The six worst Christmas Radio Times covers

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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 deeply dislike.

We’ve spared you this year’s effort. You’ll have seen enough of it by now, and besides it’s almost identical to last year, which counts as laziness not calculated distaste. Unlike what follows:

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

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The six best Christmas Radio Times covers

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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 this year’s Christmas Radio Times cover is so poor, so throat-narrowing, colon-clenching, Scrooge-besting poor, you have to wonder just what the magazine has been up to these 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

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26) “I don’t do French, I do woodwork!”

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Chrissie swims the Channel, January 1985

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“Dark” comedy was something that seemed to be invented at some point in the last decade, with the likes of Julia Davis and Ricky Gervais aiming to unsettle as much as amuse, but back in the eighties Victoria Wood was doing all that in the middle of primetime, and few comedy sketches have been both as hilarious and as sad as Chrissie’s attempt to swim the channel, as seen on TV on, er, As Seen On TV. In fact the sketch is also years ahead of its time in the way it sends up the conventions of the television documentary and its various artifices (we love the way her parents really awkwardly walk out of the front gate, clearly the last of several hundred takes). The forced banter and Chrissie’s bedroom (with its “Learn To Swim With The Daily Mirror” posters) are both absolutely perfect. The concept of an ambitious but deluded character ineptly aiming to complete an impossible feat is something that Wood portrayed quite frequently over the years but she did it so well, imbuing her characters with such warmth that you really feel for Chrissie even though she’s on screen for less than five minutes. This does mean that the whole thing is really quite bittersweet and at the end of it you feel quite melancholy, but there are loads of brilliant jokes in it before you get there – like the fact she constantly wears the swimming cap and her parents can’t remember how many children they have, which reminds us that it’s just a bit of daftness that isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. A lesser comedian would have expanded this over several minutes for several weeks, and hammered home the pathetic-ness of the participants, but Victoria Wood isn’t like other comedians.

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27) “I look slightly different!”

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It’s No-No-No-Noel’s Addicts, 28th September 1993

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Before you watch that, watch this, because this is a great example of a parody that’s now actually become more famous than the show it’s parodying. But as you can see, there was an actual Noel’s Addicts, which ran for one series in the summer of 1992 and involved Noel meeting people with ker-azy hobbies and interests. It’s only by seeing that you can appreciate how accurate the title sequence, theme tune and set are, though from the moment that “Noel” reverses onto the set in a body stocking not much else has much to do with reality. In fact the VHS of this series actually featured an introduction before Ken Taylor’s appearance (in which Noel addressed the audience as “boy scouts”) which might have made it a bit less mystifying, but regardless of whether you know what it’s parodying the whole sketch is among the silliest pieces of television ever made. That said, it does actually make some proper satirical points along the way, including Noel’s ridiculous overexaggerated laugh, his liking for a weak innuendo, the relishing of cock-ups and, of course, how he loves nothing more than to be “surprised” by his old friend DLT with a picture of him where he looks slightly different. In between we have two notable comic creations from Vic Reeves, including Chris Bell – a name the pair apparently spent ages pondering over to find the right kind of mundane name – who would make various other appearances on The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer to generally irritate people. But the star of the show is Noel himself, in an unforgettable costume – we love how he fiddles with one of its protrudences while walking across the set – with a completely bizarre accent. We don’t know what Noel made of it, but any offence would doubtless be countered by the fact it’s just plain bloody stupid – and that’s why it’s so great.

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28) “There’s no need to be afraid!”

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Band Aid’s one and only TV appearance, 25th December 1984

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It’s been suggested that this is the ultimate Top of the Pops performance in that it tries to amaze but falls ever so slightly short. There’s some truth in that but it’s a pretty memorable moment in any case, as it surely emphasises how important Top of the Pops was in the early eighties. 1984 was a huge year for pop in the UK, what with Frankie selling records by the truckloads and Ghostbusters and Last Christmas selling thousands and thousands of copies and not even getting to number one, and the Christmas Top of the Pops represented that with plenty of big names in attendance – and not just performing, either, but presenting too, as Michael Hurll had got fed up of the Radio 1 DJs whining about their role in the Christmas show so decided not to use any of them. Pops’ pulling power was such in those days that everyone wanted to appear on the Christmas show and so they decided, for the one and only time, to actually do a live performance of Do They Know It’s Christmas. Obviously logistics meant there were a few personnel changes from the record, most notoriously with Bono’s unavailability, while George Michael was ill, but it’s augmented by some new arrivals who were there for the show including Slade, sharing a stage with Sting, and, sneaking in on the end of the line, Black Lace. Regardless, it’s a fascinating document, watching Jim Diamond and Francis Rossi share a joke, Marilyn blow kisses to Glenn Gregory’s amusement, and Gary Kemp deciding to illustrate his musicianship by miming guitar. All a bit shambolic, maybe, but Top of the Pops, and specifically Top of the Pops under the auspices of Michael Hurll, is almost certainly the only TV show that could have done anything like this, and it’s incredible they even managed to get it all together. On Christmas Day 1984 this would have seemed to the average teenager the most amazing gathering of stars ever assembled – overshadowed a bit by Live Aid a few months later, maybe, but at least by being mimed, Simon Le Bon came out of this one with dignity intact.

