Monthly Archives: August 2009

Telly in 1973 (Part IV)

[…continued from Part III]

Nowadays it seems as if every successful TV detective has to have a quirk or a habit to separate them from the ‘ordinary’… Veronica Mars is a teenager, House is (essentially) a medical detective, in Lie to Me Tim Roth plays a ‘mannerism specialist’, Dexter is a serial killer, Monk suffers from O.C.D. and Rosemary & Thyme are…. erm… gardeners.

In 1973 the most extreme thing about the cops shows we watched was that… the crimes were solved in Holland!

Van Der Valk was a huge hit TV series that ran for five years in the UK. I was hooked on it.

It starred Barry Foster as gritty Dutch detective Commissaris Piet Van Der Valk. The stories were all based in Amsterdam and revolved around sex, drugs, smuggling and murder.

The oft-gruesome storyline was always contrasted by the visuals of the show, which were stunningly beautiful. The location shots of Amsterdam – with its lovely rivers, barges and quaint little balanced bridges – stayed with me long after the show finished.

What has stayed with me longer however is the show’s theme tune, a magnificent earworm of a song entitled “Eye Level” by the Simon Park Orchestra. It sold over a million copies, reached Number 1 in the UK charts, and stayed there for four weeks in 1973.

It’s such an earworm of a tune, and so synonymous with the show, that when my wife & I were lucky enough to visit Amsterdam a couple of years ago I (sadly for her) spent much of the stay wandering the streets whistling it out loud. I’m sure I won’t have been the first Brit to do that… and I know I won’t be the last!

 Anyone who thinks that “X-Factor” or “America’s Got Talent” is an original TV concept obviously isn’t old enough to remember ITV’s talent show “New Faces” which ran for five years from 1973.

New Faces featured a presenter – Derek Hobson – and an industry/celebrity panel of judges who graded each wannabe performer in three categories; Presentation, Content and (importantly) Star Quality. The winners each week went through to the next round, pitting themselves against other successes until there was a series winner via a grand finale. (Sound familiar Susan Boyle?)

The snarky “Simon Cowell” of New Faces was songwriter Tony Hatch (who wrote many of Petula Clark‘s hits, the theme to soap opera “Crossroads” and was responsible for kick starting David Bowie‘s career). Just like Cowell he was considered ‘mean’ by the audience, especially when, during one memorable episode, he gave a particularly poor blues guitarist zero out of 10 in every category. One person’s ‘mean’ is another person’s ‘honesty’ I guess?

The show did give an important break to a variously-talented selection of performers. Comedians Lenny Henry, Joe Pasquale, Roy Walker and Victoria Wood all impressed the judges, likewise musical artists Showaddywaddy, Fivepenny Piece and Patti Boulaye.

Acts which the public subsequently probably wished hadn’t become stars include sad alcoholic ‘entertainer’ Michael Barrymore, the slapstick moronity of The Chuckle Brothers, average all-rounder screecher Marti Caine and hideously-racist comedian Jim Davidson.

One act which fell through the cracks – and astonishingly failed in his quest for stardom – is Stevie Riks, someone whom I have only recently become familiar with thanks to his relative ubiquity on YouTube. Riks is a – to me anyway – hysterical musical impressionist, specialising in sending up acts such as Bowie, Freddie Mercury, the Bee Gees and all of the Beatles. His low definition impressions are often grotesque but his mannerisms are always right on the money.

More recently Riks’ YouTube videos have become the subject of ludicrous”copyright restrictions” by (humourless) record labels and publishers, so they’re a little harder to find than they were, but searching his name will usually give everyone some funny clips to laugh (some really out loud) at.

A particular favourite of mine is this one, Riks doing Freddie Mercury singing Lieutenant Pigeon’s ‘classic’ “Mouldy Old Dough

I seem to remember New Faces being on around Saturday teatime? Was it 6 o’clock? Hardly prime time is it? Not like now, where (so-called) ‘talent shows’ invade our eyeballs with increasing regularity, the law of diminishing returns providing us with progressively average ‘stars’

Well, here endeth my personal dissertation about English telly in 1973. 

Due to the the risk of possibly boring you all, I deliberately avoided talking about another (particularly guilty) pleasure of mine from the time; “Man About the House“. I will say this… it’s difficult, now, to imagine this show creating a public scandal. But that’s what it did back then…. because of its storyline of a bloke living with (but not married to either) two women.

It’s not as if it was ever pornographic. Paula Wilcox in a négligée (and at – quite possibly – the very height of her youthful beauty) excepted

The next few posts should return to my diary entries.. that is at least before I go off on any other ’73-centric tangents!



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Telly in 1973 (Part III)

[… continued from Part II]

In retrospect 1973 turned out to be quite a banner year for British TV comedy.

Kicking things off in style, “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? ” was a sequel to much-loved 60’s sitcom “The Likely Lads“.

