and physical humour that again exceeded boundaries of realism, it was like coming home. The characters – jobless ne’er do wells who share a Hammersmith flat and can live neither with nor without each other – were variations on their personas in The Young Ones but without a satirical eye. This time there was nobody in society to poke fun at; it was about the two of them, with little help from others, conceiving their own grimy little world ridden with desperation, bad puns, sexual inadequacy, outlandish violence and intentionally over-elaborate twists. Mayall was the frustrated, gloomy misanthrope who revelled in occasional victories of wit over Edmondson’s character, as useless as his counterpart but more worldly-wise, clever and with an unmatchable capacity for drink.

                The show was Mayall’s finest as a post-alternative performer; the scripts didn’t always hit every height going but he exploded into the television screen with every wild scream of terror, evil guffaw or pompous bit of uninformed lecturing. This was the firebrand comic colossus he had always been, but this time he was being nothing more. The Young Ones gave him activism; Filthy, Rich & Catflap gave him satire; The New Statesman gave him a sinister side; Bottom gave him, very simply, licence to act like a child and be very, very funny with it. It is repeated more often than any of its predecessors.

                There were some whiffy moments, mainly in longer productions. Drop Dead Fred, where he played the imaginary friend of an adult had concocted in childhood, was totally panned. Guest House Paradiso, a Bottom spin-off, was jokeless and directionless. The modern Comic Strip efforts, such as Four Men In A Car, were disappointing, although Mayall’s spoof adoration of Gold by Spandau Ballet after finding it on a cheap compilation CD he’d bought at a service station was enjoyably cruel. But in making some clunky choices, he wasn’t alone.

                On stage, it was better – anyone who viewed a Bottom video or attended one of the many live shows will tell you that while the script was funny, the ad-libs and corpsing – Mayall was always more prone to that than Edmondson – would leave people fearing for their constitutions through laughter. Their comfort in performing together and trusting one another when stuff went awry was never more prominent, and it made them all the more loveable. And when Marks and Gran relaunched The New Statesman as a stage production, with B’Stard as a New Labour convert and fresh scripts each week to keep it topical, he was in his element – though again, the biggest laughs were reserved for his bouts of forgetfulness – brought on by the infamous quad bike crash in 1998 which left him technically dead for five days – and occasional turns to the audience to moan about the one-way system in whichever city they were in.

                Edmondson’s desire to become slightly more befitting of a man in his 50s brought their partnership to an end a decade ago, and while he did BBC dramas and an ITV documentary series about Yorkshire, Mayall was forced to find his own new direction, and he too took on serious roles, while also clowning around as a narrator and on adverts, most notably sponsor bumpers on digital channels for Bombardier ale.

                The death of Rik Mayall could be the first one that makes the Cream-era audience consider its own mortality. If we were old enough to remember him when he was 22 and affecting a ludicrous Birmingham accent while investigating sex (“I did find out that eating aphrodisiacs make you violently sick”), we’re now old enough to wonder when our own time will come, given that 56 is such a ludicrously young age to lose him, or anyone. For a drama student whose initial self-appointed brief was to make his own telly (“If there’s nothing on for you, you make it yourself”), he achieved so much.

                The body of work he leaves behind is considerable; the adoration he attracted from pretty much everyone who watched him as a kid will remain undimmed. The influence he had on the whole shift in comic thinking, however, as comedians got cleverer, sillier and more politically aware, is probably impossible to put into words. He died once in The Young Ones (and tried to commit suicide another time) and a few times in Bottom (fell off a Ferris wheel via a ghostly hand, shot by “A-squad”, among others) but always came back for more.

                That he won’t do this time isn’t just tragic, it feels very final for all of us.

                See post

                Rik Mayall (with a silent P): 1958-2014

                Posted in Posted in Blog | 4 Comments »

                Rik Mayall, RIP
                “Hands up who likes me.”

                TV Cream’s hands are up and waving. And we’re wailing at the news the unkillable (cos he came back from the dead) Rik Mayall is no more. A seminal comedy star who, if you’re anything like us, pretty much defined the kind of things you found funny, has gone. And much too early.

                Hopefully we’ll put together something a bit more fulsome soon. But until then, here’s something he said to TV Cream in 2013 about being 55.