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29) “That’s what I did last night, anyway, here’s Hawkwind!”

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Smashie and Nicey’s final appearance, 4th April 1994

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It’s been suggested that Smashie and Nicey was the only bit of satire that ever actually achieved anything, as you’d have to look hard these days to find any DJ banter that doesn’t have its tongue firmly in its cheek. In fact John Birt once thanked Harry Enfield for being responsible for changing the face of Radio 1, much to Enfield’s horror as he thought John Birt did far more damage to the Beeb than some “harmless” DJs. Regardless, though, the fact remains that Smashie and Nicey were absolutely brilliant comic creations, probably the best thing Enfield and Whitehouse have ever done, and the public got the point they were making immediately. Sadly their success meant that they could no longer continue as they managed to make the subject of their satire redundant (literally), so after the Bannister revolution at Radio 1, it was time for Radio Fab to clear out its schedules. Happily, their final appearance, in a 45-minute special, was an absolute triumph, brilliantly written, acted to perfection by two wonderfully talented performers and also technically amazing – moments like Nicey on Blue Peter or in the Deptford Draylons advert, and Smashie in Dixon of Dock Green look fantastic now, never mind nearly twenty years ago. There are so many great moments in it it’s almost impossible to choose, which is why we’ve alighted in the hilarious opening sequence where the pair just burble on about nothing in particular, our favourite being Nicey’s inept attempt to précis the plot of an episode of One Foot In The Grave. Like The Day Today, it’s hard for people who didn’t see it at the time to realise that this isn’t some standalone bit of silliness but a parody of an actual thing, so successful was it of making it look so stupid it couldn’t continue. But even if the topicality is no longer there, it remains one of the funniest pieces of television ever made.

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30) “We’ll let you know how this goes!”

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Si, Saz and Pete have some trouble with dogs, 20th January 1983

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Val, John and Pete have always been cited as the ultimate Blue Peter team, with some justification, but surely a close second comes Si, Saz and Pete, especially as they managed to bring the show back to its best after the atrocious antics of Chris Wenner. They certainly continued to lineage of their distinguished predecessors – Simon Groom was clearly the Peter Purves of the trio, slightly square and unexciting but a reliable presence and with a neat line in dry humour. Peter Duncan was unmistakeably the John Noakes of the eighties – scruffy, a bit manic and overexcited but with bags of warmth and enthusiasm. And then there was Sarah Greene, like Val a true professional, appearing far too cool for the boys’ antics but clearly just as happy to send things up. Here’s the team at their brilliant best, trying to work through an item invol ving St Bernard dogs. Biddy Baxter famously heavily scripted the show but clearly hadn’t realised quite how over-excited seven large dogs might get in the studio, and the item is quickly reduced to chaos. Si’s fabulous pratfall is great fun, and while he and Sarah try and explain exactly what the dogs are doing here, they eventually get drowned out by the barking and Pete wisely decides to write the whole thing off as a bad job, and the brilliantly abrupt conclusion, where he simply promises “We’ll let you know how this goes” before they wish a hasty goodbye, is just the funniest thing. Blue Peter in the eighties had a bit of a reputation for being boring, and occasionally it was, but many kids liked that slow pace and routine. It also meant that when the odd bit of anarchy arrived, it was all the better, handled expertly by a fantastic team.

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The 10 Greatest Doctor Who Moments

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"You must obey!"

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And so we reach the final instalment of TV Cream Countdown: The 50 Greatest Doctor Who Moments. You might, should your browser allow, be able to listen to it above. Or download it here (it’s big at 71meg). If you haven’t already, you could also subscribe. And this is our RSS feed

Simon Cartwright as Bob MonkhouseA very special guest, Simon Cartwright in the guise of Bob Monkhouse (left),  begins this final epistopic interface, which also takes in lesbians, Geoffrey Palmer, Doctor Who’s ultimate adventure and the very greatest thing about Doctor Who ever. Plus! Contains Ian ‘Brendan from K9 and Company’ Sears’ first ever interview about that show.

As per Episode OneEpisode TwoEpisode Three and Episode Four you can also access the bits on Soundcloud right here, or below.

TV Cream would like thank the following for helping us make this five-episode podcast series: Karen Bartke, Jonathon Carley, Simon Cartwright, Charles Daniels, Peter Dickson, Debbie Flint, Ryan Hendrick, Keith Miller, Dom O’Shea, Jon Peake, Rose Ruane, Matthew Rudd, Ian Sears, Chip Sudderth, Hamish Wilson and anyone who posted some kind of crazy clip to YouTube or VideoMotion or somewhere else, which we’ve mercilessly pilfered.

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The 20-11 Greatest Doctor Who Moments

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"Because there's always a button"

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Today we release part four of TV Cream Countdown: The 50 Greatest Doctor Who Moments. You might, should your browser allow, be able to listen to it above. Or you might prefer to download it from here (clocks in at 59meg). If you haven’t already, you could also subscribe. And this is our RSS feed

In this one we encounter the father of fandom, arrive on the planet Shepherd’s Bush, wonder if your wife has come back from her sister’s yet and find out what happens when Doctor Who sings.

