Wednesday, 28 December 2016

15 Female Led British Sitcoms You May Have Missed


Whenever you scan through those 'Best British Sitcoms Ever' lists, there's a couple of things you'll notice:

1. We've produced some HILARIOUS sitcoms
2. Most of these sitcoms are male led affairs

Yes, whilst Absolutely Fabulous, The Liver Birds and Miranda will all sneak in, they're mostly in the minority. And, sure, many of the other sitcoms will feature strong, female characters, but they're almost always shackled to a male lead with an equal share in power. Now, the reasons why there's such an imbalance in the genders - when it comes to celebrated sitcoms - is far too deep and complex to be tackled on a humble blog post, so I won't be attempting that.

Neither shall I be writing about Absolutely Fabulous, The Liver Birds and Miranda as they've all been covered within an inch of their lives a thousand times before. Instead, I'll be sticking to the Curious British Telly ethos of highlighting the lesser known gems; in this case, female led sitcoms that perhaps you caught an episode or two of, but can't quite remember the name of. And, whilst some of these are rightfully forgotten, there are many more which still demand a bit of recognition.

So, without further ado, here's 15 Female Led British Sitcoms You May Have Missed:

Monday, 26 December 2016

Threads: 15 Horrifying Moments From The Nuclear Drama


Threads was a 1984 BBC2 drama/documentary which tried to predict what would happen to Britain if nuclear war broke out and follows the path taken by Ruth Kemp and her family. It's a show which is regularly feted as one of the most bleak, disturbing and realistic pieces of drama to ever air not just on British TV, but in the history of the entire planet's televisual output. And, no matter how many times I watch it, the unflinching honesty of Threads leaves me feeling incredibly disconsolate, but completely engrossed.

It's a rare TV show that can tap into all our fears with such brutal realism, but it's rarer that a narrative has such a searing emotional intensity that it removes us from the confines of comfortable viewing due its proximity to our worst fears. And that's why I decided it was time to detail what I considered the 15 most horrifying moments from Threads in order to re-iterate the show's position as a disturbing, but masterful exercise in emotional TV.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

It’s Lineker For Barcelona



Gary Lineker is, quite frankly, a national treasure extraordinaire. Coupling slick presenting skills with a brilliantly measured dose of wry humour, he's helped to infuse Match of the Day with an affable charm for nearly two decades. And then there's his adverts for Walkers Crisps which knowingly skewered his Mr Nice Guy persona with a nasty crunch.

The foundation of his national treasure status, of course, emanates from his glorious career as a striker with a penchant for lurking in the six-yard box and soaring up the scoring charts wherever he went. And if it wasn't for Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney and Graham "let's sub him" Taylor, Lineker would easily be England's leading goalscorer.

And what's even more remarkable about Lineker is that he shimmied neatly away from the pitfall of becoming an English player going abroad and failing to make their mark. In fact, during his spell at Barcelona in the 1980s he was even dubbed The King of Spain. Whilst Lineker wasn't adorned with ermine robes, his first year at Barcelona was akin to a coronation as observed in It's Lineker For Barcelona.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

TV Nostalgia: Why Do We Love It So Much?


I know that, on the whole, I do a pretty good job of keeping my love of TV nostalgia under my hat, but the more astute visitors to Curious British Telly may have picked up on the fact that I'm completely obsessed with it. And well done to those masters of deduction, here, have a biscuit.

Anyway, I often wonder exactly what it is that drives my passion for all things nostalgia. I guess, at it's most base level, it's a way of escaping the present and retreating to a seemingly innocent era. However, no era of mankind's history is free from atrocities, so it's a little foolish to purely play the innocence card as everyone's perception of history is subjective - nonetheless, I still love the mid 1980s as, to me at least, it feels sprinkled with a simplistic magic I doubt I'll ever recapture...

However, there are plenty of other reasons that I actively search out the history of British TV's past. Perhaps, most importantly, I just love fantastic TV and can't get enough of it, so investigating the vast back catalogue of archive material gives me the best chance of finding TV that I adore.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

5 Things We Miss From The World of British TV


British TV has changed a lot in the last 30 years and, for the whole, it's been an amazing evolution which has enhanced choice and accessibility to stratospheric levels. However, along the way, I can't help but survey the casualties which fallen to the wayside in this exciting sprint towards our most wild TV dreams. That's why I've decided to take a look at 5 things we miss from British TV.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Steal



We've all committed a bit of light fingered theft, right? I know I have, but please, before you get on the phone to the rozzers, I must stress that this amounts to little more than "liberating" the complimentary biscuits from first class train carriages as I stomp through to cattle class.

I certainly don't burgle houses or endorse this heinous act in anyway whatsoever, but, believe it or not, ITV - the most miscreantic of all the channels - actively celebrated this crime in the early 1990s. Now, I know that it was an era of poll taxes and rising unemployment, but it's no excuse for inciting the sort of behaviour seen in Steal.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

21 British Football TV Shows Which AREN’T Match of the Day

 
Match of the Day straddles the history of football on British TV like no other. And, you know what, we still can't stop tuning into it even though, these days, all it takes is a few clicks of a mouse to watch any live football game anywhere in the world. Also, when we're confronted by the sight of Gary Lineker in his smalls, you do wonder if there's so much money in the game that mental instability is quietly ignored.