                Being in your mid-fifties is not… it doesn’t hold. When we’re in our twenties we’re thinking, “Fuck, I don’t want to be 50, I don’t want to be 60!” I’ve got good mates now who are in their sixties. I’ve always been ever so slightly younger, just two or three years younger than the guys in my gang and I didn’t have a problem with the male menopause in my forties, which a lot of guys do. They think, “I’m getting a bit of a paunch, I’m going a bit bald, I’m not as interesting as I used to be, I get a bit tired and I’ve got to give up smoking and not drink so much”. They get the blues. I didn’t get that because I was off my head – I’d had my brain smashed in [by a quad-biking accident in 1998]. I was just trying to think properly, so by the time…

                No, I’m making a big deal of it. No, I was fine! I was just glad not to be dead. So I was pretty happy to be alive, no matter what. And then 50 comes along and I think, “Hey, I’m really glad I’ve grown up now. God, I’m a grown-up now! I’m a fucking grown-up!” The power! It’s like being a baaaad headmaster. “Yeaaah! Look at my knob!” or rather, “Look at me, I’m 55 and happy”.

                Rik Mayall was just 56. RIP, Rik.

                See post

                TV Cream’s perfect Eurovision line-up

                Posted in Posted in Blog | 13 Comments »

                TVC's Eurovision pick!
                It’s Eurovision Song Contest time again, those few days when Britain, which has offered up a few useful pop acts over the years, tells itself it’s hopeless at music. Being “so b*d it’s g**d” means it’s become an epicentre of common knowledge cliches and assumptions, all of which are false.

                Taking breakaway eastern European states out of the voting for the last few years would have made no difference to the winner, Katie Boyle hasn’t been directly involved since 1974, “nul points” is never said because the hosts only tend to read out the scores of the leaders (and even if they did they’d say “no points”, and were they to then read it in French they’d say “zéro point”) and most of those nonsensical entries know exactly what they’re doing. On this last point see under Austria’s Boom Boom Boomerang from 1977, only mentioned now to mock the lyrics and the back-to-front costumes even though both were intended as mockery. We only believe the UK is the sole arbiter of comedic intent because Wogan kept telling us so, when in fact Britain’s reluctance to offer anything other than plain seriousness is usually its downfall, especially that year Scooch were entered because they were “camp”, at which the rest of Europe put its metaphorical hands on its hips and just stared at us slowly shaking their heads as you would at someone who gets the wrong bit of the joke. Oh, and Dustin The Turkey didn’t get past the semi-final stage.

                Back in the Creamup days we’ve covered A Song For Europe and the TV and radio coverage, so this time we’re offering TVC’s dream Eurovision line-up – a set of the songs we most like, one per country from the most regular entrants, all from the Cream Era. It may not be entirely representative of an average Eurovision final’s range, largely because of a no big ballads policy, but it’s what Eurovision should be about to us. Find our choices the other side of the reprise of the 1977 winner with gallery talkback from the Beeb’s Stewart Morris. Just as long as the caption roller works everything will be fine.