As per Episode OneEpisode Two and – well – Episode Three, you can also access the various bits on Soundcloud right here, or below. Tweet any bits you like.

As per a previous ep, one of the bits didn’t make it onto Soundcloud, so we’ve replaced it with a fresh cut. But if you want to hear what you’re missing, click this.

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The 30-21 Greatest Doctor Who Moments

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"You will be the next... to hear this instalment"

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Part three of TV Cream Countdown: The 50 Greatest Doctor Who Moments is now available! If your browser is amenable, you can listen to it above or download from here (clocks in at 45meg)). Or subscribe. Or try our RSS feed

Features a guest appearance from Debbie Flint of BSB Doctor Who Weekend fame. Plus, the Master debate, a particularly stupid theory, Sylvester McCoy saying “bollocks” and the rare photo of the Rill!

As per Episode One and Episode Two we’ve bit bits up onto Soundcloud for your downloading and sharing pleasure, which you can access here, or below. Tweet any bits you like.

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The 40-31 Greatest Doctor Who Moments

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And so, part two of TV Cream Countdown: The 50 Greatest Doctor Who Moments, which you can listen to above (if your browser lets you) or download from here (that’s about 50 meg you’ll be shifting). Or subscribe. Oh, and this is our RSS feed

This time around one of the Jamie McCrimmons joins in the fun, we take a journey to an altogether more far-flung shore, examine premature male pattern baldness, an oscilloscope and a frockcoat, and remember the time the Doctor Who Appreciation Society blew it.

As per Episode One, we’ve also popped bits up onto Soundcloud for your downloading and sharing pleasure, which you can access here, or below. Feel free to tweet any bits you like. We should add, though, that due to copyright reasons, two chunks are not included in the playlist. But you can hear them, well, here. They are numbers 36 and 34.

We’ve instead included two extra, additional bits, to plug those Soundcloud gaps below. Collect them all!

Our thanks go to voice heroes Jonathon Carley and Dom O’Shea.

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The 50-41 Greatest Doctor Who Moments

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"Peoples of the universe please attend..."

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Peoples of the universe, please attend! The podcast that follows is TV Cream Countdown: The 50 Greatest Doctor Who Moments!

This is the start of a five-part series, which will run daily from here till Friday. It’s a slightly misnamed podcast to be honest, as it’s more a miscellany of 50 things about Doctor Who; but whatever – it’s still a nifty tie-in for the programme’s golden jubilee.

In this first instalment, we countdown from 50 to 41. Includes the Cybermen, the crossover betwixt DW and 007, a living legend of Doctor Who podcasting and a symposium on Whovian impressions. Ahhh.

It weighs in at about 46 minutes and 50 meg. You can listen to it above (if your browser supports that kind of fun) or download from here.

Easiest thing, though, is to subscribe. And this is our RSS feed. Be aware, for technical reasons this is a different iTunes feed from the previous TV Cream podcast, so even if you were signed up to that, you’ll have to sign up to this. Sorry.

We’ve also popped bits up onto Soundcloud, which you can access here, or – again, browser permitting – below. Feel free to tweet any bits you like, download, share etc.

At least try listening to the Introduction – that gives you a good taste of the podcast to follow…

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Coming soon from TV Cream

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Peoples of the universe please attend: The above video is to flag up that next month, we’ll be launching our podcast series celebrating the five faces… erm, five decades of Doctor Who. It’ll be called TV Cream Countdown: The 50 Greatest Doctor Who Moments.

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56) “Blimey, that was original!”

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Pip Schofield vs Fruitbat, 27th October 1991

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The great thing about Smash Hits was how democratic it was – certainly not just confined to teen fare, if you were in the charts you were in the magazine, and that spirit of openness continues when Ver Hits appeared on the telly in the shape of the Smash Hits Poll Winners’ Party. A major TV event in the day when pop was still strictly rationed on our screens, grebo trailblazers Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine don’t at first glance appear to be the most obvious choice of guests but they were in the charts and provided something of a contrast between New Kids of the Block and Chesney Hawkes (although late 1991, just after New Kids’ pomp and before the rise of Take That, offered up pretty thin gruel as far as teen idols went). That said, their political lyrics and distinctive fashion sense were likely to have baffled and bored much of the audience, until a spectacular climax. Such was the fast turnaround of acts on the show, all the bands were obliged to mime and the issues of live TV meant some were faded out early to allow the show to run to time. Jimbob and Fruitbat weren’t particularly impressed – and had also enjoyed some pre-show hospitality – so decided to indulge in some time-honoured rock posturing at the end by smashing up their equipment. Host Pip Schofield found that terribly amusing so made what seem pretty quick-witted pointed remarks about how the band were “pushing back the frontiers of music”. Fruitbat decided Pip was taking the piss a bit too much and launched himself at him. The framing of this moment is absolutely beautiful, Fruitbat coming from absolutely nowhere and taking the pair of them off screen, leading to a panicked director to immediately cut to a shot of nothing in particular, but ever the professional, Pip immediately dusts himself down, has a good chuckle and then continue s, albeit with half his Halloween-themed costume now on the floor. Apparently Carter were frogmarched from the venue and told they’d never appear live on the Beeb again, but Pip took it all in good part and posed for a photoshoot in the next issue of Ver Hits with a Fruitbat lookalike and a baseball bat, while a few million more people knew who Carter were and within a year they’d had a number one album. And rightly so, they were a great band.