I guess its just such an integral part of British culture - much like football at Christmas - that we can overlook the sometimes curmudgeonly pundits and Gary Lineker's groan inducing lines (and pants) to enjoy what is essentially a simple highlights package. Sure, it should be called Matches of the Day, but I'm willing to overlook my pedantry here as it's become, quite rightly, a national treasure.

However, there's more to life than Match of the Day and the various other highlights shows that have come and gone over the years. What we want is a more representative look at the world of football to allow us to laugh, analyse the sport's rich history and maybe even learn how to dribble down the wing like the greats. And, besides, what are we going to watch in the off-season? Skeet Shooting with Miles Jupp?

Luckily, there's a fantastic back catalogue of shows lurking in the archive to satisfy almost every need from every demographic. Therefore, it's time to take a ganders at 21 British football TV shows which AREN'T Match of the Day.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Seconds Out




The world of boxing may be brutal and drenched in machismo, but there's a certain romance behind its narrative which is difficult to deny. Packed full of rags to riches charm and containing a multitude of colourful, yet highly dubious characters, it's no surprise that the public have such a fervoured interest in the stories which take place in and out of the ring.

The success of films such as Rocky and Raging Bull are proof of this demand, but, generally, these narratives have focused squarely on drama and rarely comedy. Sure, I guess you could say that Rocky V was a comedy, but that was purely unintentional. And this lack of comedy is a surprise considering that boxers are firmly committed to that cornerstone of all great comedy characters: an unshakeable sense of self belief

However, the world of pugilism colliding with comedy in a hefty uppercut isn't completely uncharted territory as British boxing discovered in Seconds Out.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Acting Masterclass: 21 Faces of Matthew Corbett

Recently, whilst I should have been getting on more important things in life, I've been watching an awful lot of The Sooty Show. And you know what I've realised? Yes, I really should get round to renewing my car tax instead of reacquainting myself with a mute bear from the blessed years of my childhood.


However, more importantly, I've also realised that Matthew Corbett is one of the finest actors to ever grace the TV screens of Great Britain. And, if you don't believe me, why don't you take a look at the wide variety of facial expressions and guises below that he can conjure up to underline his acting prowess.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

25 Curious British TV Comedies That Only Had One Series


Not every British TV comedy show can rack up 51 series (and counting) as demonstrated by Have I Got News for You and it's highly unlikely that many others will manage to better the 37 year lifespan of Last of the Summer Wine. In fact, many comedy TV shows bow out after one series, but just because they're not prolific, it doesn't mean these short run British comedies don't have a story to tell.

And, sometimes, these stories can be as tragic as a star actor dying during filming, controversy splashed all over the airwaves about the shows content or, maybe, a show which didn't quite click was actually conceived by writers and actors who would go on to be megastars. Also, you can't discount the possibility that some shows are either criminally overlooked or the creative teams simply want to move onto a new challenge.

I've decided to take a look at 25 curious British TV comedies that only had one series to see what intriguing stories lay behind some of these (hopefully) laugh filled comedic gems.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Wall Game



I can't think of a more fun and welcoming subject at school than drama. It was the one lesson a week where you were guaranteed no homework, no discussion of the intricacies of French nouns, no breathless exercise, but you were promised more fun than you could shake a stick at - this is why no one ever skipped drama.

Now, I'm not trying to reduce drama teachers to mere purveyors of frivolity. Far from it in fact, as drama is a crucial area of education which breeds confidence and allows children to express themselves through a wide range of methods. In fact, drama was always the one lesson at school where even the particularly shy kid who smelt of mothballs (there was always one in every year) got their moment to shine and garner a rare applause from their peers.

And this is why the idea of a TV show which embraced this rich vein of enthusiasm and expression made so much sense that we got The Wall Game.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

22 of the Most Hideous Jumpers on British TV in the 80s


The 1980s are synonymous with many things, but, once you get past Thatcher, AIDS hysteria and George Michael's fax machine, you soon find yourself examining the fashions. And, Adidas trainers aside, it was a pretty horrendous time for wrapping yourself up in the fabrics which defined the decade.

Few families can boast a photo album from the 1980s which doesn't include a collection of abysmal tracksuits, stonewash jeans and, more importantly, jumpers which are so unbelievably dull or just downright grotesque that they feel like a vulgar attack on our digestive systems.

However, at the time, these disgusting, woolly manifestations of bad taste were beloved by millions. And, in particular, they were adored by people appearing on British TV. Now, maybe I'm just feeling particularly sadistic or perhaps I feel that maybe, beneath all this hideousness, there's actually a hint of style and elan that I could appropriate for the modern age.

Either way, it's time to take a look at 22 of the most hideous jumpers on British TV in the 80s!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

6 of the Best Morrissey Appearances on British TV


An incredibly divisive character, Morrissey has certainly pulled no punches over the years when it comes to being forthright and handy with an opinion. However, he's also incredibly British with his detailed observations on the tediousness of life, a rapier wit which punctures with its dark cruelty and a passion for the stars of Britain's past.

