This is the time of year we like to take a look of the highs and lows of the past twelve months, reviving old running gags that never caught on and settling a few scores we’ve been stewing on for ages. So, fifty years on from the episode of Nationwide that gave us this title, we ask…
2023 – WAS IT REALLY THAT BAD?
JANUARY started off with the first of a year’s worth of archive oddities on BBC4 with a repeat of Come Dancing, which we assumed was a bit of a novelty as a one-off but they ended up repeating the entire 1979 series and a couple of other episodes. It was certainly a more interesting use of the archives than More4’s Best Year Ever, which given it began with mocked-up Super-8 footage and Andrew Collins was the first talking head, was very clearly a remake of I Love The Seventies (which is now older than 1979 was when they made I Love 1979). Alas, it rather illustrated how factual TV has gone down the pan a bit in the last two decades as every single clip was taken straight off YouTube (including the launch of their own bloody channel), and worse still off the first page of search results to boot. We can literally do that ourselves, and we know budgets are tighter than ever before, but there are several blogs, newsletters and Twitter accounts (including our very own Why Don’t YouTube) that are actually making the effort to unearth, curate and contextualise these clips rather than just flinging on the first one the search offers up. Put some of that on the telly! The Pops repeats started 1994 with the last few episodes of Stanley Appel’s reign, his final show going out in suitably boring fashion with a ZZ Top exclusive, while C5 told the Stock Aitken and Waterman story in fine style (“Pop music is supposed to be fun, but maybe with Big Fun there was a bit too much fun”).
In FEBRUARY Talking Pictures TV allowed those throwing a sickie from work recollect the days of throwing a sickie from school by repeating Crown Court in the afternoons, while BBC4 were well into a run of cosy middle-class sitcoms of the type that baffled and bored a juvenile Creamguide when they were growing up with their world of dinner parties and drawing rooms, including As Time Goes By and both series of Carla Lane’s The Mistress. We assumed we’d presumably grow to understand them when we were older, but we’re still waiting, to be honest, and now there aren’t any sitcoms of that kind on telly, or indeed any sitcoms at all really. We also celebrated a hundred years of radio drama, not long after some credulous tech correspondent got a bit carried away and announced that the next big thing after podcasts was going to be “audio movies”.
MARCH saw the rather abrupt departure of Ken Bruce from Radio 2, having slightly naively expected to leave the station one day and turn up on GHR the next, while also doing a load of adverts for it, though it wasn’t the most surprising departure of the year. Another schedule staple taking its leave was You’ve Been Framed, although it turned out they’d actually stopped making it in 2020 but nobody noticed given how long it took them to eke out the stockpile of episodes and how often they’re repeated, and despite being officially axed it was still on ITV on Christmas Day. Challenge Anneka was back, back, back on Channel 5… for two weeks before it got dropped, with one more still on the shelf, but it did a bit better than their Britpop doc where two episodes it was dumped into the prestigious 3am slot. This meant hardly anyone got to see James Brown suggesting Oasis at Knebworth in 1996 was official proof of rock’s superiority “over Five Star and that lot”. James, even The Supernaturals could have lorded it over Five Star in 1996.
We kept on suggesting things were going to liven up on the Pops repeats, though we were struggling perhaps to justify that as we reached APRIL and Love Is All Around got to number one. And on its first week at the top, after Marti forgot the words and it was faded out after ninety seconds, it promptly plummeted down the charts and became the least memorable number one since Baby Jump. We assume. Among the guest presenters this month was Angus Deayton, though unfortunately for him we already had one smartarse presenter in the Reverend Mayo, who had even done the same joke about Mariah Carey and the Archbishop of Canterbury a few weeks earlier. ITV4 headed back to 1977 and repeated pretty much the entire season of The Big Match which became a Saturday morning staple for us for much of the year, the first including an extended debate about diving that could have fallen out of modern day coverage.
We always used to be told that the Beeb never wanted us to win Eurovision as they couldn’t afford to host it (though Latvian and Azerbaijani TV apparently could), and then in MAY we had that and the Coronation within a week. Top coverage of both of them, and if you wanted to avoid the latter you could always watch Orient vs Spurs from 1977 on ITV4 at the exact moment the King was crowned. As for Eurovision, we were told in the build-up that there was a big surprise with rehearsals taking place on a closed set, and that was indeed the case with the jaw-dropping appearance of… Jan Leeming! Well, we were excited.