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David Frost RIP: scrupulous gadabout genius

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The man and his people

FEW WENT ABOUT THE BUSINESS OF BEING FAMOUS as meticulously as David Frost. Even fewer managed to make it look so effortless.

From his debut on television in 1962 to his unofficial retirement in 2005, everything seemed so maddeningly playful. A whiff of insincerity, a sense that he wasn’t merely the sum of his parts but that his parts weren’t even his own, clung to him throughout his TV career.

Yet he virtually created the modern media industry, if not purposefully then through intimation. Both on and behind camera he revolutionised what was possible – and more importantly what was thought possible.

From the start it all seemed casually calculated: an attitude that won him as many apostles as brickbats right up to his death. The job fronting That Was The Week That Was came about partly because John Bird didn’t fancy it, but mostly because of a nice lunch between Frost and the show’s creator Ned Sherrin. Frost was inserted into a format 95% fully-realised. But he contrived to make the remaining 5% the most important bit of all: himself.

Seriously, they're doing a great jobChristopher Booker said Frost’s most obvious quality was “he simply wanted to be amazingly famous for being David Frost.” Yet away from the cackle and the hair, Frost turned in some remarkable work.

For example, there remains very little on television that has ever been as incisively critical as the sketch on home secretary Henry Brooke broadcast in the very last TW3 in December 1963.

Its effrontery is staggering. Brooke is paraphrased as being “the most hated man in Britain”; he is called a liar; Frost declares: “Your word, Henry, isn’t very eloquent, is it? Perhaps that’s why you so rarely bother to keep it”; and it ends with Willie Rushton as Brooke saying direct to camera: “It just shows, if you’re home secretary, you can get away with murder.”

Frost didn’t make TW3, but it made him. In turn he made a whole host of others if not quite as influential as he, then certainly as famous.

The casts and writers of TW3, its successor Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life (1964-65), and the subsequent comedy series The Frost Report (1966-67) were the yeast in British TV entertainment of the 1960s. Frostie had the wherewithal, but also the intelligence, to fuel the rise – and to ensure he rose with them. The whole industry got shaken up.

Ubiquity became the trademark. For a time he was on television every night of the week: four in America, three in the UK. If you had the means, you could arrange to be out of the country whenever he was in. If not, he was there to shoo you to bed with an increasingly cosy turn each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Now he was playing television like a captain of trade. He owned the commanding heights and became the champagne commissar of ITV, pulling levers and spinning dials and concocting five-year plans. The industry got shaken up all over again.

And still he couldn’t really do presenting. The topical gags at the start of each edition of Frost on Sunday (1969-72) triumphed in spite of their delivery. Frost would appear, his grin and tie perfectly in place, gripping a clipboard a little too tightly, armed with zingers penned by Dick Vosburgh and Neil Shand about statutory incomes policies or the Common Market, only to plunge through proceedings with the same demeanour as a Wile E Coyote plunging down a ravine.

Selfridges presentsDid it matter? Not a jot. It never mattered. The material made the man, not the other way around. If the material ever ran out, so did he.

The best moments in Frost’s interviews came when the scripted questions led into chit-chat, combative and wispy. It was here that he let his knowledge of both medium and message inform his interrogation rather than dominate it.

The jousts with Nixon and Kissinger would not have so wrongfooted their subjects had the host not been so lightfooted in his prosecution.

The showdown with the Yippies would not have worked in any other setting than a studio, where Frost could nail so perfectly his cluster of undignified dopes by informing them: “Laughing childishly when you manage to say a four-letter word on television? Big deal.”

When he told Emil Savundra that he had “either to be stupid or dishonest – which?” it was a question Frost could only have asked on live TV with a garrulous audience egging him on and a larger one at home hanging on his every word. “Well done Frostie!” the studio cried as, shuddering with rage, he strode off set as the credits rolled, surely knowing that such a denouement would have just as much impact as the cross-examination it concluded.

The language of television that Frost helped to write was easy to mock at the time, but only in the way anything unfamiliar is lampooned in order to make it more palatable. The parodies came quickly too, with former proteges leading the charge.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus spoofed Frost with the kind of barbed wit based on first-hand experience. But listen to the hoots of laughter and applause from the audience as they realise who Eric Idle is impersonating. This is no elite in-joke. Everyone is in on the gag – and it’s only 1970, not even 10 years into the Frost supremacy.

Setting some hares running“David came over here and fooled everybody for a while,” said Johnny Carson. “They thought he was an entertainer – and then they got on to him.”

Frost’s strutting around the planet in the 70s stretched the elasticity of his act until it was nearly transparent. Those who wanted to could look right through. Others marvelled at how he kept it all together.