In particular, he's never shied away from his admiration of small screen stars such as Pat Phoenix and Violet Carson, so it's no surprise that he's never failed to light up British television when he's made an appearance. And, as I've been listening to The Queen is Dead all week, I decided it was time to look at 6 of the best Morrissey appearances on British TV.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Amazing See-Saw Idents from Children’s BBC


If you were a child growing up in the 1980s then there's a good chance you lived for the See-Saw slot which aired on BBC1 (and occasionally BBC2). In an age where there was no such thing as CBeebies, the See-Saw slot - which had evolved from Watch with Mother - was the only real chance for pre-schoolers to get their fix of children's TV.

Some downright legendary shows aired in this timeslot and were usually preceded by a brief ident advertising the upcoming shows. And here are all the ones I've managed to find so far, so let's reminisce for a few moments about a period of life when life felt warm, simple and fuzzy.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

15 of the Greatest Evil Villains of British Children’s TV


Television's not really television without villains, is it? After all, why would anyone tune in to see the good guys just sitting round in a world free from jeopardy and tension? Exactly, it would generate about as much narrative excitement as our own humdrum lives, so that's why television needs villains to provide that bit of fantasy and escapism that we crave.

Now, when it comes to children's TV, villains are particularly interesting characters as they're installed not only to act as the antagonists, but also to symbolise the dark paths one can wander down if they stray off the straight and narrow.

And it's because of this symbolism that they become so ingrained in our memories, so let's take a look at 15 of the greatest evil villains of British children's TV.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Thick as Thieves



Today's blog is written by that absolute swine of a writer called Mark Cunliffe who is the proud host of the So It Goes... blog

Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais are rightly regarded as sitcom greats. The Likely Lads and its sequel Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, Porridge and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, their names are a byword for comic perfection. However, their 1974 sitcom Thick as Thieves is not a title you’re likely to hear spoken of fondly and alongside their better known, much loved titles. In fact, it’s a real rarity.

But why is that the case?

Well for one, it only ever ran for a single series of eight episodes in ‘74 and was never, to my knowledge, repeated. And for another, it was also an ITV sitcom, made by LWT, and it’s perhaps fair to say that the sitcom output from ‘the third channel’ has never really achieved the same status in our collective conscious as those from the BBC – with only Rising Damp perhaps proving to be the exception to this rule. Add to these the rarity factor that this is a sitcom featuring dramatic actors in the lead roles, John Thaw and a relatively young Bob Hoskins, rather than comic stars.


Now available on DVD via Network, the premise of Thick as Thieves sees our two leads star as small time crooks and best mates Dobbs (Hoskins) and Stan (Thaw). Dobbs has been inside for a stretch and, returning upon his release, he finds to his shock and surprise that his wife Annie played by Pat Ashton, is now living with Stan.

But instead of meeting this revelation of adultery with outrage and anger, an uneasy and comedic alliance develops between Dobbs, Stan and Annie, as they set out to live together under one roof as man, and man, and wife! A sort of working class London Jules At Jim if you will!

Coming between Clement and La Frenais' well received Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads and the equally successful project that was Porridge, it's little wonder then that Thick as Thieves has been so overlooked. However there is a clear through line between both those greats on display here; the friendly rivalry relationship depicted between Dobbs and Stan is very reminiscent of the chemistry between Bob and Terry of The Likely Lads, and the criminal world they inhabit would be further explored with Fletch and friends in Porridge.


Thick as Thieves also shares a similar kind of opening credit vibe to Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads in that they both showed the conflict between old and news that was the landscape of the late 1960s/early 1970s; the demolition of slum areas (in the North East for WHTTLL and South London here for TaT) and the rise of the more impersonal tower blocks. Both programmes also feature a bittersweet theme tune sung by Mike Hugg from lyrics written by himself and La Frenais.

There are also strong links to Porridge too as Clement and La Frenais are on record as claiming it was the writing of the Porridge pilot, Prisoner and Escort, for Ronnie Barker's series Seven of One that spurred them on to actually writing Thick as Thieves.

Instead of just writing that pilot, they followed it through to find that they had actually come up with the idea of someone being released from (rather than going into) prison and that they had fifty pages of 'treatment' before realising they had two separate entities on their hands. The pair concentrated on the character of Fletch for Ronnie Barker, and what was to become Prisoner and Escort, but kept Thick as Thieves back to explore as another series. It's also worth pointing out that once Porridge ended, the sequel, Going Straight would mine similar material regarding coming out of prison that had previously been explored here.


As with all Clement and La Frenais' work, Thick as Thieves has a great air of realism, specifically in its ear for earthy dialogue. Dobbs and Stan are an utterly hapless but believable pair, with Thaw’s Stan sharing many of Likely Lad Terry Collier's (and later Auf Weidersehen, Pet's Oz) charmed but largely uneducated and feckless life - he's forever searching for the right word in conversation, leading to something of a catchphrase "Is that the word?".