                Austria!AUSTRIA: Mess – Sonntag (1982)
                Perhaps Eurovision’s least possessingly named band were a perky boy-girl duo of the type we’ll see again later in this selection, and indeed in this year. Upbeat isn’t the half of it with the naggingly familiar refrain which sees our pair engage in a full leg-kicking routine. The female half wore a pink puffball skirt, as would soon become standard for such jaunty singers.
                Belgium!BELGIUM: Telex – Euro-Vision (1980)
                Country attempts self-effacing irony in its selection; Eurovision world look upon their work quizzically and give it a pointed post-performance pause and total of fourteen points. The trio do have external form – they’d appeared on Top Of The Pops a year earlier with a robotic slo-mo deconstruction of Rock Around The Clock literally a month before the Flying Lizards’ slo-mo rock’n’roll deconstructivism became a hit instead, and they’d later work with Sparks and remix the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode. As for this evening the introductory photos of the band with a fisherman kind of set the scene, the very deliberate anti-performance polishing it off. “Are you sure Telex took part in the Eurovision? Can you prove it?” asks the FAQ of their website. You have to say they’ve got a point.
                Cyprus!CYPRUS: Alexia – Aspro Mavro (1987)
                Surprisingly few attempts to take on the Fairlight and wipe-clean Motown aping of the mid-80s but here’s a fine example, big note into the last chorus and truck driver’s key change present and correct through a singer who appears from her makeup and earrings to be auditioning for an uncast role in Bread. Apparently it’s about “a girl remembering a man she saw on a train but only being able to bring the memory back by playing on the piano”, however that works. And for those wondering, Chain Reaction was first released two years earlier.
                Denmark!DENMARK: Brixx – Video Video (1982)
                Very culturally on-message – he’s got both Humphrey Bogart *and* Wimbledon on his tape! Imagine the possibilities when he discovered Long Play. Something as set in the worlds of LE and schlager as Eurovision was going to find new wave difficult but this wouldn’t shame New Musik, though you get the impression the singer in his Richard Keys-like bright yellow jacket is lacking the space to really let loose. Confused by his purple skinny tie, the judges awarded it five points, only finishing in front of…
                Finland!FINLAND: Kojo – Nuku Pommiin (1982)
                Nul No points! Which is a shame, as despite wanting to be the early Sting Kojo also seems to be working that new wave demographic, albeit through a BA Robertson prism. One could also point to it sharing an anti-nukes message with the winner, Nicole’s A Little Peace, though you’d have to ignore the later released English translation revealing the lyrics to include “if someone throws some nuclear poo here on our Europe, what will you say when we get all the filth on our faces?” If nothing else congratulations in order to Kojo for getting Elvis Costello to play keyboards and massive bass drum.
                France!FRANCE: Profil – Hé, hé M’sieurs dames (1980)
                Self-explanatory title, barely comprehensible song by five singers sporting rainbow flashes as if they’re some kind of lightweight, non-threatening superhero team (The Fey-vengers?). Likeably light and vaguely sunshine harmonic, like something that would have classed up a 3-2-1 performance spot or PS It’s Paul Squires. All of which – and we shouldn’t really have to explain this – are a very good thing indeed.
                West Germany!(WEST) GERMANY: Dschinghis Khan – Dschinghis Khan (1979)
                Let us pay tribute to Ralph Siegel, writer of 21 Eurovision entrants between 1974 and 2013 ranging from A Little Peace to the magnificently uncoordinated Les Humphries Singers. More than that let us pay tribute to his masterwork, the band named after and here singing in tribute to Genghis Khan (in Israel!), featuring three of the scariest looking men you’ll ever see, including one Louis Potgieter and his beard in what can only be described as the Bobby Farrell role. Dschinghis Khan actually parlayed this into a five year career encompassing an Australian number one single and the actively remarkable Rocking Son Of Dschinghis Khan, which features perhaps pop’s greatest ever opening rhyme.
                Greece!GREECE: Anna Vissi and The Epikouri – Autostop (1980)
                Vissi would go on to perform at the 2004 Olympic opening ceremony and release the best selling Greece album of the 00s, none of which is obvious from her first attempt at international reach. No matter how many times they repeat it there’s no rhythm to that title and maybe in hijacking the comedy trombone sound it does sound a little too much like a comedic idea of a Eurovision entry but we like how it signposts the jauntiness of the chorus with prominent xylophone and how the Epikouri are clearly working twice as hard as Vissi.
                Iceland!ICELAND: ICY – Gleðibankinn (1986)
                The country’s first ever Eurovision entry, the band name an ABBA-like acronym rather than too knowing. Possesses about three choruses, a middle eight where a chorus should be and a first verse that sounds like the greatest synth sound Hue & Cry never found. Wardrobe: Bobby Davro as showbiz ringmaster. Translation of that title: ‘The Bank of Fun’ – which sounds like a great, lost Madness hit.
                Israel!ISRAEL: HaBatlanim – Shir Habatlanim (1987)
                Or as Tel obligingly translates the title, ‘Lazy Bums’. It kind of progresses from there, sadly losing something in fuller English translation. The one on the right went on to host the country’s version of Dancing With The Stars. Together they are a “joyful association of two actors,” apparently. Begins with the one of the left humming something that sounds reminiscent of ‘Happy Birthday’.