Written again by Ian LeFrenais and Dick Clement, its storyline rekindled the friendship between a pair of working class school chums from Newcastle, an unlikely friendship which which made the original so very funny.

Whilst one of the chums (Bob – played by Rodney Bewes) was constantly aspiring to join the white-collar middle class, complete with all its terrible affectations, the other (Terry – played by James Bolam) had just returned from a spell in the army and was finding it hard to comprehend things in the ‘real world’, not least of which was his friend’s fake ambitions.

The comedy of the show derives from each pal thinking he is are somehow superior to the other. Bob thinks he has it made with his brand new suburban home, doting wife, career path and badminton games, whilst Terry feels that, having fought for his country, he has moral superiority over everyone he meets.

Unlike other shows from the time which have disappointed, a recent re-viewing of some of the old episodes proved that the writing has most definitely stood the test of time. Indeed, some of the ‘uncomfortable’ humour has been replicated in newer shows like “The Office” or “Gavin & Stacey

Recently voted one of Britain’s best sitcoms, “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” debuted in February 1973. It introduced a hapless and accident prone character, Frank Spencer, to the TV viewing public.

Each episode usually found the well-meaning Frank in situations where his optimistic naivety resulted in chaos and/or calamity for those around him. A running gag throughout the series was we would often see one cameo character telling another that Spencer was trouble and should be avoided at all costs. Inevitably, this warning was ignored, resulting in circumstances spiralling out of control and the person suffering some kind of mental breakdown, with Spencer clueless as to his contribution to everything.

Played with superb comic timing by Michael Crawford – bravely doing all of his own dangerous stunts – Frank Spencer would turn out to be a character that still has a firm hold on UK public consciousness. In fact, there are probably stand-up comics in the Outer Hebrides still making some kind of a living from doing terrible impersonations of Spencer’s catchphrases “Oooh, Betty“, “a little bit of trouble” or “the cat’s done a whoopsie

As if to prove its comedic longevity, “Some Mothers…” has been almost constantly repeated by the BBC since its first airings, still proving – somewhat bizarrely – to be a massive hit in Australia.

As if to maintain some continuity here, let me hand you a piece of trivia… Michael Crawford was NOT the show’s producers’ first choice to play the bumbling beret-sporting Frank Spencer. Indeed, the role was first offered to….

Ronnie Barker, who himself debuted two new classic sitcoms in 1973, both as one-off pilots in a comedy series entitled “Seven of One

The first, “Open All Hours“, featured Barker as Arkwright, a miserly money-grabbing – and stammering – shopkeeper. He runs his little corner shop with a rod of iron, employing his oft-clueless nephew Granville (David Jason) as his much-put-upon errand boy. Set in Yorkshire, the full series did not air until 1976 but proved to be an immediate hit, later voted Britain’s EIGHTH best sitcom.

 The other sitcom that had roots in the “Seven of One” series was about the characters in a prison. In the pilot – entitled “Prisoner & Escort” – a criminal, Norman Stanley Fletcher (Barker), is being transported from one prison to another escorted by a pair of wardens.

The comedic interplay between Barker and his fellow actors (Brian Wilde and Fulton Mackay) was so popular with viewers that the BBC eagerly commissioned a full series, entitled “Porridge“, which dropped into British culture a year later in 1974. It became a TV comedy classic.

The series – which ran for 3 years, but had only 20 episodes – was set entirely inside the prison walls, bringing in several other criminal characters such as Fletcher’s cell-mate Godber (Richard Beckinsale), Harry Grout (Peter Vaughan) and Blanco (David Jason, once again featuring opposite Barker).

The premise of each episode usually involved Fletcher trying to get one up on the ‘system’ inside the prison walls, in the process always undermining the wardens and endearing himself to his fellow inmates.

Whilst I will happily watch any repeats/reruns of any of the above show, the same cannot be said for “Last of the Summer Wine” which also debuted in 1973.

Proving the old adage that, yes, less is often more, the show has recently staggered to its THIRTIETH series, and there’s news that the BBC – presumably now starved for any kind of ‘hit’ show  – have just commissioned a 31st, scheduled for 2010. 

I’ll happily admit I watched the first few series and found the show to be funny, if not entirely engaging or unmissable. I think, basically, it was broadcast a Sunday evening when absolutely nothing else was on.

Filmed in and around the rolling hills of West Yorkshire, it centres around the day-to-day ‘troubles’ a trio of old retired men can get into in a small village community. It perpetuated the myth truth that men never grow up, resulting in octogenarian bathtub races, wrinkly flirting and acting outrageously at the library.

The early line-up of actors – Bill Owen, Peter SallisMichael Bates and Kathy Staff – represent perhaps the ‘classic period’ of the show. Even if it has never fallen off Britain’s public radar in the last three decades, I think it fell off mine a lot sooner.