Dobbs meanwhile is more long suffering and, just like Bob Ferris, prone to the banana skins of life. Together they make a perfect pair of opposites and there's a great chemistry between them helped immeasurably by Hoskins and Thaw's rather pally playing. They're an enjoyable presence onscreen and it is easy to find yourself liking them, despite their nefarious activities.


A character I found less likeable however is Annie, played by Pat Ashton, but that’s no disrespect to the actress who delivers great work as the woman they both love. It's just that, as a viewer, it is hard to get a handle on her and her attitude to both men, as they strive for her affections.

Occasionally characters from outside the domestic set up, ie supporting players, pass comment on their unusual relationship and claim that they consider her lucky, but she seems to spend all her time moaning about Dobbs and Stan, more like an exasperated mother or big sister than a lover or someone who has the best of both worlds. What's more bewildering and infuriating for the viewer is how quick she is to fly off the handle if there's a whiff or Stan or Dobbs seeking another woman, yet in one episode it is perfectly acceptable for her to leave both men for yet another suitor!


Speaking of supporting characters, there are plenty of familiar faces that pass through the doors of Dobbs, Stan and Annie's home, including On The Buses Michael Robbins as the local plainclothes copper keeping his beady eye on the newly released Dobbs, a young(ish) Trevor Peacock from The Vicar of Dibley as an escaped convict known to the pair and seeking sanctuary, and Johnny Briggs as another local chancer called Spiggy, before he went on to household name status as Coronation Street's cockney charmer Mike Baldwin.

Thick As Thieves may not be a comedy classic but it proves to be an enjoyable eight part series which is a cut above most ITV sitcoms of the era, series that seemed to trade solely on crudity and offensiveness to appeal to the lowest common denominator (the aforementioned On The Buses immediately springs to mind here) It does show its age though, and not just in terms of the visible tape distortion and scratches seen on some episodes.


There are plenty of odd camera angles and close ups as well as actors walking in front of one another which, along with fluffed lines, suggests neither proper or sufficient blocking during rehearsal occurred before shooting commenced in front of the live studio audience. There’s also the kind of salty dialogue you simply couldn’t get away with no on the grounds of political correctness – the early ‘70s really were different times.

Equally the show does take a couple of episodes to find its feet, or maybe that's just me; as I say it's strange to see the likes of Hoskins and Thaw playing roles so clearly for laughs. But that is not an unwelcome situation, both actors show they have a real flair for comedy and Hoskins uses his inimitable, diminutive but bulky physical presence for laughs here with the same success he received using it for drama.


On reflection, I do think thought that the world of Thick as Thieves may have been better served in the comedy drama genre rather than the straight studio sitcom format. If they played it in the same vein as Budgie, Adam Faith’s series about an equally small time and luckless crook, I really think Thick as Thieves would have been more memorable, and perhaps less of the dated curio it now appears to be.

Thick as Thieves is available to buy on DVD from Network. It's a good DVD but there are no extras or special features, just the episodes themselves which, in my view, are worthy of your time if you like this kind of thing.

Be warned though, once watched you won’t be able to get the Mike Hugg theme tune out of your head!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Seasiders



Today's offering comes from Heather Lewis who can usually be found getting up to all sorts of wordiness over at Broom Cupboard and Me


Hello-aaa! And welcome to the Seasiders

Firstly, I want to thank Curious British Telly for having me back, especially after my confessed admiration for the career of Andy Crane! As well as having a huge fondness for Children’s BBC, I also love delving into the nostalgic history of British holiday camps.

Recently I was at one… and spent a great deal of my week there taking photos of original windows and paintwork (yes, really) and entertaining my family by informing them of what competitions they could have entered, had they been at Pwllheli in 1975 (who’s up for a ‘Hairy Chest Competition’?)


Anyway, it is with this enthusiasm that I take you back to 1996 for a largely forgotten ‘fly on the wall’ series called Seasiders. Before the late 1990’s craze for docusoaps had really taken off, the six part programme, which aired on Channel 4, followed a year in the life of Haven Holiday’s Primrose Valley in Yorkshire.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Trials of Oz

 
What you consider obscene is a highly subjective matter. Personally, I have no qualms about public nudity, but I know countless souls whose jaws would tunnel deep into the ground if they saw me strutting down the high street wearing nothing but my wristwatch.

And, you know, apart from that one time, I tend not to stroll round the town centre with my undercarriage and nipples on display, so please don't hang round where I live expecting that horrorshow. You need to book well in advance.

Anyway, obscenity is such a personal opinion that it can really irk certain quarters of society. Anything that challenges their morals can be seen as a real affront to their way of life and the imagined bonds which hold it together.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Jack of Hearts



Morrissey once sang "I am human and I need to be loved, Just like everybody else does" and it's a lyric which perfectly encapsulates our need for acceptance. We've evolved to work with our fellow man to help structure society whether it be in the family unit or at work, so it's in our best interests to integrate as seamlessly as possible.

However, us humans are a funny old bunch and don't half love putting obstacles in the way, prone as we are to being stubborn, arrogant and, sometimes, scared sods. And that's why it's so difficult to initiate a seamless integration into whichever particular congregation we deem necessary to join.