                Italy!ITALY: Mia Martini – Libera (1977)
                Ms Martini was one of Italy’s biggest selling artists at the time, so presumably didn’t just shout the chorus all the time. This is here as a fine example of how the live orchestra tried to get the hang of the early days of pop-disco around this time, producing dramatic flourishes and some vigorous rhythm work towards the end. Curiously she seems to have insisted on jeans all round for the backing singers.
                Luxembourg!LUXEMBOURG: Baccara – Parlez-Vous Français? (1978)
                The Grand Duchy haven’t been involved in Eurovision since 1994, maybe because they ran out of other countries’ singers they could temporarily claim as their own, including Nana Mouskouri, Plastic Bertrand, France Gall (with a Serge Gainsbourg song), Vicky Leandros and the colour-coded Spanish boogieing/lady-apologising duo with a song written by their usual composers. Here they have a little chat about pulling in France.
                Monaco!MONACO: Laurent Vaguener – Notre Vie C’est La Musique (1979)
                The principality’s last entry until 2004 was another attempt at evoking the joy of disco through low-rent TV orchestras, our man moving his head around far too much as he lists the types of music he likes (“Crazy or romantic”, anybody? How about “Fantastic or nostalgic”? No?). Someone needs to sort that bass synth sound out.
                Netherlands!NETHERLANDS: Teach-In – Ding-A-Dong (1975)
                A traditional target for ‘nonsense lyrics lol’ critiques but it’s no Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley where the stupid bit is put in for the sake of it, that’s what we say. Partially written by Danny Mirror of I Remember Elvis Presley infamy, surely that’s a deliberate Stevie Wonder reference in the first line. Also notable, the pre-phone voting method through which Dutch TV chose their candidate. We wouldn’t like to think of the tiebreaker had the result been much closer.
                Norway!NORWAY: Sverre Kjelsberg & Mattis Hætta – Sámiid Ædnan (1980)
                Not sure what to think of this idea from 1980 of getting someone from the country’s broadcaster (we sent Noel) to pitch for each song in advance. Sámiid Ædnan was intended as political, a tribute to the freedom movement among the Sami people of northern Norway and referring to a hunger strike by Sami activists in front of the Norwegian parliament building. Their representative makes for quite the mood shift after the dramatic build of Kjelsberg’s part.
                Portugal!PORTUGAL: Carlos Paiao – Playback (1981)
                Despite its live instrumentation rules Eurovision isn’t strictly the best audience to air your anti-miming treatise to but full marks to Dave Gorman’s stunt double for trying, and for those ‘robot backing dancers’ interludes. Like someone heard the postmodern nature of new wave but got it crucially wrong.
                Ireland!REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Sheeba - Horoscopes (1981)
                How to follow Johnny Logan’s 1980 winner? With a cabaret female vocal group in glittery shower curtains singing about how rubbish following the stars is prior to ending up as the chorus vocalists on Name That Tune. “Believe in the truth and not celestial lies” is an ear catching lyric, though surely the truth has already happened and horoscopes refer by nature to the future?
                Spain!SPAIN: Salome – Vivo Cantando (1969)
                One of the year’s four joint winners, introducing both over-fringing and on the spot shimmying to the art of Eurovision performance. We admire the way it considers being a lovelorn ballad and then gets over itself.
                Sweden!SWEDEN: Tomas Ledin – Just Nu! (1980)
                The celebrated Melodifestivalen’s offering, by a protege of Abba’s who had had a solo spot when they played Wembley Arena, almost lets itself down with its self-consciously hard rock guitar sound, rescued by it generally sounding like arena rock in an airless vacuum. Watch before the second verse for the moment Ledin realises the cord has fallen out of the back of the mike, which he subsequently makes up for with some assured lounging.
                Switzerland!SWITZERLAND: Peter, Sue & Marc and Pfuri, Gorps & Kniri – Trödler und Co (1979)
                It’s worth their crediting all those names as a wholesome vocal trio do battle with some men and their junkyard contraptions, like Peter, Paul & Mary with Roger Ruskin Spear.
                Turkey!TURKEY: Burak Aydos - Esmer Yarim (1993)
                Songs that can’t decide what they really are seem to get a good hearing on this list. Here, Aydos and colleagues have heard Primal Scream’s Movin’ On Up and are doing it wrongly, on purpose, on a tight budget, after listening to nothing but early new romantic singles for a month. The saxophonist particularly makes the most of his time in the spotlight.
                United Kingdom!UNITED KINGDOM: Bardo - One Step Further (1982)
                Tel and Ray Moore building their parts there. To pick out one shining example amid the myriad ways the UK have got it slightly wrong we return to Harrogate and Jan Leeming’s headband once more. This was John Peel’s favourite Eurovision entry ever apparently, and Neil Tennant sang their praises in ver Hits. Sally-Ann Triplett off Crackerjack and Stephen Fischer, who’d been offered a place in Bucks Fizz but was contracted to Godspell at the time, shared a manager and producer with ver Fizz and were pre-show favourites but made a right hash of the live vocal and finished seventh. At least the tight choreography was on point with the orchestra adding some attractingly frantic percussion.
                Yugoslavia!YUGOSLAVIA: Tajci – Hajde Da Ludujemo (1990)
                Representing the participant diaspora, because there are research limits. Like Bardo, Tajci went in to bat for the hosts only to finish seventh. Europe, you just weren’t ready for the Croatian Wendy James.
                See post