The scrupulous gadabout was once again shaking up the industry, this time on a global level. He funded and filmed the Nixon interviews independently, raising an imperial two fingers at the US networks. He then sold the tapes to whoever was interested, being sure to keep hold of the rights. And still the money bubbled in.

There was no science to any of this. The one time Frost tried to dabble with the elements with was when he promised “sexual chemistry” at TV-am. That particular farrago was one from which he managed to emerge with his status and bank balance reasonably intact.

But from now on a different kind of Frostie flitted through the ether. All the rough edges had been chipped off. Where once he sashayed, now he shuffled.

Come the 1980s, all most of us saw of him was an hour or so on a Sunday morning, and the occasional Guinness Book of Records special on a bank holiday. He was still only in his 40s, but like Keith Richards and the Queen he suddenly seemed to age 30 years in the space of three.

Then, as if to prove such cheap observation wrong in as public a manner possible, he had one last go at shaking things up. Except this time, he over-reached himself in spectacular fashion.

“Richard Branson and I have always cherished a desire to work together,” Frost said when trying to explain the reason for their joint attempt to win yet another slice of ITV in 1991. The bids were stuffed with ponderous quotations from ancient philosophers. Money splashed about the place, with £45m being pencilled for London, £22m for the south and £10m for East Anglia.

Yet it wasn’t the cash that scuppered the project. All three bids failed the meet the regulators’ “quality threshold”. In other words, they were rubbish. With proposals including “Sunstroke, set in a ClubMed-style resort”, an adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s Beyond Reasonable Doubt and 60 minutes of local news a night, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was unusual to see Frostie fail. Twice, in fact, for the same process saw TV-am lose the breakfast franchise.

Major disasterA berth on the BBC completed his journey from industry ignition to brake.

Breakfast with Frost was where things simmered down, not kicked off. It was sofa, so good. The drowsy atmosphere sometimes lulled politicians into indiscreet outbursts. This was the exception, however. The programme was an anachronism from the start: a 1950s colonial-drinks-lounge supposedly at the spearhead of a 1990s mission-to-explain Birtist BBC.

It did change over time, but only to become more cumbersome, fussy, peculiar. After the final show in 2005, the continuity announced proclaimed it to be “the end of an era”. Whichever era it was, it was the wrong one.

For what will David Frost be most remembered? Almost certainly the shop-window stuff: the chinwags with potentates, the tete-a-tetes in presidential parlours, the way he made satire look glamorous and sexy rather than starchy and sad.

But he also deserves to be cherished for his appreciation of how television works, what makes it great, and how it can confer greatness upon others.

He created the template for the modern media mogul. He showed that you can be on TV and run TV at the same time.

Above all he understood what countless others failed and still fail to realise: that it’s not what to be on television that matters, it’s how.

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The Creamup Summer Special 2013

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The Creamup Summer Special 2013

It’s fun-in-the-sun time as our sometime ‘emag’ returns to brighten up the last few weeks of summer!

Subscribers to our weekly Creamguide email have already been notified of Creamup’s return, but now it’s your turn, common-or-garden TV Cream reader, to download the rays! It’s 24 pages of pop lists and nothing but (well, except for the front and back cover) and comes in PDF form.

A mighty 20.1mb, you can download it right here.

NB The PDF can look screwy in some browsers (Firefox for one) so best download it and then open it in whatever PDF-reading application you have.

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Great news for all readers!

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La la la la la TV Cream!

Hi pals!

Ever wondered what TV Cream would have looked like if it had been published in the 1970s as a weekly comic? Of course you have, right? Well, courtesy of yet another old abandoned TVC pet project, you can now find out!

Click on the cover below to download our six-page supplement in smashing PDF format! (Just 820k!). But don’t place a regular order with your newsagent.


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The Seven Cs of Wry

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The other mighty titan and his troubadors, yesterday
What happened to the comedy song? We don’t mean the two-a-penny pop parodies that ailing sketch shows knock out with dreary regularity, but the fully-paid-up, bowtie-wearing, whimsical ditty slotted into That’s Life! or a great big national event special. As a craft it was unfairly maligned even while it was still a going concern, and now it’s all but died out in the mainstream, we think a reappraisal is long overdue. So come with us, as we challenge the mighty titan (Miles Kington) and his troubadours (Instant Sunshine), and with a smile, we’ll take you to… THE SEVEN Cs OF WRY


As Pete Baikie pointed out, whatever the ostensible subject of a wry comedy song, the overarching message is, more often than not, a slightly self-satisfied “Clever/I’m very clever!” on the part of the singer-songwriter. Composing whimsical ditties on scientific subjects was a good wheeze for Tom Lehrer (The Elements) and Flanders and Swann (The First and Second Law of Thermodynamics – “Oh, I’m hot!/That’s because you’ve been working!/Oh, Beatles, nothing!”) to playfully show off their intellects. Stilgoe, of course, on top of his anagrammatic expertise, was a hire-a-wit par excellence, often called upon to compose an on-the-spot ode at major events, none more notable than his break-neck summary of Decision ’79, The Man Who Voted Don’t Know in the Election, a rhyming catalogue of the night’s gains and losses (“Commander Boaks got twenty votes/There were more for Hatters-ley/And Tam Dalyell did awfully well/So he can’t blame that on me!”) after which Sue Lawley marvelled “I don’t know how he manages to get his tongue round it!”