In particular, the family unit bobs along atop a fiendishly choppy set of waters, so boarding this ship requires navigating it to calmer waters. Tough work indeed, but when it's combined to the constant demands of a new employer then you run the risk of being swept out to sea along with the flotsam of countless lost souls.

And, now that I've dilly dallied around with enough maritime metaphors (which aren't even applicable to this article at all), let's take a look at these trials and tribulations being played out in Jack of Hearts.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

5 of The Best Lovejoy Guest Stars

I've always been more than partial to a bit of that roguish antiques dealer Lovejoy and his charming antics in the more picturesque corners of East Anglia. It's an obsession which first manifested itself in the early 90s when Sunday evenings simply weren't complete without a helping of Lovejoy, Tinker Dill and Eric Catchpole.


However, my passion for that leather jacketed rascal didn't end with the end of the series. Several years later I found myself unemployed and with very little to do, but, thankfully, BBC1 was showing mid-afternoon repeats of Lovejoy, so, with a bottle of ale purchased with my precious dole money, I used to while away the long, lonely afternoons dreaming of being an antiques dealer with edge.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Bellamy’s Bugle


Look out the window and survey the wondrous scene before you! There's animals, there's plants and, wouldn't you just know it, there's an atmosphere out there! And how does it all work? Well, uh, I'm not entirely sure, although I can differentiate between a raven and crow - it's all in the greasiness of their feathers.

Anyway, yes, this marvelous world around us is a bit of an enigmatic mystery even for us grown ups, but what about the younger, less experienced folk who are standing on tiptoes and craning their neck to look out the window? Naturally, it's going to a struggle for them to get their tiny heads round it all, but thankfully, for them, there's a great clarion call to learning coming courtesy of Bellamy's Bugle.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Bill the Minder


As a child, enthused by the antics of Data in The Goonies, I became briefly obsessed with the exciting world of inventions. Much like Data, though, my inventions were useless, really useless. The only one that I can remember clearly was my grand invention which would open the drawer next to my bed AND my wardrobe door at the same time.

Why I needed to open both of these at the same time, I couldn't tell you, but it was something that felt aspirational and achievable. And, with a piece of string tied to both of them, I was able to reach my goal in a very low tech fashion. I quickly realised, however, that it wasn't going to advance mankind's progress or even my own, so snapped the string and decided to leave all that inventing lark to someone else.

And, in particular, there was one little inventive guy in the form of Bill the Minder who would put me to shame with a quite literal childlike ease.

Monday, 25 July 2016

8 Little Celebrated Classic Doctor Who Characters


Not many people know this, but the original Doctor Who theme tune had lyrics which went "Doctor Who! Doctor Who! He's a right galactic sod! He'll steal your fudge, he'll bite your mum's head and he'll make you pay his rent! Doctor Who! Doctor Who! He's coming for you!", but Sydney Newman immediately sacked the composer and it was, sadly, left an instrumental.

Anyway, what many people also don't know is that the classic series of Doctor Who (1963 - 89) had a whole host of amazing characters who seem to go unheralded despite their obvious charms. Sure, it'd probably be more fun to pore over just what makes Sabalom Glitz such a cheeky chappy, but he's had his moment in the twin suns of Tatooine.

Therefore, I'm going to crack on by taking a look at what I consider to be the less celebrated classic Doctor Who characters.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Brian Hall - Much More Than a Chef


It's always difficult for an actor to step out from the shadows of a universally successful TV show and have their career appreciated as a whole rather than condensed down to one specific role. It's understandable, of course, as memory space is a valuable commodity for us humans, so we only store the essential, memorable details.

However, it's a real shame to define an actor by that one standout role they landed. Everything that came before and after this career highpoint is just as valid when analysing their worth as an actor. And, sometimes, you'll find some hidden gems in amongst their acting CV.

Brian Hall, best known by everyone as Terry the chef from Fawlty Towers, is a great example of this blinkered overview of an actor's career, so I decided it was high time I paid tribute to his undeniable talent and maybe reactivated a few dusty synapses up in your old brainbox.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Tales from the Poop Deck


Life on the Seven Seas must have been a captivating and intriguing affair in those crazy days of maritime high jinks so readily linked with the 18th Century. After all, those dashing Royal Navy chaps looked pretty cool wielding their cutlasses like phallic representations of war and pirates were fiendish rebels who liked getting smashed on rum and bellowing out bawdy sea shanties.

Naturally, with these marauding gangs cluttering up the oceans, it's inevitable that they'd rub eyeballs with each other and, no doubt, try and impale their opposite number on a less than clean blade; worryingly, many of these chaps would fail to get a tetanus shot before embarking on their seafaring adventures. And all this rather negative bunkum meant that it was rare to find them arm in arm down the local tavern.

What if this lack of harmony, though, was suddenly reflected through a prism of love? It would certainly make for some compelling viewing as differences were thrown aside as rapidly as the involved parties' pantaloons. And, let's derail all sense of normality by flinging an ex Bond villain hot on their trail. Done that, have you? Great, that means you're beginning to get to grips with Tales from the Poop Deck.

