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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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An Aside (V) – Telly in 1972

“Three Channels and Nothing On”

Unlike today, when my wife and I have 200+ channels to choose from and almost unlimited programming possibilities (thanks to the advent of TiVo), in 1972 I had 3 channels to pick my viewing from; BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV.

We had just ONE television in the house. A small black & white set, my parents did not ‘convert’ to colour (together with it’s necessary, but far more expensive, TV license) until I gifted them a Sony brand 26″ for Christmas in 1976 or 1977. (I had promised myself that as soon as I started earning any decent money, I was going to buy them this ‘luxury’)

Maybe unlike other children of my age at that time, I have to be honest and say that my Mum & Dad did allow me to watch many of my favourite programmes. Actually, between us we shared quite a few faves, although in the case of The Benny Hill Show I am sure my Mum was watching a different element of the show than me or my Dad were!

I can’t ever remember getting stroppy with them because they didn’t let me watch a particular favourite, although I am convinced it must have happened a few times when programming clashes occurred.

It is weird to think that we had to watch everything “live” without any opportunity to record/timeshift/replay/rewind a show. If you missed a scene by visiting the loo, you missed it. If a joke wasn’t heard, you missed it. That sudden plot twist? Missed it.

Also, unlike today, there were no ‘instant repeats’ either! If you missed a show because you were out or busy doing something else, you never had the chance to “catch it again” later in the week. Indeed, repeats of anything were quite rare, the whole clichéd “here’s another opportunity to see” not yet in the TV lexicon.

So, what did I watch in 1972?
(By the way, be warned, this is the first in an irregular series of lengthy observational asides about life in the 70’s).

Here’s a merest selection…..

Are You Being Served?
OK, I admit it. I know I watched this awful show in 1972 and I know I laughed. Hey, I was 14 years old, Pauline Fowler looked like hot stuff and jokes about “pussies” had me giggling like a very giggly thing.

I was ‘gayly’ naive regarding the awfully homophobic jokes about Mr Humphries’ overt sexuality, but not so stupid so as to believe Captain Peacock would secretly teach me everything I needed to know for my later career in retail.

Even then the show was a little cringeworthy, so years later surely you could never admit to watching this comedic tosh? … oh, unless you are an American.

Since living in the mid-west I have seriously lost count of the number of people we’ve met who – once discovering I am British – have asked me if I have seen – or like – “that English TV show Are you being Served?“, adding “we simply luuuuurve it” and “it is sooooooo funny“. Yes, 36 looooooooooong years after first being broadcast in the UK, PBS in the USA continues to schedule regular reruns of the show (along with similarly anachronistic “Keeping Up Appearances” and, more recently, “Last of the Summer Wine“)

I am convinced therefore that many Americans believe “Are You Being Served” represents some kind of embodiment of British society. Nothing can be scarier. When someone asks me “are you free on Saturday night?”, I always wonder what response they expect!

Clangers
1972 sadly saw the demise of this classic kids TV show.

What can be more engaging for children than a bunch of hand-knitted puppet aliens who spoke only in penny-whistle noises and breathy whoops? 

Were they supposed to be anteaters? Pigs? Whichever, they subsisted on green soup brought to the surface of their bizarre planet from underground wells by the inimitable aluminium-clad soup dragon.
(No, Mr American spell checker, aluminium IS spelled that way, OK?! There IS an extra “i” in there…. look, we gave you the bloody langauge, please try not to ruin it)

Contrary to what I said earlier, I think The Clangers was often repeated, episodes shown weekly at tea-time on Sunday evenings just before the “god slot” (all things church and other prayer-based nonsense). Despite my ‘rebellious youth’, I watched The Clangers on a semi-regular basis, and it may have scarred me for life…

If you have 9½ spare minutes in your life, please try and enjoy the following brief spectacle…

… and I watched it (then) withOUT drugs!

A year or so ago, hit by a wave of ludicrous (mid-life crisis) nostalgia, I purchased a DVD collection of Clangers episodes. I watched two of them before giving up, deeming them “childish and stupid”. I subsequently gifting the set on to a friend in England who continues to indulge in ‘otherworldy’ substances. I’m sure – in fact I KNOW – he got more of a kick out of seeing the show again than I did?!

Show such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Goodies and Top of the Pops were die-hard staples of my weekly viewing and I suspect I will continue to comment on them in regular Efa70’sTRO diary postings, as well as the ‘educational’ (for me) show The Old Grey Whistle Test. So, what else was there?……..

We had American ‘imports’ – easily as much a part of UK TV programming back in the 70’s as it is now. The ones I can remember getting hooked on include:-

Columbo – One-eyed man in shabby old flasher mac catches the killer
• Mission Impossible – They always solved the mission, so why wasn’t the show called Mission Entirely Possible?
• Hawaii Five-O – Fact. Back then I told myself that I would NEVER visit Hawaii as I was convinced there was always too much crime there. (The theme tune to Hawaii Five-O remains one of THE best ever American TV openers!)
• Land of the Giants– One of my favourites without a shadow of a doubt. I can remember being as amazed by the sets the producers built for the actors to work in as I was the story lines.
• Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – This series about a futuristic nuclear submarine which trawled the seas of the world solving the mysteries of nature (like land of the Giants, an Irwin Allen production) felt quite believable to me back then. However technology & discoveries in the past 3 decades have subsequently rendered the show carbon-dated as ‘silly’

Most of these USA shows were broadcast on Sunday afternoons, which must have been one of my weekly rituals before going out to those TIB’s classes or… whatever else it was I did on Sunday evenings that I can’t remember.