Well, you’ve got to earn a living, and what better way of keeping your oar in the public’s boat race than scoring a nice, airplay- garnering topical tune or two? It’s a grand tradition, from Flanders and Swann (“There’s a hole in my budget, dear Harold, dear Harold…”) through Cy Grant and Lance Percival’s topical calypsos for Tonight and TW3, to that man Stilgoe again. From musical musings on politics and consumer affairs on Nationwide to his own “musical satire without the nasty bits” series And Now the Good News (sample song/sketch – The Stilg as Natural History Museum attendant sings a tearful goodbye to the Tyrannosaurus skeleton – represented by a Dr Who and the Loch Ness Monster-style blue-screened glove puppet – due to be moved into storage). He even dipped a tentative toe into post- modern media analysis in the famed ‘Wide slot where he itemised the foibles of the various regions’ political interviewers, who, arranged on a bank of monitors, joined in live with their collective catchphrase – I’ll Have to Stop You There (“But Stuart Hall in Manchester, he gets the whole thing wrong/He just says “Shut up minister, you’ve gone on far too long!”)


It’s a golden rule – never use one syllable where ten will do. The very presence in a wry song of the sort of vocabulary usually given a wide berth by ‘proper’ songwriters provides – or at least ought to provide – a chuckle or two, so bizarre linguistic constructions abound. This may help contrive a tricky rhyme (Stilgoe’s Towels – “The Americans made explorations lunar/And they prayed the Russians wouldn’t get there sooner”), or create comic confusion (First and Second Law – “That you can’t pass heat from the cooler to the hotter/Try it if you like but you far better notter/’Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a ruler/’Cos the hotter body’s heat will pass to the cooler”). But mostly it’s just the love of language for its own sake. Jake Thackray liberally anointed his earthy tunes with this sort of vocal relish (“Country bus, north country bus/Clumsy and cumbersome, rumbustious…”) and knew just when to drop the right word in for comic effect (a copulatory description in the excellent On Again, On Again – “Not even stopping while we go hammer and tongs towards the peak/Except maybe for a sigh and a groan and one perfunctory shriek”). Now, that’s verbal engineering of Kingdom Brunel proportions. Where’s Thackray’s Revolution in the Head, then?


Since George Formby elbowed Frank Randle out of the limelight and shoved his little banjulele in the nation’s chops, the cheeky chappie persona has been a staple of that sector of the whimsical song contingent that doesn’t hail from within the M25 or have access to a piano stool. Formby begat, by some tortuous conjugal process, Doc Cox, but never mind him, Mike Harding’s our main candidate for this category. Stripy, stripy blazer, funny face, funny face, big glasses. And, unlike Simon Fanshawe, some laughs into the bargain. OK, haunted curry house humour like the accordion-backed Ghost of the Cafe Gunga Din may not cause the shade of Noel Coward much concern, but sheer jauntiness makes up for the comparative lack of sophistication. And when he delivers the line about King’s Cross’s “street of a thousand norks” in Aussie expat picaresque She’ll Be Right, Mate… well, you’ll have to trust us that it’s with the ultimate “ooh, crikey!” expression all over his silly old face. Moving up the taste ladder, the sainted Jake Thackray wasn’t above some superbly stylish sauce. Sister Josephine detailed the life of a big burly crim hiding out in a convent (“Oh, Sister Josephine/Founder of the convent pontoon team/They’re looking through your bundles of rare magazines…”) while North Country Bus was sung with a crafty emphasis on, well, certain syllables. And Bantam Cock is a great album title. And lest we give the impression this is a purely male ballpark, there were also Fascinating Aida (and, er, Hinge and Brackett) and of course Victoria Wood, whose “beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly!” shtick may have been dulled by over-familiarity, but still, we love it.


With a small “c”, we hasten to add. While Stilgoe visibly grinned when crooning of Callaghan’s defeat, he also trilled with some relish – “One more thing to add – what was it?/Oh, the National Front lost its deposit”. Then again, any hoary old observational cliché was grist to his mill – Towels was a tower of fancy built on the ancient made-up phenomenon of Germans colonising sun-loungers, which he was still doing in the late ’80s. Similarly, a wistful air of longing for a more innocent past informed Richard Digance’s infamous Spangle-mentioning verse list of lost ephemera. And with its roots in folk and/or Noel Coward’s tinklings, the musical accompaniment of choice for all our acts is unashamedly old hat. We’ve no idea why this should be the rule, but there it is. However, if anyone knows of a whimsical Trotskyite songwriter who had a stint on The Braden Beat or some such, do let us know.