Genre: Children's
Channel: ITV

Transmission: 07/04/1992 - 12/05/1992


Shored up in Kingston, Jamaica, the Royal Navy ship, HMS Intrepid, is preparing to raise anchor and head back to Britain packed full of taxes for the motherland to feast upon. However, Captain Henry Stallion is a little perturbed by reports that pirates are operating in the area. With the help of professional silly sod Petty Officer Coleridge (Paul Shearer) and the intelligent, but conniving Lieutenant Parkinson (Colin McFarlane), Stallion hopes for a smooth passage across the Atlantic.


Meanwhile, over at pirate ship the Sea Cow, despite rumours that they've retired from piracy and gone into landscape gardening, Connie Blackheart (Helen Atkinson Wood) and her crew (the most feared and bloodthirsty gang of cutthroats in the Caribbean) are planning a raid on HMS Intrepid's glittering contents.

And it's a raid which will not only see Blackheart capturing a chest of gold and Coleridge, but one which will spark a romance between Stallion and Blackheart. It's a dangerous proposition, but then the course of love never did run smooth. Making matters worse, Stallion is forced to inform his easily irritated uncle Dennis aka Admiral De'Ath (Charles Gray) that their haul has been hijacked.


Whilst De'Ath's rage is a fearsome beast, both the crews of the Intrepid and Sea Cow also need to battle sea beasts from deep within the ocean's belly, explore the mind bending effects of Treasure Island on Ben Gunge (Chris Langham), contend with marauding cowboys and question the ethics behind the slave trade. It's a right load of shenanigans, but in the name of treasure and love, those seafaring chaps will do their utmost to succeed.

Setting Sail

Tales from the Poop Deck was a six episode series which aired on ITV as part of the CITV strand in Spring 1992. The series was shown a few weeks later on Channel 4 in a slightly later 6.30pm slot, but this would prove to be the final outing for the show.

The writers, Lenny Barker and Vicky Stepney, had previously written on Smith and Jones so it comes as no surprise that they were able to gather together Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith to contribute towards Tales from the Poop Deck. 

Chris Langham, who also appears in some small roles throughout the series, received his first TV production credit on Tales from the Poop Deck. 

Buried Treasure?

Tales from the Poop Deck isn't a show which showed up on my televisual radar back in 1992, but I stumbled across the opening credits on YouTube recently and had my interest piqued. Here was a sitcom for the kids and, crikey, it didn't half have an outstanding cast attached to it. The writers didn't appear to have much history, but, what the hell, it sounded like it was worth my time.


I duly located myself a copy, uncorked a bottle of rum and prepared to have my timbers well and truly shivered.

The cast, obviously, is the most eyecatching aspect of Tales from the Poop Deck's initial premise, so lets cock our eye towards the cast list. It's a remarkable set of actors and I can only assume that there were supernatural forces at play to ensure such a window came up in all their schedules.

Not only have you got Helen Atkinson Wood (forever known as Mrs Miggins from Blackadder), but you've got Dudley Sutton who was, at the time, riding high as Tinker Dill in Lovejoy, Paul Shearer (The Fast Show), Griff Rhys Jones as the narrator, his erstwhile colleague Mel Smith in a quick cameo role, Colin McFarlane (The Fast Show) Chris Langham, Norman 'Desmond' Beaton and, yes, Charles Gray aka Bond supervillain Blofeld.


It would make for an amazing lineup in an adult sitcom, but for a children's sitcom it's stratospheric in terms of its reach. And the acting is undeniably excellent with everyone putting in a tremendous effort, perhaps most impressive is Charles Gray whose face is jam packed full of explosive power meaning that a mere lip curl becomes a scene changer.

So, the writers, Lenny Barker and Vicki Stepney, were spoiled with a haul of fantastic actors, but how would their writing fare?

Well, it's not the most rollicking of yarns. Sure, we get to see the treasure going backwards and forwards nicely with a couple of nice diversions thrown in such as the cowboy bounty hunters, but it's difficult to get invested in it as the action gets monotonous with endless ship scenes and characters constantly getting captured by their opposite numbers. It brings a numbing tediousness to the show and, after two episodes, I found myself wondering whether I should abandon the whole thing.


I persevered, though, and in episode 3 things seem to perk up as the various parties adventure through Treasure Island, get double crossed by cowboys and De'Ath demands that his errant staff are hunted down and made to pay for their betrayal of the Navy. It genuinely felt like a turning point, but things fail to reach these swashbuckling highs again and, instead, we're force fed further prisoner scenes and less than dynamic fight scenes.


In defence of the plots, however, I have to give the writers some real kudos for their efforts in episode five with regards to Lieutenant Parkinson's plot strand. Painted as a deceptive agent working purely for himself, he completely sidesteps this path by revealing that he's been striving to capture the treasure and put it to good use. You see, the treasure is made up of the proceeds from the Antigua slave trade and Parkinson wants this money, instead, to be used to help slaves in the Southern USA escape to the less oppressive North.

It's a wonderfully altruistic twist and one which started to reshape my opinion on Tales from the Poop Deck's narrative. Also, we finally see the chemistry between Stallion and Blackheart take flight and their genuine love for each other promises a happy future together on the high seas. It would have made for a fantastic episode to go out on, but the writers had other ideas...


