FROM AN IDEA BY Tony Warren. And what an idea: backstreet Shakespeare with brown ale; a cobblestoned Greek tragedy in curlers. Despite the fact that they’re hymned to the heavens by Parkinson and Hattersley, those early shaky, grimy episodes remain the benchmark for earthy popular drama, crushing the likes of COMPACT and THE NEWCOMERS under the heel of Elsie Tanner’s stiletto. They had everything and the kitchen sink: not least a gallery of recognisable yet larger-than-life characters: regal pub matriarch Annie Walker, hairnetted harridan Ena Sharples, the jaded sexpot Elsie Tanner, the slightly menacing roguishness of Len Fairclough and the tedious, bookish, middlebrow Guardianista Ken Barlow, who’s been there ever since. Into the seventies, the emphasis on wayward youth was taken up a notch, with more emphasis on the likes of loveable Scouse petty crim and hare-brained scheme merchant Eddie Yeats and saucy peroxided “good time girl” Suzie Birchall to offset the pensionable perfidiousness of Fred Gee. Further up the family tree there was Hilda Ogden (complete with ludicrous prole-taste “muriel”, obtained from dubious sources by one E. Yeats), gaudy pub siren Bet Lynch and slippery cigar-toting rag trade wideboy Mike Baldwin stepping into a frequently genuinely dramatic world – the lorry smashing into the Rovers Return, and Deirdre’s search for her baby in the rubble; the gunpoint murder of Ernie Bishop and the car-smash death of Alf Roberts’ wife Renee. As the eighties wore on, Eddie copped off via a CB radio to humorous effect, many of the Street’s mainstays took their final bows, and the Newton and Ridley brew was watered down, with more episodes and more tedious longeurs (the courtship of Derek and Mavis for instance) breaking up the drama, such as the Ken-Deirdre-Mike love triangle: “Ken’s a good man, he deserves better”, proffered no less an authority than John Betjeman.
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Let’s hope this is the first of many tributes to the great man, and let’s also hope there are some new tributes as well and not just repeated documentaries like this one from when he was still alive, and a few more repeats that aren’t just the same two from 1976 and 1986 they’ve shown on BBC4 before. This’ll do for now, though.
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Points of View
- In 'Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, The', THX 1139 says: "I have a strong early memory of seeing a Robinson Crusoe programme in colour, but everywhere says this series was in black and..."
- In 'Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, The', Damon says: "I must’ve watched this in about 1978-ish when I was 7 or 8. I loved it. I think it may well have been the Saturday morning..."
- In '60 70 80 Show, The', Damon says: "Hudd at front, couple of sidekickcs with him, some humour, old people sitting around on tables in the well-likt studio as if it were a kind of cafe..."
- In 'Horses Galore', Droogie says: "I remember Susan King well. As a kid I had a horse-obsessed cousin called Joanne, and always had to sit through this show if it was on whenever I was..."
- In 'Victor Lewis-Smith', THX 1139 says: "The editing on these shows was quite brilliant, maybe the best thing about it because though it was very funny in places, you couldn’t..."