No football tournament in JUNE, but we did get the Cup Final in June for the first time, and ITV4 started supplementing the Big Match with some Saint and Greavsie compilations, including Greavsie playing bowls with David Bryant, while Amos Brearly from Emmerdale Farm looked on, at the Pipesmoker of the Year awards. It really was the furthest thing from MOTDx you’ll ever see. Other archive oddities on BBC4 included a couple of episodes of Dawson-era Blankety Blank and even a few outings for Pop Quiz (“POP QUIZ!”). We do love a pop quiz and we liked the we rather vague questions – like “name as many Queen songs as you can think of until you give up” – plus Mike giving away bonus points for any old rubbish and making up questions on the spot. It meant a Read double header on Sundays with The Footage Detectives on Talking Pictures if you’re still persevering with that truly demented series. The Beeb ended the month with the entire Corporation decamping to Glasto, even Blue Peter.
And there was another pop quiz in JULY as Popmaster came to TV. Not a bad stab, but the first round was a bit of a stinker with too many contestants getting no points, though there’s a new series in the pipeline so let’s hope they’ve ironed that out. And the star prize in the final was to say hello to all your mates. BBC2 celebrated a summer of sketch with some odd but welcome sketch show repeats including The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, Naked Video and Alas Smith and Jones, as well as managing to find an episode of Not Only But Also they could actually transmit after decades of it seemingly being stuck in rights hell. Didn’t extend to any further repeats, alas, but let’s see how stretched they are for new content this year.
Highlight of AUGUST was TVC’s own Tim Worthington guest hosting Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone on an edition devoted to the most eclectic record label in British music, BBC Records and Tapes. He’s written a whole book on the subject too, if you’ve got Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket. The best media journalism of the summer came from Variety who, after the release of Oppenheimer, discussed the BBC series of the same name from 1980 and said it was unlikely ever to be seen again due to its complicated rights situation, only for it to turn up on iPlayer within days and on BBC4 a week later. Parky died, leading to a host of repeats leading up to an outing for the stupidly-titled Parkinson Takes A Christmas Look At Morecambe And Wise, which has always fascinated us. What chance Fred Emney Picks A Pop in 2024?
SEPTEMBER started with the ace Bananarama at the BBC, which was one of the best of those clip shows they’ve ever done, with dozens of clips we’ve never seen before from shows like Six Fifty Five Special, the British Rock and Pop Awards, Lift Off and two cracking performances on Pebble Mill at One. And the Pops repeats finally made it into 1995 as well, as you can see with no urgency to get it completed by Christmas. They’ll all get on, promise. In Creamguide itself too we finally answered the burning question – what’s the difference between Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies? And the answer is, er, they were the same. We do this kind of thing every week, you know.
OCTOBER was Shakespeare month on BBC4 which screened pretty much every adaptation in the Beeb archives, going right back to Peter Hall’s productions from 1965 which were actually shown on primetime BBC1, albeit with an intermission to allow you to go to the toilet, but thanks to the pause button we now got them all in their near three hour glory. A bit of noughties nostalgia this autumn as got Big Brother vs Survivor again, just like in 2001, and like in 2001 it seems like the former ended up on top, albeit because it was confined to the slightly safer surroundings of ITV2 and some dead slots on ITV1 rather than being flung straight onto primetime BBC1. Still, if you enjoyed Survivor, expect to see it again around 2045. Steve Wright took over Pick of the Pops and played 1979 within two weeks, so the whole thing was clearly a triumph.
NOVEMBER was non-stop Doctor Who, with every story (except the first) on iPlayer, the colourised Daleks and some fascinating archive specials before the new era with the new old Doctor began in earnest and was all good fun we think. More nostalgia as BBC4 showed the Lee and Herring-fronted episode of Pops we recorded the links from to keep forever 28 years ago. He said “wazzock”, honest. We did like that their suggestion Robson and Jerome being number one was “not our fault” became a bit of a running joke for the next few weeks, including by Robson and Jerome themselves.
And so to DECEMBER where we had the controversial Doctor Who bi-regeneration (although we liked the suggestion on Twitter that a bigger betrayal of the show’s fans was that he saved the day by successfully catching a ball) and Ncuti making his debut in just his pants. Creamguide’s mum thinks he’s lovely looking, though, so all bodes well for next year. And at Christmas time we got a host of amazing archivery including BBC4 outings for Larry Grayson’s Generation Game, Scotch and Wry and even Bruce and Ronnie, although we know at least two people who failed to make it past the first five minutes of that. And with budgets being stretched further than ever before, who knows what incredible old toss we’ll see flung onto our screens this year? Well, that’s where Creamguide comes in, of course. Unless we forget to bill it, natch. Happy new year!
By the way…
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