Tag Archives: the prisoner

May 16th 1975 (II)

… continued from last post…

John, Paul George, Ring0… and Bert” Programme from 1975

What do you think a “movement consultant” does? I wonder if that is the equivalent of a stage director? It sounds awfully vulgar… “Hello, what do you do?”…. “Oh, I consult people on their movements”…. “Ewwwwwww!” (The Gillian McKeith of his era perhaps? *heh-heh*)

Willy Russell’s play started life at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in May 1974 before moving to London’s West End a few months later.

The chairmen and managing director of the Lyric Theatre were all well-known entertainment impresarios.

Sir Lew Grade (real name: Lev Winogradsky) had been involved in the inception of ITV (Independent Television), was part owner of Associated Television and ran ITC, a hugely succesful television corporation responsible for bringing such hits as “Thunderbirds”, “The Saint”, “The  Persuaders” and “The Prisoner” to our small screens.

Toby Rowland had produced plays in London since 1955 and was a highly influential theatre owner whose biggest ‘public’ claim to fame was that he discovered treasured Yorkshire playwright Alan Bennett

Louis Benjamin was also managing Director of the famous London Palladium and had brought the Royal Variety Performance to that stage for years. He was also the chairman of the succesful Pye Record label and was instrumental in developing the careers of singers such as Sandie Shaw and Dusty Springfield.

That “Robert Stigwood” is the same Robert Stigwood who kickstarted the recording career of Cream and was later responsible for a couple of movie musicals you may have heard of: “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease”. He IS the “R.S. in RSO Records.

The Lyric Theatre sits on London’s prestigious Shaftsbury Avenue in London’s West End district and still retains many of its original features. It first opened in 1888. It is the oldest existing theatre on the street. It was built behind an original 1767 house facade, and backs onto Great Windmill Street. The building was Grade II listed by English Heritage as early as 1960, showing its importance to the city of London. It seats a modest 967 on four levels and still uses an electric pump to operate its iron curtain. Yes, iron.

More “John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert” programme nonsense tomorrow…

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January 16th 1973

“2nd Maths Mock o’level – BLOODY hard” / “After two weeks of solid revision, had to do piles of copying up” / “Got Quid for Focus ticket” / “Got Tarkus tape back from Precision”

A diary entry that has made me both remember AND forget things in equal quantities.

Firstly, conveniently forgetting that my Maths mock was BLOODY hard (please note swearing, spelled correctly, for absolute emphasis), my brain is somehow farting over the phrase “copying up”

Don’t get me wrong, I recognise the phrase “copying up” from the days at school, I just cannot – for the life of me – remember what it relates to exactly. As several of my old schoolchums might be reading this… maybe they can shed a little light on it?

The thing I CAN remember – perhaps surprisingly – is with regards to that comment about getting ELP’s Tarkus tape back from Precision. (I must have had a faulty one or something?)

The compact cassette began life in the mid-60’s, designed by Philips, primarily/initially for dictation and personal recording use. It was introduced to replace the unwieldy, huge and non-portable reel-to-reel tape recorders which had been popular for some time. The cassette was therefore an early example of product miniaturisation as a result of consumer demand, something which still exists to this day. People only have to notice how small their mobile/cell phones have become in the the past 5 or 6 years.

In 1971 three things happened almost simultaneously that propelled the cassette into the forefront of commercial recordings and allow it to take on the LP’s dominance.

The first was that the 3M company rejigged the transport mechanism inside the tape shells, making the tape run cleaner and with less flutter.

The second thing was the introduction of chromium dioxide (Cr02)tapes, giving much improved and longer-lasting quality.

The third, however, was the most revolutionary.

Tapes invariably gave off a hissing sound when played back, the result of the tape moving across the machine’s heads. In 1966 an American scientist named Ray Dolby invented a professional noise reduction system for recording studios that all but eliminated that tape hiss. That system was known as “Dolby A”. Several years later he perfected a second version – Dolby B – that made high fidelity (hi-fi) a reality on home tape machines and cassettes.

The combination of all these factors – together with the sheer portability of the format – made the cassette market take off like a proverbial rocket. (However, it would be 1979, and the advent of the Sony Walkman that would take the format all the way to the moon)

I am digressing to tell the story of the cassette, but here’s the thing I CAN remember from this period in the seventies.

Lord, then Sir, Lew Grade

Record labels did NOT release their own tapes in th UK. Instead of manufacturing the cassette versions of their best selling albums, many licensed them out to Precision Tapes, a subsidiary of Sir Lew Grade’s massive ITC Entertainment Group. (Digressing a little:- Lew Grade was the man wholly responsible for bringing  shows like The Prisoner, The Saint, Thunderbirds and The Muppets to our TV screens!)

So, although the cassettes would carry the same artwork, credits and content, the sales and distribution of those tapes would be handled by Precision.

At least until the record manufacturers had tooled up their plants to churn out tapes alongside vinyl LP’s.

So, my “Tarkus” cassette was a duffer and I obviously had to return it to Precision – rather than Manticore/Island Records – for a replacement. The date being prior to the whole “sale of goods act” – which came into force in 1979 – that meant I could have merely returned the tape to the retailer for a new non-faulty one.

You know, when I actually remember something as intrinsic as this, I get genuinely excited.

(What’s the betting I have it all wrong?)

In one of life’s “chaos theories”, I would later work for the video offshoot of Precision Tapes – for a period of about two months in 1980. Worst job ever.

Hmmmn…. have I written anything about ELP’s “Tarkus”? ….. checks EFA70’sTRO search facility…. Oh…. I see I haven’t…..

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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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Filed under 1972 Diary Entries, an aside, Asides on the 1970's, nostalgic ramblings