                An A-Z of BBC2’s first 50 years

                Posted in Posted in Blog | 5 Comments »


                TV Cream offers its own string of bunting to be hung at BBC2’s 50th birthday party: a courageous* inventory of what we rate to be the channel’s defining stars, scars, flaps and flops of its first half-century.

                *In the Jim Hacker sense

                A is for…

                "Ah dear, Pollicks, you have pressed too soon"

                “Ah dear, Pollicks, you have pressed too soon”

                Acka Raga

                Signature tune to Ask the Family. A touch creepy, vaguely over-familiar yet damned impossible to forget. Welcome to BBC2.

                Apocalypse Wow

                One of a number of fucking atrocious episode titles to crop up during the otherwise unimpeachable This Life, along with The Bi Who Came In From The Cold, Milly Liar and Wish You Were Queer. Utterly sublime theme tune by The Way Out, lest we forget.

                Armchair shepherds

                Fans of One Man and His Dog who tartly brushed the creases from their Rohan-trousered form to stand as one in protest when the show was axed as a regular series in 1999 after 23 years. Their complaints resonated with as much volume as a dog whistle.

                David Attenborough

                Danced cheek-to-cheek with Joan Bakewell around the BBC TV Centre doughnut after a particularly lively edition of Late Night Line-up. Controller of BBC2 1965-69.

                B is for…

                ‘Bear in mind I’ve given you a lot of machines’

                Sir Jim’ll shows Louis Theroux his own version of a top-down reorganisation of the NHS. This was the year 2000, and it was all there, in plain, spangly-suited sight.

                Best logo in the history of television

                This one.

                New balls

                “They’re competing for the Joe Davis decanter”

                Black and White Rag

                Hectic honky tonk whose octave-tickling cut through any living room melee like a snooker cue through butter to announce the arrival of perennial ratings-rescuer Pot Black.

                ‘But this was a fantasy’

                Catchphrase of documentary-maker and clippage-cobbler Adam Curtis, usually detonated immediately after a sequence of a Cold War politician gesticulating, a posh woman buying a frock and a giant reel of computer tape rotating first one way then the other, all to the sound of The New Vaudeville Band.

                C is for…

                Cardboard box

                Collapsible cuboid tossed at Brian Cant and other drama graduates by Play School leaderene Joy Whitby with the command: “Now row out at sea”. A recruitment policy recently revived at London Live.


                Star turn of BBC2’s opening night. Snuffed it 24 hours later.

                The theme from The Carpetbaggers

                Breath-stealingly cool slice of jazz funk, whose farting brass and braying horns are forever associated by at least one generation with Sunday evening teatime and Valerie Singleton trying to make stagflation and consumer protection sound sexy on The Money Programme.

                ‘Chutney! Let’s do it! Let’s get on with it!’

                Condiment-infused battle cry from the first (and best) series of The Apprentice.

                D is for…

                Desmond’s Weepies

                Mocking but accurate nickname for documentary series Man Alive, thanks to the proclivity of the titular Wilcox for poking his lens into the mucky tear-smeared face of a provincial down-and-out.

                "He appointed Jill Chance general manager"

                “He appointed Jill Chance general manager”

                Did You See?

                what we did there?

                Doogy rev

                Catchphrase from, and description of, The Adventure Game.

                Dr Who

                Often to be seen on BBC2 in various states of undress, sometimes half-clothed (Peter Davidson in A Very Peculiar Practice), sometimes with arse on display (Tom Baker in The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil, Matt Smith in Christopher and His Kind), though you’d have to retune to BBC4 to see it ALL on display (Christopher Eccleston in Lennon Naked).

                E is for…


                Hapless ovoid in need of weekly transportation, usually but not exclusively involving pipe cleaners.

                F is for…


                Alex Mitchell, 50, who died from laughing too much during an episode of The Goodies in 1975.

                "Bom-bommm, bom-bom, bom-bommmm"

                “Bom-bommm, bom-bom, bom-bommmm”

                Floating neon bottle

                You want one image that sums up the entire 50 years of BBC2? This is it.

                Food and drink

                Chilli chutney sandwiches (Red Dwarf), soggy leeks (Butterflies), oranges (…Are Not The Only Fruit), Bollinger (Absolutely Fabulous), scotch eggs (I’m Alan Partridge), turnips (Threads), waldorf salads (Fawlty Towers), livers (The Body in Question).

                Food and Drink

                Taught the nation how to sniff wine, grope fish, finger cauliflower and burnish tarts. Anything but consume the fucking things, basically.

                Fry and Laurie arriving at BBC Television Centre

                What’s not to love?


                G is for…

                Gargantuan personal dining room

                What Aubrey Singer converted his new office annexe into while BBC2 controller from 1974-78. “It’s not my personal dining room,” he insisted to junior colleagues. “I don’t want that appearing in Private Eye.”


                Best bit of Working Lunch (yes, even better than you, Chiles).


                Musical fancy trilled by Cook and Moore at the conclusion of each episode of Not Only… But Also…, and sarcastic salutation of BBC mandarins when ordering the archived destruction thereof.