We never understood why The Simpsons writers thought the idea of a wave of topical barbershop quartets in the late ’80s was so hilarious. Over here we’d already had over a decade of Instant Sunshine, the medically-qualified purveyors of harmonious sideways looks. Even solo performers managed to double up via studio trickery. Peter Skellern’s wry lovelorn paeans often found him accompanying himself on the multitrack in a twenties crooner style, none more liltingly than on his Me and My Girl theme. But top of the tree is, yet again, Stilgoe, for his superlative performance of Statutory Right of Entry to Your Home, a song composed in honour of a Nationwide consumer unit viewer who enquired after which authorities possessed the titular trespass entitlement. Not only did Dickie act out the part of his astonished self returning home from work to find his domicile infiltrated by an ever-increasing mob of state-sponsored snoopers, he used the wonders of colour separation to impersonate each of the unwelcome governmental gatecrashers (the Customs and Excise clerk, for instance – “Where’ve you stashed the stolen jewels?/Do you take us all for fools?” – was appropriately rendered in piratical cod Cornish). Truly, this was the apotheosis of the genre. And all to placate some miserable old sod who objected to his gas meter being read. That’s value for money!


Whether in concert, in the Nationwide studio or (in Instant Sunshine’s case) on the hard shoulder of the M1, it’s the mirthful minstrel’s job to inject an atmosphere of classy bonhomie, as if a well-appointed cocktail party or cabaret evening were just getting underway. The ironic donning of the dinner jacket (The Sunshine, Stilgoe), the bowtie (Stilgoe again) or the straw boater (Sunshine, Mike Harding) was the first step. Second, jolly musical syncopation – the chirpily-strummed banjo, the hoppity squeezebox refrain, the bouncy “ba-dum-bum-bum” of The Sunshine’s double bass. Or a bit of dainty ivory tinkling, utilising the full range of the keyboard for comic effect, punctuating the gaps between each jokey line while the audience takes it in with a brisk plonk-plink, and of course, augmenting the final punch line with a showy glissando up the keyboard, ending with the right hand pertly raised above the head in a fey lampoon of the concert virtuoso. Thirdly, the vocal delivery should feel free to waver in between ‘proper’ singing and, when the comedic moment arises, a sort of staccato spoken delivery accompanied by a sly twinkle in the eye. In fact, Keith Michell went the whole hog and delivered the Captain Beaky songs – surely the very definition of whimsy – entirely in this manner, archly twisting his tongue round that final line about “a flying um-ba-rella” while the brass band backing came to a respectful halt. That’s the classic whimsical song payoff – never knowingly undersold.

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The Official Doctor Who Fan Club returns

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Oh yes!
Last year we waxed unusually lyrically about Keith Miller’s super book The Official Doctor Who Fan Club – possibly the best ever tome written about the children’s own series that adults maintain isn’t. Plus, it’s never had two up it.

Well, here’s some very welcome news, as Keith’s dropped us a line to say that Volume Two: The Tom Baker Years will soon be available to buy. As Keith says: “This is the second in a two volume set which features set reports from Carnival of Monsters, The Three Doctors, Planet of the Spiders, Genesis of the Daleks, Terror of the Zygons and Masque of Mandragora, with a full set of the very first Doctor Who fanzine, and facsimilies of the actual letters between the stars and production team of the show.”

Plus, it’s got a cover designed by Clayton Hickman!

Keith’s supplied us with two exclusive previews, see below. In return, we feel duty-bound to do this: Price: £16.99, published May 2013 – more details and orders at www.odwfc.com.


"Problem child, eh?""Can you imagine silver leaves waving above a pool of liquid gold?"

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U-turn (off) if you want to: 10 TV shows that summed up Thatcher

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The ladie's not for tuning (in properly)

Her favourite programmes were Miss Marple, anything with Paul Daniels, and the Fairy Liquid adverts. Oh, and this. But that was about it. By all accounts television did not loom large in the world of Margaret Hilda Thatcher. But she loomed large in television. She inspired, diluted, bisected, mystified, enraged, enraptured and cocooned it.

An awful lot of television tried to bait or decry her, utterly misunderstanding that such responses only made her stronger. Wiser heads reduced her to the equivalence of a coat hanger. Other shows absorbed and reflected wisps of Mrs Thatcher: her personality, her obsessions, even her attitude. It’s those shows we’re concerned with here: the ones that summed up Mrs Thatcher without necessarily being about her, or even mentioning her. She probably didn’t know any of the following TV programmes existed (including the one in which she appeared). But she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

10. Think It… Do It

You could tell something was a bit up with the world whenever Johnny Ball lowered his voice. Serious stuff was about to happen. He was going to tell us about real life. And in Think It… Do It, he was going to tell us about JOBS. Because there weren’t that many in the 1980s any more, or so Professor Phil Redmond wanted you to think, and so it was up to us, together with the good folk at Manpower Services with their Youth Training Schemes, to get off our arses. Had we thought about the financial sector? What about information technology? Look at this film about a day in the life of an apprentice in a processing laboratory. Come on, Mrs Thatcher once did experiments with ice cream, y’know!

"You've done it again, Lovejoy!"9. Lovejoy

Anyone could make it in the 80s. You just needed the right sartorial signature (jacket and jeans for him, tarpaulin-sized blouson for her), a shady past, a way with words, contacts including a dandied loon and hapless klutz, and a nemesis in the shape of Those Ghastly Men On The Town Planning Council.

