As we stand at the gate of the year, let’s take the opportunity to put the final axe into 2021 once and for all and pick over the bones of another 12 months where, we hope, Creamguide has been a regular source of information and entertainment every Thursday. It’s time to ask…
2021 – WAS IT REALLY THAT BAD?
JANUARY was surely the bleakest start to a year since the Winter of Discontent, certainly not helped by the Runaround repeats drawing to a close, although Talking Pictures swapped the last two around, apparently because they considered the penultimate one the textbook edition, as we would probably agree given it ended with a wrestling exhibition featuring Giant Haystacks and Mike seemingly about to have a coronary. They’re all on their new catch-up service now, if your evenings are looking a bit barren over the next few weeks. New shows this January included Paul Sinha’s TV Showdown, which we would like to have liked as Sinha is a lovely guy and we love a TV quiz, but it turned out to be pretty pedestrian, with the questions not justifying the extended discussion that each one was seemingly required to generate. Coming back, though. It’s A Sin was one of the year’s top dramas and pretty much all the cast have since been linked for the Who job, and they’d all be great at it.
FEBRUARY was a big month for Pointless as it featured the final TV appearance for the late Freddy Marks (in an episode where Jane got a round of applause for saying “Thames Television!”), saw World Cup Final linesman Darren Cann win the jackpot as a normal human, lost its audience and also brought us the news 36 people were unable to work out what le tennis de table translated to in English. BBC4 is pretty much all repeats these days, which is a bit of a shame, but this month we had Reggie Perrin, Elizabeth R and the original All Creatures on successive evenings, and the middle one was even trailed after The Repair Shop. Equally welcome archivery came from The Big Match Revisited on ITV4, picking up after the ITV strike in 1979 with Spurs whacking up a “Spurs welcome back LWT The Big Match” hoarding in celebration.
MARCH brought us the Beeb’s comedy season with a stack of repeats, plus some new compilations of Tommy Cooper – which was a bit interesting given he did very little on the Beeb – and Caroline Aherne, which didn’t feature any clips of Mrs Merton and Malcolm, which does now seem to be a completely forgotten series. We’re sorry we’re not as dedicated to the Creamguide cause as we used to be when we’d masochistically watch every possible show that might include a scrap of archive footage, as Channel 5 did a series on the greatest songs of the eighties and we didn’t catch a minute of it, even though it seemed a suitable accompaniment to Pops as it featured not only Gambo, but also Janice Long, Andy Crane, Jenny Powell and even Susie Mathis.
It was always suggested the Duke of Edinburgh’s final faux pas would be to die at the least convenient time for the media, and though he missed Christmas, the death being announced on a Friday afternoon in the school holidays, as it was in APRIL, perhaps illustrated that. That said, for all the discussion over the level of coverage, we found it amazing that Have I Got News For You went out three days after his passing was announced, and was on the night before the funeral as well. It did mean BBC4 got yanked off air and, what with overrunning snooker in the following weeks, it felt like Top of the Pops was going to be stuck in 1990 forever. It was actually ten years to the month the Pops repeats began, which was of course just another excuse for us to link to the Glamourpuss performance again. Although there were a few celeb episodes left, this month also saw John Humphrys’ final appearance as interrogator on Mastermind, which was probably about time. We’re pleased Clive Myrie has kept on our favourite bit where after they announce their specialist subject, the host is required to summarise them in a tone that suggests they are also well-versed on the topic.
In MAY we did something we haven’t been able to do for a while – go out and vote! This was a right Super Thursday – and with many of them using proportional representation, combined with the requirement to keep numbers down at the counting centres, it was an epic with coverage pretty much non-stop until Saturday night, including a five minute “update” at eight o’clock on BBC1. That’s what we call entertainment! BBC4 brought us a docu-drama on the life of Delia Derbyshire, which was equally thrilling. The second series of This Time with Alan Partridge was on air, including a sequence involving Alan reading TV Times back issues except – gaaah! – if they were from the seventies it would have been ATV and not Central! RUINED the programme. We got a proper Eurovision this month as well, where the UK died on its arse but we were pleased to hear Embers by James Newman on a montage on the Strictly final. It could still surprise you!
In JUNE we finally arrived in 1991 in the Pops repeats, but no doc yet, despite people on forums asking where it is every five minutes. All we needed to know was that the Cypher graphics were back! And it was the Euros as well, which the broadcasters just about managed to make feel like a proper tournament given it was played in a dozen different countries, with the traditional post-match spot given to Peter Crouch with a pretty missable show but one which got an extra episode after the final only for England to lose and so Crouchy having to drum up enthusiasm after midnight with only a half-cut Rob Beckett for company.