                Green peppers

                Far and away the coolest of the two vegetable-themed giant-sized cards waved by the adjudicating audience at the conclusion of every edition of Ready Steady Cook.

                H is for…

                Janice Hadlow

                Liked “intelligent pleasure” but was “not opposed to romping”. BBC2 controller 2008-14.

                "Yeah, you go an' all... Maria... MARIA!"

                “Yeah, you go an’ all… Maria… MARIA!”

                An hour

                What The Bureau was closed for.

                Hullabaloo and Custard

                Two cartoon kangaroos that were the original BBC2 logo. Axed by David Attenborough, who called them “demented”.

                I is for…


                What Claudius was.

                ‘I can’t believe there’s no hope’

                Peter Kerrigan’s death-rattle lament for Liverpool at the end of Boys From The Blackstuff.

                ‘It was a maaaad year!’

                Britt Ekland discharging the exposition in I Love 1971.

                ‘I’ve got a story to tell you – it’s all about spies’

                Hwyel Bennett discharging the exposition in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.


                What everyone tried to “trace-route” in Attachments.

                J is for…

                Michael Jackson

                Used to cut up issues of Radio Times as a child. Turned up late to meetings as he thought “that was what a channel controller ought to do”. BBC2 controller 1992-96.

                K is for…

                Roly Keating

                Had to go into hiding with security protection after Jerry Springer: the Opera in 2005. BBC2 controller 2004-08.

                Kinda lingers

                Fourway kiss-off from Not The Nine O’Clock News.

                L is for…

                Last thing at night

                Still a slot crying out for a topical, daily, witty, must-see show. Late Night Line-up was almost it. The Late Show wasn’t late enough.


                Likely stories

                Forever bobbing to the surface of the BBC2 schedule cauldron like a skittish apple, you can trace this genre all the way back to the eponymous Lads, through Yes Minister, Colin’s Sandwich and Coogan’s Run to The Trip and Inside No 9.

                M is for…

                Graeme McDonald

                Needed a medical doctor to help him prepare for a press conference. BBC2 controller 1982-87.

                Bob Monkhouse chatting to comics in a pretend front parlour

                Possibly the finest Monday night alternative to Panorama ever.

                N is for…

                "And I know that your next band is Altern-8!"

                “And I know that your next band is Altern-8!”


                Aka Norman Anderson, sometime Mr Janet Street-Porter, and the trendiest man ever to appear on BBC2. Dance Energy was also the liveliest thing ever to appear on the channel, while Dance Energy House Party – direct from inside your man’s titular crib – the most preposterous. Never dull, always entertaining, frequently unmissable. To whom else could the nation turn for a guide to the correct way to do a 1990-era handshake? Let arf!

                O is for…


                Remit-filling last resort. This fat lady has sung more times than a chorus in a Glenn Medeiros fade-out, including at least two complete multi-week performances of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Aubrey Singer’s Opera Month, Mike Smith attempting to popularise recitatives in The Opera Roadshow, and Jeremy Isaacs almost bringing down The House.

                Overblown tart

                Paul Merton’s favourite description of Princess Diana on Have I Got News For You pre-1997. All these episodes are now buried underneath Television Centre along with all the Jim’ll editions of Top of the Pops.

                P is for…

                Michael Peacock

                Convinced the nation that spaghetti grows on trees. BBC2 controller 1963-65.


                ‘The prime minister now stands to speak’

                Sample BBC commentary on Westminster Live during the early years of the televising of the House of Commons. This was also when, like Elvis, you couldn’t show MPs below the waist.

                Puddle of blood

                Sprayed across the studio floor at Television Centre after Vivian Stanshall cut his hand on a glass of Bloody Mary during a Christmas episode of Up Sunday.

                "We have... to touch people..."

                “Into this pond were flushed four million people…”

                Puddle of mud

                The most important thing BBC2 has ever broadcast.

                R is for…

                Jane Root

                Described her favourite programmes as “culture snacks” from “the edges of life”. BBC2 controller 1998-2004.

                S is for…


                Turn up on BBC2 with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season. First came the never-ending Forsytes, all black-and-white bodices and clicking teeth. The Pallisers tried to repeat the trick in colour but flopped. Then came The Borgias (“They got nipples together”) and The Cleopatras with Richard Griffiths in drag. Our Friends in the North and In a Land of Plenty rescued the format, but Gormenghast wrecked everything and now nobody’s got any money. What a saga.

                Saturday nights devoted to seasons of subtitled films or Amnesty International concerts

                BBC2 c. 1987-92 (see Alan Yentob)

                Robin Scott

                Co-writer of Ruby Murray’s 1955 number one, Softly Softly. Real name Robin Scutt. BBC2 controller 1969-74.