Unfortunately, episode six acts as a needless epilogue which finds Stallion and Blackheart tying the knot back in Britain. Okay, it's a sweet touch, but the writers take this notion and twist it into an excuse to reveal Stallion as being nothing more than a massive tosser. It feels like a lousy move by the writers after we've invested time in Stallion and Blackheart, plus it seems to condemn any sort of acceptance of love across barriers.


So, yeah, I wasn't very keen on the narrative despite its ability to occasionally sparkle. What's even worse is the comedy on offer. Now, with the cast in place on Tales from the Poop Deck, you'd expect the scripts to be packed full of amazing dialogue to tumble out of their gobs, but there's barely a titter. I found myself desperately willing each line of dialogue to deliver a fantastic punchline, but what I found, well, they weren't even trying to be gags. And, I know that comedy is incredibly hard to write, but a comedy which fails to find the funny soon becomes a struggle.


Not that there's nothing mirthful about Tales from the Poop Deck. Paul Shearer's bumbling twit Coleridge and Chris Langham's barmy Ben Gunge provide light relief, but neither of these characters are supposed to be the heart of the show. Sadly, the two main leads - Stallion and Blackheart - fail to deliver much funny and Charles Gray's interminable rage begins to be feel tired very quickly.

And, as the end credits rolled on episode six, I found myself with timbers which had resolutely not been shivered, not even slightly trembled by Tales from the Poop Deck. Still, that rum tasted good.

Walk the Plank

Tales from the Poop Deck is packed full of potential, but it's glittering cast is sorely let down by a script which is below par and lacks any real sass. Sure, there are glimmers of excitement scattered throughout, but they're too scarce and, unfortunately, Tales from the Poop Deck is a comedy which simply isn't funny. It's a failure where perhaps it could have breathed the same air as Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, but, on this occasion, it's scrabbling round on the floor for breath.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Crystal Cube



Science is a wondrous branch of learning that allows mankind to not only make great leaps forward, but also understand how it's dragged itself to this juncture as well. Problem is, though, that science can be a complicated old affair. For example, just look at this:

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Chips’ Comic

Today's blog is a special guest blog from ScampySpiro who can usually be found writing over at The Spirochaete Trail


Channel 4 never garnered much of a reputation as a hub for quality children’s programming, although its early years did see it taking some novel, if largely forgotten stabs at the market.

Pob’s Programme, a show featuring a monkey puppet purported to literally inhabit the internal space of your television set, still evokes fond memories in a sizable number of people, but those who remember the channel’s very first attempt at a children’s production, Chips’ Comic, which initially aired in 1983 and boasted a central gimmick several stages more ambitious, are an altogether rarer breed.

Friday, 1 July 2016

5 Sketches That Prove Hale and Pace Were Funny

 
Back in the late 80s, the promise, for me, of watching an episode of Hale and Pace was one that was charged with a certain frisson. After all, to a pre-pubescent squirt, Hale and Pace was packed full of the type of smut and silliness which defined not only our own age bracket, but plenty of adults who should have known better.

Therefore, it came as quite a surprise, in my later years, to discover that Hale and Pace was looked down upon as cheap, tacky nonsense. In fact, one particular comment on a forum which caught my eye stated that it was "Lazy, poorly-written, poorly-timed, poorly-constructed shite that builds toward a punchline that's straight out of Smut comic".

Harsh words indeed, but was it that terrible? Well, as with all sketch shows, they're a bit hit and miss, but surely you'd have to be carrying out some right terrible shenanigans with the television commissioners to rack up 10 series of non-stop, grubby bilge, right? The answer, in regards to whether they were awful (their backstage antics remain a mystery) is, in fact a resounding "NO!".

And here's 5 sketches that prove Hale and Pace were funny.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Bloomers


The world of horticulture is one that has remained somewhat untouched by the mischievous hand of British comedy. Sure, Monty Python's Flying Circus touched upon Dennis Moore's obsession with lupins and there was the delicate world of Gumby flower arranging, but that appeared to be it.

However, after a little digging (and hoeing), I was delighted to discover a rare shoot of comedy with its roots firmly entrenched in the soil of British sitcom. And the fact that it was Richard Beckinsale's final sitcom meant I had no choice but to check out Bloomers.

Genre: Comedy
Channel: BBC2
Transmission: 27/09/1979 -25/10/1979

Stan Partridge (Richard Beckinsale) is a down on his luck actor - despite being "the 2nd most promising new act of 1966" - who lives with the emotionally unstable, and seemingly addicted to therapy, Lena Peartree (Anna Calder Marshall) in a messy, cramped flat drenched in domestic unrest.


After discovering that his rubber plant is dead - apparently murdered by Lena - Stan pays a visit to a garden shop to pick up a replacement. Run by Dingley Paisley (David Swift) and the unhinged plant sympathiser George (Paul Curran) it appears to offer a lucrative opportunity for Stan to escape the constant disappointment of failed auditions.

Keen to become a useful member of the community, Stan takes up Dingley's offer to become a partner in 'Bloomers'. Naturally, with no capital rattling round in his bank account, Stan will have to work off his investment in the firm, but perhaps it could be the making of him and secure some stability in his relationship with Lena.