There was always money to be found in the land of Lovejoy, where toffs and tearaways rubbed shoulders in the pursuit of wealth, and interest rates were as flat as the Norfolk Broads. This was a world where the sun never set before somewhere a little old lady had been persuaded to divest of a bit of her portfolio. “Well Maggie, it seems you were right all along!”

8. 4 What It’s Worth

Thanks to Nationwide, shoppers became “consumers” just in time for the biggest stock-keeper of them all to trip into Downing Street. But now that we were consumers, we also had Rights. And we had to know them, in order to work our the best deals for ourselves, rather than merely relying on a bit of cardboard announcing “2p off” a pack of United chocolate bars. Watchdog took care of the big stuff with its big exposes and big novelty cheques. 4 What It’s Worth did everything else: dodgy second-hand car dealers, the best buys of blended whiskies, and how to fill in a form to buy British Gas shares. All the bits of Thatcherism that got under your fingernails, basically.

From head to foot-se7. Business Daily

Launched with a big bang just one month before the big crash, here the fag-end of the Thatcher decade was tallied, bartered and flogged. Achingly public service from Channel 4, in that it didn’t really serve anybody, especially the public, it glowered at you at lunchtimes and, from 1989, breakfast times too. “From head to foot-se.” HAHAHAHA!

Still, many of us unwittingly absorbed, osmosis-like, a fleeting awareness of such things as PEPs and TESSAs from this and its later tea-and-toast rival, BBC Business Breakfast. Remit-fulfilling roughage at its rawest.

6. See For Yourself

A gigantic, cross-Corporation, “well, if you MUST” exercise that marked the culmination of the Beeb’s decade-long do-si-do with No 10. Once a year Sue Lawley let us peek inside Auntie’s innards and have a good poke about, being sure to remind us that the sofa from the 1988 Olympics was now being used on Jim’ll Fix It, while Esther Rantzen’s frocks were the same ones she’d been sashaying in since 1972. It was oh so important to know the cost of everything, you see. Is 16p a day really too much to ask?

Martin in the middle (management)5. The Krypton Factor

Your indispensable introduction to that most pre-eminent of 1980s breeds: middle management. For most of us, this was the first time we’d heard of, let alone seen, people who called themselves a “sales specialist” or “property consultant”.

And the fact this was happening while they competed against each other in the most dazzlingly competitive competitions in which it was possible to compete, popped the Krypton Factor into a Thatcher-esque hole (“a multi-dimensional hole made from perspex building blocks,” whispers Gordon Burns) from which it’s never really emerged.

Hawk? Aye!4. The Interceptor

More middle management types, this time strutting around England (never the UK) in primary coloured-jumpsuits trying to stop an evil meddler from getting his hands on their cash.

Everyone could see what all this really meant. Yes: Annabel Croft was poor substitute for Anneka Rice while the bloke in the giant coat who screamed like a hawk was a knob. But oh, didn’t those aerial shots look lovely? The countryside was so much NICER then.

3. Press Gang

Before Thatcher, kids spent their free time befriending urchins who lived on shitheaps, pretending they were still fighting the war, or living on a double-decker bus. After a decade of Thatcher, kids wanted to spend their free time WORKING. Preferably for MONEY. The fact they seemed to have such a wise-cracking, sensitively-lit, heart-fluttering time doing it just made it all the more impossibly attractive. Here was our very own junior Margaret and Willie.

Great Scott!2. The Clothes Show

Take one of the nation’s most famous female faces: trend-setter, tabloid darling, opinion former and style icon. Then ignore her and hire Selina Scott instead.

Still, at least Sarah Greene outran both Selina and Maggie. Plus she did that Clothes Show knock-off for a bit, Posh Frocks and New Trousers, which would probably count as even MORE of a Thatcher-era-defining effort were it not itself a knock-off of Frocks on The Box (look: the very first shot is champagne corks popping!). Plus the theme tune isn’t a patch on In The Night. But then what is?

1. Saturday Superstore

For positively the finest snapshot of absolutely everything to do with the Thatcher era, clear a three-hour-and-15-minute gap in your Saturday morning and watch an entire edition of this: a shambling, shimmering, shouty shop window of a show, thrown open for business once a week by the Captain Peacock of mid-80s morning entertainment, Mike Read.

What have we done to deserve this?Gone was the shabby, oh-so-70s, make-do-and-mend, dowdy idea of “swapping” one thing for another. This was a Store, not a Shop. Moreover, a SUPERstore. And Mike was your “store manager”, one part Norman St John Stevas, one part Ken Masters.

This was an over-lit, over-stuffed and overdone stew of a programme, but you lapped it up, because everyone important was on it, and it looked like they were having the best of times. Yes, even Maggie herself, and there was no finer stamp of approval than that.

In a Completely Unconnected and Coincidental Fact, Mrs Thatcher’s most pervasive, not-for-turning era spanned precisely the same years as Saturday Superstore. Presumably she sent Mike a Gyngell-style letter of commiseration when he got dumped for Going Live.

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