                Subject of a gargantuan dose of doublet and hose by way of the Beeb’s Bardathon from 1978-85, during which adaptations of every single play were shown on BBC2. A very mixed endeavour. About the only consistent things were the straw on studio floors and close-ups to disguise the fact the sets looked crap. The Shakespeare in Perspective spin-off shows were better, with the likes of George Melly, Clive James, Dennis Potter and Barry Took doing chipper “study guides” designed to appeal to sitcom characters played by Penelope Wilton.

                Silent piano

                Star of Face the Music.


                Number of English towns visited by Alec Clifton-Taylor; number of wives taken by Henry VIII.



                Any BBC2 programme in the 1960s with these numbers in its title meant you were in for a treat. Jazz 625 was pretty much the channel’s first proper hit, and still looks ace today. Theatre 625 was BBC2’s “alternative” to 30 Minute Theatre, where Nigel Kneale, Alun Owen and John Hopkins could run amok with scarves, sauce and socialism.

                Staggering stories

                …of depressed pandas, recalcitrant popes, pontificating pilots, sex, old women, Soviet politicians, toffs, drugs, English villages, housewives, working class oiks, mad medics, rock’n’roll, boffins, Ronald Reagan… and Ferdinand de Bargos. Look: a Ukip parody!

                Janet Street-Porter

                First person rung up by Alan Yentob after he was made BBC2 controller. DEF II and Normski (qv) was the result.

                T is for…

                "...But no one was available for interview."

                “…But no one was available for interview.”


                Home of Newsnight, now and forever. Probably.

                Theme nights

                The best thing about bank holidays in the early 1990s. Top five: TV Hell; Granadaland; Goodbye to Lime Grove; One Day in the 60s; Radio Night.

                Mark Thompson

                Axed This Life because he didn’t understand it. Sold BBC Television Centre. Owns a solid gold house. BBC2 controller 1996-98.

                A tree

                What Bob Peck got turned into at the end of Edge of Darkness.

                Tuesday Term

                Centrepiece of Michael Peacock’s daffy Seven Faces of the Week idea for the inaugural BBC2 schedule. Tough shit if Tuesday was your night for babysitting duties: you’d a whole evening of educational series for company. You should’ve picked Thursday: an entire night of shows about obscure hobbies.

                U is for…

                University of the air

                Original name for the Open University, as dreamed up by Harold Wilson.

                V is for…

                Video diary

                One part tedious, two parts terrific strand of do-our-job-for-us programming that threaded its way through the early 90s, both as full-length documentaries and five-minute snapshots. Swearing, homelessness, drinking, posh people and yoofs abounded. Major’s Britain as full-colour Canon fodder.

                W is for…


                Responsible for two multi-part, multi-cameo blockbusters documentaries, both of which were only just over by Christmas: The Great War and Cold War. See also The World at War, nicked off Thames for a repeat run in the 1990s, and recent stellar-cast-list sit-and-chats on Yugoslavia, Israel and Iraq.

                Take or leave it as you please

                “We’ve had 12 straight hours of meatball surgery!”

                Wednesday evening, 9pm

                “…it’s time for this week’s episode of M*A*S*H.”

                Brian Wenham

                Fond of wearing a raincoat and lying on his desk. BBC2 controller 1978-82.


                A character in Live and Let Die who gets squashed by an inflatable sofa; a particularly awkward type of lunch endured by Larry David and Richard Lewis; and a presentational decibel level popularised by Bob Harris.

                Windmill Road

                Former home of the BBC archives, which gave half its name to the original – and best – of the Beeb’s bran tubs of old clippage, brusquely hosted by a freshly de-Rantzenised Chris Serle.

                The world

                …specifically, About Us. More specifically, about us on Kodachrome given a spit and polish up by BBC Bristol.

                Worst logo in the history of television

                This one.

                X is for…


                Well, it was this or xylophone. Often self-evident in Moviedrome, crepuscular film slot introduced by first Alex Cox then Mark Cousins.

                Y is for…

                Alan Yentob

                Inordinately fond of rewriting Radio Times billings. Inordinately not fond of Eldorado. BBC2 controller 1987-92.


                Z is for…


                Spy satellite, subject of an episode of the 1987 documentary series Secret Society that was notoriously pulled from air just before transmission after [sentence redacted following issue of a government D-notice on grounds of unsubtle satirical purposes]

                See post

                In pictures: the launch of BBC2

                Posted in Posted in Blog | No Comments »

                When the BBC’s first television channel launched in 1936, the world had yet to cotton on to the value of photographing interesting things.