Ironically – and in a cruel twist of fate – it is the only show out of those I have listed here which is shown on American television, episodes appearing on PBS from time to time. I have tried to still appreciate, if only for ‘old time’s sake’ and the fact that it’s quintessentially English, but I usually change channels again within just a few minutes.

A ‘banner year’ for TV comedy indeed. Ronnie Barker in definitive roles, Sir David Jason in his TV debut, a couple of likely dads” bringing the suburban north into our living rooms and a cultural icon in the shape of Frank Spencer.


Tomorrow:- The X-Factor’s historical roots and Dutch detectivisation.

[article continued in Part IV…]

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Telly in 1973 (Part II)

[…continued from Part I]

Another show I got into in 1973 was the Sci-Fi ‘classic” The Tomorrow People“.

The Tomorrow People were a bunch of teenagers – all with special powers – who operated out of a secret laboratory hidden in an abandoned London Underground station. The team spent their days watching out for for “new Tomorrow People” emerging (“breaking out” as it was referred to) in Britain, and then aided them through the often painful and harrowing process. Their bosses were the “Galactic Federation” – headed by (No, I am not making this up) “Galactic Trig” – set up to apparently oversee the general welfare of “telepathic & telekinetic species throughout the universe”.

The teenagers were helped in their quest by TIM, a computer capable of original thought (a bit like the Dell model I have here) and which helped them teleport long distances. Every sci-fi show has to feature teleportation of some kind, but in The Tomorrow People it was called jaunting. No, I don’t know why either.

As with all TV sci-fi of the time this show balanced great concepts with crappy effects, stilted dialogue and dodgy acting. I say this having again recently ‘enjoyed’ the first story ever broadcast. “The Slaves of Jedikiah” was a six-part tale that jumped around (“jaunted”?) all over the place and featured a character called (amusingly to me) “Ginge”. Maybe the 15-year-old me found it enthralling stuff, but the 51-year-old me is more jaded and thus found it tedious.

Trivia freaks may care to store this gem away though…. Roger Price, the creator of The Tomorrow People, was allegedly inspired to write the show after a chance meeting with David Bowie.

Bowie’s song “Oh You Pretty Things” features the line “let me make it plain, you gotta make way for the homo superior“, and Price subsequently made the characters in the show people who had attained a higher level of human evolution; a ‘Homo Superior’.


Tomorrow, people will be able to read my thoughts on a collection of TV comedy classics which all debuted in 1973.

[article continued in Part III…]

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Telly in 1973 (Part I)

Hidden amongst my posts for my 1972 diary was one dedicated to the television shows I watched as a 14-year-old.

In a cruel twist of fate – considering how much else of my past life I share in these pages – this post has proved to be amongst the most viewed of anything I have written here.

*sigh*…. I know, I know… if only I could remember MORE about my diary entries… you might take a bigger interest in the mundane over the profound.

However, in an unashamed effort to bolster readership and to once again attain the heady heights of hits this blog was receiving back in June ’08 I bring you…

Telly in 1973!

There’s no doubting that a lot of what I was watching in 1972, I was still watching in 1973. I was always something of a creature of habit with my TV viewing, rarely giving up completely on a show until either it came to a complete stop or something on another of the THREE channels we had appeared more impressive and was on at the same time.

Remember this was a time before VCRs, before Tivos and before (what now seems like) instant repeats. If you missed a show in 1973, you missed it completely.

From the kids teatime shows I was still watching Magpie(Jenny Hanley remaining an almost irresistible twice-weekly draw), but a new daily addition to my viewing schedule was John Craven’s Newsround.

John Craven’s Newsround was such a simple concept, it’s amazing no-one had thought of it before. It was, put simply, a news show for kids… the first such show in the world. The days events were presented – predating, by several decades, today’s trend for ‘soundbites’ – in a simple bulletin style, the details of each news item condensed down so that teenagers, such as myself, could understand what was being talked about.

John Craven (now John Craven O.B.E.) started his career as a print journalist in Yorkshire before moving to join BBC Bristol in the early seventies. In what was very much a TV ‘first’ of the times, Craven did not sit behind a desk – the traditional place for newsreaders – but instead sat next to it. Producers of Newsround felt that if he had sat behind a desk, children might think he represented a teacher and would be put off from watching the programme!

 Craven initially dressed quite formally – collar and tie – but as the show’s popularity increased – and attracted a progressively younger audience over the years – Craven adopted the “wooly jumper” look, best displayed here in an episode of the news from 1982.

He presented John Craven’s Newsround right up until 1989 when – unsurprisingly – the name was changed to simply “Newsround”. Amazingly, the show is STILL broadcasting. It’s now on CBBC (Children’s BBC), and aimed at even younger kids from the ages of 6 to 12.  (So children ARE growing up quicker these days!)