JULY brought a new series of Guy Garvey: From The Vaults on Sky Arts, where they’d happily stopped Guy talking during the songs and brought us some fascinating clips including Prefab Sprout on Hold Tight, with Granada flag proudly fluttering away, and absolutely loads of stuff from Border-produced youth show Bliss. On Blue Peter it was goodbye to Lindsey, whose near eight year stint on the programme rocketed her to number seven on the list of longest-serving presenters, overtaking Uncle Matt Baker, and it’s testament to her skills and enthusiasm that she soon graduated from being “the competition winner” to a talented presenter in her own right, who’s just got her own show on Heart if you’re missing her. Meanwhile Talking Pictures brought us The World of Budgerigars with Sid James, seemingly Sid’s last ever appearance on camera in a film made by, presumably, the budgerigar marketing board to promote the joys of owning a budgie, and as hardly anyone seems to have budgies these days, it was well worth showing it again to drum up a bit more interest.
After the Euros, AUGUST brought us the Olympics, covered by the Beeb in slightly reduced fashion because of the crappy new deal the IOC organised with Discovery, but still to the very highest standards we think. On the Pops reruns we were now officially closer to the final episode in 2006 than the start of the repeats in 1976, and were in a rather curious but rather good back-to-basics period with the presenters cast adrift on the gantries and the chart over a video, all the better to fit in more of the top sounds of the summer of 1991. In less exciting news for chart fans, Gambo on Pick of the Pops skipping new entries by the Pet Shop Boys, Tricky and Black Grape in 1995 to play Robson and Jerome slowly crawling down the charts at number 21 was a proper kicking-in-the-radio-and-sending-the-BBC-the-bill moment.
SEPTEMBER saw a bit of an end of an era as Sky One went off air after over thirty years, with a pretty pathetic legacy, really, as for all the prominence and promotion and money it gets, the number of homegrown hits it’s had probably wouldn’t fill up a whole day’s schedule, and most of its hit shows have been imports, many prised from other channels. At least Hour of Power continues on Sky Showcase. In other news of early mornings, The Big Breakfast was back as part of Channel 4’s black takeover day, from the actual house and everything, but sadly nobody seemed to notice. Less dynamic was The Footage Detectives on Talking Pictures, a pretty low-key affair with Mike Read and Talking Pictures big cheese Noel Cronin spending much of the episode sofa-bound chatting about the channel’s success, which gave it a bit of an air of a corporate video they’d accidentally transmitted. All kinds of oddities got an outing, though, and right on cue Vicki Michelle popped up in the media to drone on about being “cancelled”, what with her being the star of that notable “cancelled” programme that’s currently on two different Freeview channels, five days a week, plus in full on a major streaming service.
In OCTOBER Blankety Blank came back full-time to the Beeb, and it’s been such a success it turned up on Christmas Day for the second year running. The big telly news was the fire at Red Bee’s playout centre in London, from which much of British TV is played out and which affected numerous channels, the hardest hit undoubtedly being Channel 4 which fell off air completely for an hour and struggled with frozen adverts, wonky captions, non-existent announcements and all kinds of problems for several weeks. But the big news from our perspective was Pops entering Year Zero with its radical revamp heavy on ruined rave tracks and old codgers, with Elayne Smith announcing Neil Sedaka as “back in full effect” rather illustrating the odd show we’re getting for the next two and a half years. Adrian Rose did us a favour!
Good fun in NOVEMBER as, to coincide with the Cop26 conference, all the soaps joined forces with various characters appearing in the others to raise awareness of climate change, a bit like the raiders in Whizzer and Chips, which seems to suggest some kind of soap universe where Coronation Street is a real place in the world of ‘stEnders and so on. Doctor Who was back as well for a short, sharp six-parter which we quite enjoyed with some nice set pieces and a top episode with the Weeping Angels, although we’re not sure we can honestly tell you what the climax actually meant. BBC Scotland’s Music Vault was another welcome dip into the archive though it never really topped the highlight of episode one, The Communards performing on The Garden Party in front of a laughably unimpressed audience.
And so to DECEMBER, heralded by BBC4 repeating all the Ghost Stories For Christmas which were no doubt required viewing round Mark Gatiss’ house. The channel also presented the ultimate BBC4 programme title in Other, Like Me: The Oral History of COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle. A reminder that times were still hard came when the first National Comedy Awards were abandoned due to Covid concerns, but we’ve finally made it to the end of the year and you would hope 2022 will be a brighter year, not least with a hundred years of the Beeb and 25 years of TV Cream to improve morale. Let’s go!
By the way…
We send out Creamguides – from whence this feature came – every week via email. If you’d like to receive it – it’s free, there are no ads, we don’t sell on your address, you can unsubscribe whenever; we’re basically soppy like that – then fill in your details below.