Shows that wanted to be American, but weren’t, and which I also enjoyed were The Saint and The Avengers, both of which I will still watch and get a kick out of.

There’s some wonderfully old-fashioned ideals floating around in The Saint, Roger Moore’s Simon Templar character being permanently macho around women and feeling he has to protect them all the time whilst he solves the latest crime caper.

The Avengers, by total contrast, was supportive of the female role with all the women co-stars (Honor Blackman, Linda Thorson or the delectable Diana Rigg) being as – if not moreso – action-packed and formidable than Patrick Macnee’s John Steed character. I never realised it back then, but The Avengers was (and, watching repeats, still is) a very dark & often bizarre show. Some of the plots feel so blatantly surreal that I sometimes wonder what audience the producers were aiming for.

The show is often described at “kitsch”, but I never really see that. It’s very groovy and very 60’s/70’s for sure, but the scripts often appear fresher than any of the nonsense that calls itself ‘sci-fi crime’  these days. If that makes me sound like an old fuddy-duddy that might be because I am?!

Colditz debuted in 1972. Cleverly cashing in on the continuing popularity of the 1963 “bank holiday” classic movie “The Great Escape“, this series took the premise of POW’s (prisoners of war) one step further.

Why not give all the prisoners completely rounded characters and lock them in a supposedly impregnable German castle from which there is also, apparently, no means of escape? Then make the series more about a battle of the minds between the captors and the captives, than mere tunnel building. It was, therefore, a kind of World War II version of The Prisoner.

I was pretty hooked on this series as a teenager. My folks were too, making it something none of us missed. The series ran for just two series and for two years apparently, but it feels like we watched it much longer than that? (Maybe there was just no escape from it? *heh*)

Another show – a soap opera – which debuted in 1972 was Emmerdale Farm. A TV rip-off of the BBC Radio’s The Archers, a long-running radio saga about ‘everyday country folk’, Emmerdale Farm continues to, …erm, entertain 36 years later.

Now called simply Emmerdale, and broadcast five evenings a week (instead of a couple of lunchtimes as in 1972), my father still watches it.

OK, by way of sad disclosure, I’ll admit I still watch it too, but only – I hasten to add – whenever I go and stay with him in the UK or, as recently, he flies across and stays with us. (I think he was secretly impressed he could still catch up on his little guilty pleasure thanks to me finding daily downloads)

As a 70’s teenager you had a definite choice to make. You were either a Blue Peter fan OR a Magpie fan. There’s was no mixing and matching. Blue Peter was the BBC’s long-running (STILL running now) magazine-format TV show for ‘young people’. It went out twice a week and featured all kinds of things including activities, crafts, cookery, toys & charity events. It is one of the Beeb’s most iconic TV shows, with early presenters such as Peter Purves, John Noakes and Valerie Singleton (the trifecta of PERFECT hosts) 100% assured of their place in TV history.

Personally, I always found Blue Peter to be a little po-faced and ‘immature’, those gifts made out of toilet paper rolls and washing-up bottles somewhat twee and entirely unnecessary. So I gravitated towards Magpie, ITV’s far superior imitation. 

With an easier-going attitude to stuff, Magpie just seemed a much trendier, cooler show. The sets were all sci-fi like, the presenters (including Tony Bastable, Mick Robertson, the weirdly attractive Susan Stranks, and the – to me, back then – stunning Jenny Hanley) generally seemed more laid back  and the subjects discussed more relevant to a hormonal teenager.

I’ll own up to writing in to the show from time to time, just so that they would send me one of the badges they gave away. Each badge was based on a line from their singalong theme tune (sung by later musical faves of mine, the Spencer Davis Group). I still have the badges somewhere amongst the pile of junk I brought across the ocean with me. If I can find them, I will scan and share them with all my readers.

Another geeky favourite was Mastermind, a weekly quiz-show presented by ice-cool Magnus Magnusson. In this, 4 contestants would slug it out as to which was the brainiest by first taking questions on their specialist subject and then answering a bunch of general knowledge questions. All whilst sat in a comfy leather chair and under the spotlight in a dark-foreboding studio. I’m sure that I probably answered no more than one question every 4 or 5 episodes of this, but it made me feel clever watching it.

Magnus used to have a catchphrase which seems apt to use here….

I’ve started so I’ll finish

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August 12th 1972

“we had duck for dinner. after mum had washed up I was pulled away from the telly and was told we were going to gilkicker” / “we looked at slides”

More distressing diary conversation.

I’m no vegetarian (my wife is) but I have very much drawn the line at eating duck these days. I love the cute little critters too much and have invested far too much crusty bread in feeding them over the years for me to consider them something I would want on my plate.

The fact that I was “pulled away from the telly” says a lot about how little my life has changed in 36 years. My wife still has a hard time extracting me from the sofa in time for dinner sometimes!

I have mentioned Gilkicker before. I have to assume that my Dad did some sea fishing off the shoreline there as I can’t imagine why we would otherwise keep visiting the place?

We looked at slides” is as almost as fearful now as it was back then. We never printed photos, only ever got them as 35mm slides, which required a projector, a screen and all kinds of hassle to look at them.

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