I think what’s amazing about Newsround is how much it appears to have influenced other – grown-up – news programmes over the decades. A few years ago the notion of a news reader being anywhere but behind a desk was unheard of, and yet now we’re more than accustomed to seeing them sitting rather ungainly on a stool, a small laptop propped up on a table beside them. 

The whole “rolling news 24-hours a day” concept has of course adopted the ‘soundbite’ culture so as to cram as much salient information in as short a period of time as today’s current affairs producers feel we can spend watching their show. True investigate journalism seems an outdated model for today’s news programme, replaced instead by a bunch of over-opinionated simple-minded talking heads. *cough*Fox News*cough*

I guess for me and many people of my age, Newsround represented an early induction into the oft-murky arena of”current affairs”. I’m glad that the show still airs in the UK and continues to teach kids about the ‘real world’. __________
Tomorrow, I feature – somewhat aptly – The Tomorrow People!

(“Telly in 1973” Article continues in Part 2…)

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November 14th 1973

“Day Off – Went into Eastleigh – Went to see Everything you ever…”

When David Reuben sold off the film rights to his 1969 sex manualEverything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)” to comedian film maker Woody Allen he surely MUST have known Allen was going to parody it mercilessly?

Parody it Allen did, taking little more than chapter titles as a starting point for his bizarre comedy sequences.

Let’s have a quick list of some of the comedic moments shall we?…

• With references to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” throughout, the sequence entitled Do Aphrodisiacs Work? finds Woody playing a court jester trying to seduce his Queen (played by Lynn Redgrave) after giving her a love potion. Not accepting defeat when he discovers she is wearing a chastity belt.

Gene Wilder plays a doctor who falls in love with a sheep.

• A TV Game show entitled “What’s My Perversion” (An idea that was quite preposterous in 1973 but now seems akin to a likely addition to the fall schedules on VH1)

• A surreal sequence where a giant breast is chased across the countryside

• The final skit is set inside a man’s body – as he attempts to seduce a woman. Workers in a control center in the man’s brain (including  Tony Randall and Burt Reynolds) send commands to the soldier-like sperm, dispatching them SAS-style into the great unknown.

I would hate to think that I learned anything about sex from this movie in 1973. I did (eventually) cultivate an appreciation for Woody Allen movies that lasted for at least another couple of decades, but I secretly suspect that – in 1973 – the promise of female cinematic nudity and a certain “I shouldn’t be seeing this film” teenage subterfuge were my primary reasons for spending an afternoon in Eastleigh’s Regal.

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November 12th 1973

“Got Uriah Heep Live cheap”

You have GOT to be kidding me??

Erm… I mean… I have GOT to be kidding me?!!

Uriah Heep?

Cheap. Christ, it would HAVE to be cheap. If it cost me 1½p, that would have been a penny too much. Even if I stole it, it was still too expensive.

I can honestly state that I would not know a Uriah Heep tune now if it came up and slapped me in the face. Not one.

I think what makes this doubly-scary 36 years after the event is that “Uriah Heep Live” was a DOUBLE album. If I didn’t know any better I would swear that someone stole my 1973 diary and wrote this in it just to taunt me about my utter lack of memory.

I think Einstein once said something along the lines of “your brain will only remember the things it needs to remember, discarding all the rest”

Surely Uriah Heep must have been discarded within seconds of hearing them. If a future diary entry does not speak of me trading, giving away or burning this album then I seriously question my mental health in 1973.


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November 11th 1973

“Aquarius ftured Salvador Dali – Smart”

Aquarius was a weekly TV programme about “the arts” on ITV. I believe it was the precursor to the seminal South Bank Show.

I can’t be sure if I was aware of the work of Dali before this show, or if this show prompted me to learn more, but I do know that for many years afterwards I was mildly obsessed (and overtly influenced) by his surreal paintings.

Dali – or to give him his full name; Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech – was a true artistic eccentric. Sometimes controversial, always flamboyant, he actually trained as a draftsman before indulging himself in the avant-garde, producing a substantial body of work in his lifetime, the most famous of which is probably 1931’s “Persistence of Memory” – shown above.

His life seems so fascinating and ‘out there’ I remain astonished that no-one has ever made a comprehensive biographic film about him.

If and when they do I wonder if they will include the following surprising pieces of ‘pub quiz’ trivia …

a) Dali designed the logo for lollipop manufacturer Chupa Chups?


b) Since his death, art dealers have been extremely be nervous about trading Dali works. The reason for this is because when he was old and quite senile he was forced to sign a number of blank canvasses, unfortunately suggesting there could quite a few forgeries floating around the art world!


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November 7th 1973

“Careers Evening – Went to it – KILLER!”

Well, I’m certainly glad I didn’t go with THEIR career choice…

It seems a little extreme to say the least!

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