Horticultural matters, naturally, are all about freedom and the open air, but Stan will soon learn that the claustrophobic nature of man's weaknesses and imperfections will stretch his relationship with Lena and Dingley to breaking point.

Planting the Seeds

Written by esteemed playwright and master of absurdist theatre James Saunders, Bloomers was a five episode sitcom which aired on BBC2 in 1979. Now, you may consider it strange that only five episodes were made, but it was meant to be your standard six episode series. Tragically, on the day of rehearsals for the sixth episode, it was discovered that Richard Beckinsale had died from a heart attack.


Although this acted as a glumly premature punctuation to the series, the five episodes recorded were broadcast later on in the year and acted as a tribute to Beckinsale. Bloomers may have had a sad and mournful end, but where did the show's genesis lie? Well, after spotting John Challis popping up in one episode, I tweeted him to ask what he remembered about the show and he graciously delivered this amazing nugget of sitcom trivia:

"I remember the writer James Saunders was a customer at my garden centre and he wrote a script about my experiences. I gave the script to my agent who gave it to John Howard Davies at the BBC who was looking for a vehicle for Richard Beckinsale. So Bloomers was written with me in mind but I wasn't famous enough, but Richard Beckinsale was wonderful and I got an episode out of it!"

Only one repeat of the series - consisting of four episodes - was ever aired and this came on BBC1 in August 1980. The scarcity of actual broadcasts, coupled with no commercial releases, has left Bloomers as a rarity of British TV comedy, but, thankfully recordings - seemingly from Australian TV - have surfaced on YouTube.

Blooming Marvelous?

Richard Beckinsale's best known roles - as Lennie Godber and Alan Moore - always painted him as a somewhat doe eyed dreamer who approached the world like a lamb to the slaughter. However, Bloomers finds him playing a much more confident and able character in the form of Stan Partridge. The allure of women is clearly something that doesn't threaten him, but does run the risk of tampering with the stability of his life.


And this is why it's really interesting to see Beckinsale inhabiting such a character. It almost feels like a brave new start for the actor. Tossing off the shackles of being seen as the go to choice for wet behind the ears characters, Bloomers still finds him as an actor packed full of instantly amiable charm, but it's a more mature role and backed up the claims that he would go on to great things during the 1980s.

Positioned somewhat clumsily as a mentor who seems to have little influence over Stan, David Swift brings his rich vowels and fine pedigree as a British actor to Bloomers. Again, Swift is a highly likeable actor and his presence on our screens for 40 years is hearty evidence of how he mastered the medium. There's a charming chemistry between Stan and Dingley, but I did feel that perhaps there's not quite enough discord to engender a double act for the the ages.


Also failing to create an engaging relationship is Lena, Stan's complex and neurotic girlfriend. Whilst Anna Calder-Marshall takes on the guise of Lena with a confident measure of the character's flaws, her relationship with Stan is an odd one. Prone to wild arguments, they seem like a couple on the edge of a severe breakdown. Now, whilst this setup can often pay comedy dividends, there's virtually no glimpses of happiness, or hints that they've ever been happy, and their relationship left me feeling a bit cold.


All these relationships take place against a backdrop of horticultural influenced shenanigans penned by James Saunders. And, if one thing stands out, it's the magnificent dialogue on offer. Coming from a background in absurdist theatre, Saunders ensures that there's no cut and paste dialogue from a million other sitcoms of the time. The dialogue is intelligent, peppered with philosophical musings and has a snappy rhythm which marks it out as ahead of its time.

The actual plots, though, are a bit of a hotchpotch of the sublime and the mediocre. The third episode - which sees Stan and Dingley trying to obtain Christmas trees in June - is a fantastic piece of sitcom farce and acts as an entertaining watch which demonstrates what Bloomers was capable of. Other episodes, however, struggle to match this and, whilst perfectly innocuous, they struggle to raise any sense of tension and merely amble along with a cheery smile.


And the humour on show befalls a similar fate. Obviously, anything in Beckinsale's career is going to struggle against the might of Rising Damp and Porridge, but the humour in Bloomers is a mixed bag. There are the broad strokes of basic sitcom humour to guarantee some base laughs - although the character of George feels far too broad and caricatured - and this is mixed in with the more cerebral heady gags. It's an intriguing cocktail of humour, but not always one which goes down smoothly.

Hanging out the Bloomers

Bloomers is an intriguing sitcom and not simply because it featured the swansong of one of Britain's beloved actors. James Saunders appears to be brewing something very special with it. Sure, the emotional stakes are hardly raised and there's little resolution to the characters' plights, but there's something interesting going on. A curious concoction of clever, engaging dialogue with fantastic performances left me thinking that it was teetering on the edge of blooming into something bigger.

And, remember, it's only the first series. It's difficult for any television show to hit the ground running and, in particular, comedy finds this incredibly difficult due to the subjective nature of humour. A second series may have brought new conditions to up Bloomer's game, but this was never to be. As it is, the five episodes we're left with remain a brave and genial take on the sitcom genre. It may not define Richard Beckinsale's career, but it certainly doesn't detract from his talents either.