                By 1964, the likes of Hitler and Cliff Richard had made cameras very fashionable indeed, so it was no surprise that the Beeb invited scores of shutterbugs along to the launch of its second television channel, scheduled for 20 April.

                Sure enough, some fantastic pictures got taken. They were published in loads of newspapers, almost certainly meaning more people saw photos about the launch of BBC2 than saw the actual launch on their TV set: a trend that continues to this day (hello, London Live).

                Here are a few of those pictures: all genuine, all fascinating (admittedly for contrasting reasons), and all very… well, BBC2ish.

                1. 14 April 1964

                Just under one week to launch, and BBC2 controller Michael Peacock (far right) holds a meeting in his office. Standing up and taking the minutes is Peacock’s secretary, Yvonne Homan. No chair for her. Giving Peacock the evil eye is Roger Greenwood, assistant head of BBC TV presentation. Leaning awkwardly is the other assistant head of presentation, Rowan Ayers. Sprawled on top of the desk clutching his shin is their boss, head of presentation Rex Moorfoot. Also present: a map on the wall showing the tiny number of people who’ll actually be able to see BBC2 when it launches; lots of untidy in-trays; a bulldog clip; and – look out! – a 3D model of the BBC2 “logo”: a kangaroo named Hullabaloo (seen here saluting fascistically) and her baby, Custard (pointing out the fact Yvonne has no chair).

                "And what time will the power go off again?"

                2. 19 April 1964

                Rehearsing the launch. Peacock is in the studio in Television Centre that will be the hub of the night’s programmes; the person he’s gesticulating towards is not known. Behind him is one of the “faces” of the launch, Pamela Donald. She seems to be talking to Oliver Hardy: undoubtedly a coup for the launch of any TV channel, particularly one taking to the air seven years after Hardy’s death.

                "Who invited Oliver Hardy?"

                3. 20 April 1964

                It’s launch day, and time for Pamela to get her hair done. The hairdressers don’t seem best pleased. Perhaps they’ve just looked at Radio Times and seen the channel won’t actually show anything interesting until 1967.

                Some of the "highlights"

                4. 20 April 1964

                Oh no! There’s been a power cut and the whole channel has fallen off the air before it’s even begun. Peacock sits in the gloom with only his candles, a cigarette and a polystyrene cup from the canteen for company.

                Snuffed it

                 5. 21 April 1964

                Hurrah! 24 hours later than planned, Peacock and his missus Daphne sit in his office and watch the launch night finally get broadcast. Here they’re enjoying – if placing your forefinger on your chin can be called enjoying – a production of Cole Porter’s stage musical Kiss Me Kate, starring Howard Keel and Patricia Morrison. It’s not known if they stuck around for what came later: a comedian from the Soviet Union, and a man doing an impersonation of David Jacobs.

                On the air - finally


                5 March 1965

                Fast forward a year and BBC2 has been a flop. Peacock gets booted over to BBC1 and replaced with good-natured naturalist David Attenborough. Here they are, doing their best to look like this was how things were meant to turn out all along, together with (far left) Huw Wheldon, controller of BBC television, and (far right) Kenneth Adam, the, er, director of BBC television. Whatever their respective responsibilities, one of them at least knows how to arrange a good vase of tulips. Hullabaloo and Custard have been killed.

                The BBC: an equal opportunities employer

                See post

                The Burst of Creamup

                Posted in Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »

                The Burst of Creamup


                That was Derek Griffiths downing a celebratory glass of Vimto as the printing press whirls on The Burst of Creamup! What is The Burst of Creamup? It’s a 139-page compendium of bits from TV Cream’s mostly dead ‘e-mag’, bits sent out to readers over 92 progs between 2001 and 2008.

                As Creamup was the work of various folk, all contributing for free, this vanity-press, perfect-bound book is being offered via Lulu at a no-profit margin price of £2.94 (plus their p&p charge). Yes, if you make a purchase, you can rest assured not even Steve Berry is making any money. Here’s the link to buy it on Lulu.

                However, you might not even want to do that. You might just want to download the whole thing for free right now in PDF format. And you’re very welcome to do so. It’s 8 meg in size and the link (tell your friends, tell your enemies, tells Marksplace) is: www.tvcream.co.uk/creamup/book.pdf

                Hope you enjoy the thing – and a huge thanks to all Creamup contributors and readers over the years. Tim “TJ” Worthington is, right now, working on a summer special…

                With that chilling thought left hanging, below is a Lulu preview of the book. Don’t be put off by the seemingly terrible resolution here, though. We can assure you in reality it is lovely.

                See post