Sunday, 12 August 2018
There's nothing like a bit of horror to get the adrenaline flowing through your veins and blood pumping through your heart at a rapid pace and British TV has been more than happy to oblige over the decades. From Nigel Kneale's Beasts Series through to the BBC's legendary A Ghost Story For Christmas, television has endeavoured to put the willies up us with an eerie level of precision. Two servings of British TV horror that you may not be aware of, however, are The Fearmakers: The Shadow of Death and Supernatural: Mrs. Amworth.
Wednesday, 8 August 2018
Ever wondered who keeps the streets clean for our highly polished shoes first thing in the morning? Probably not as it's one of those things we take for granted. However, beavering away throughout the night - in major cities at least - and into the wee hours are an army of late night street cleaners. And Horace Stockford is one of the finest examples of what it means to be a Nightcleaner.
Monday, 6 August 2018
Thursday, 2 August 2018
This week's selection of archive clips are a curious melange of televisual goodness and should herald the start of a fantastic weekend. Well, at the very least, you'll learn about outdated encryption methods and that's surely better than anything else you've got planned, right?
Tuesday, 31 July 2018
It's been another bumper month of dusting down VHS tapes and holding them up to the light of the modern day. I'm still wading through the pile of tapes I got at the start of June and they're still throwing up some intriguing finds. Progress is a little slow due to life commitments, but I've been making regular uploads over the last month and here are some of the best picks:
Sunday, 29 July 2018
Today's blog is written by Jonathan Hayward, a man with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of British TV
This Monday will see the finale of this year’s series of Love Island on ITV2, the most successful yet in terms of viewing figures and, indeed, the most successful in the channel’s and digital TV history. What will also be truly extraordinary, if a trifle disturbing, will be the fact that it will be almost 50 years to the day, and virtually the exact time, that Nigel Kneale’s The Year of The Sex Olympics was first broadcast by BBC2.
Friday, 27 July 2018
Welcome to what I hope will be a regular Friday feature and, as the title suggests, it will feature five archive TV clips that I've found online and think will be of interest to Curious British Telly readers. So, every Friday, at the end of what will almost certainly be a tough week, there will be a little dose of nostalgic escapism to remedy the horrors of the modern world.
Sunday, 22 July 2018
If Scotland had only ever contributed Naked Video, Rab C Nesbitt and Still Game to British comedy then it would represent a significant contribution. Thankfully, for our funny bones, Scottish comedy doesn’t begin and end with these three shows.
With an output that also includes A Kick up the Eighties, City Lights and Limmy’s Show, Scotland can be rightly proud of its unique take on comedy. Cast your eye towards the periphery of these rightly venerated shows, though and you’ll discover one of the lesser known, yet just as fantastic, shows in the form of Laugh??? I Nearly Paid my Licence Fee.
Sunday, 15 July 2018
Regular readers are aware that I spend an unhealthy amount of my time scouring through old VHS tapes in search of intriguing curios that haven't been seen in years. I've found a few interesting clips here and there, but nothing that was outrageously beyond the bounds of my imagination. However, that all changed the other night when I found what appears to be a BBC engineering test.
Friday, 13 July 2018
For many years, all I knew about Jan Leeming was that she briefly appeared in the 1985 Roland Rat Christmas special Roland's Yuletide Binge. When I got a little older I discovered that she had been a BBC newsreader. And, many years later, after trawling through innumerable VHS tapes of old TV recordings, I realised just how fantastic a newsreader she was. Blessed with an innate calmness, yet complemented by an authoritative air, Leeming delivered the news with all the chutzpah of a classic BBC newsreader.
However, what I also noticed with all this old footage of Leeming was that she was an absolutely amazing dresser during her tenure on the various 1980s BBC News programmes. Versatility was the key to her style success as she mixed polka dot blouses, knitwear with embellishments going in all directions and even dungarees. It's easy to mock 1980s fashion, but Leeming always pulled it off with consummate ease. Whilst Princess Diana may have been getting all the plaudits for her fashion sense, Leeming was matching her at every step.
And, to celebrate this sartorial elegance, I decided to gather together 25 examples of Jan Leeming being a BBC News fashion icon.
Thursday, 12 July 2018
Norbert Smith: A Life is yet another comedy gem from the magnificent Harry Enfield although, quite frankly, if you were expecting anything less than fantastic then your funny bone clearly stopped functioning around the same time that a man first slipped on a banana skin.
Written by Harry Enfield and the equally legendary (yet much less publicly celebrated) Geoffrey Perkins, this one-off mockumentary was directed by Geoff Posner and produced by Hat Trick Productions for Channel 4 in 1989. Finally, after years in the wilderness, Norbert Smith: A Life is coming to DVD thanks to Simply Media.
Saturday, 7 July 2018
Thanks to the wonder of personal video recorders (PVR) we can record anything we want from the TV schedules with just a few clicks of the remote. You don't even have to get up thanks to the hard drive element of PVR. Roll the clock back about 40 years, however, and things were very different. Whilst, yes, you could record anything from the schedules, you most certainly had to get up and fiddle about with mindbending timers and, of course, those clunky old video tapes.
You may have noticed that there's a World Cup on. England, after all, haven't delivered their customary turgid showing and the nation is going as mad for football as Gareth Southgate does for waistcoats. Live sport, however, doesn't really fall under the Curious British Telly banner, but thankfully that doesn't mean we can't enter into the spirit of the event. And that's why we're going to highlight the hilarity of World Cup Heroes and Villains from 1994.
Monday, 2 July 2018
Sunday, 1 July 2018
It's been confirmed today that Peter Firmin has passed away at the stately age of 89. Alongside Oliver Postgate, Firmin was responsible for many of the programmes which have gone on to define British children's TV such as Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, The Clangers and Pogles' Wood to name but a handful.
The strength of Firmin's contribution to British culture is almost unparalleled in terms of longevity; not only was he behind millions and millions of childhood memories that remain active after many decades, but the appeal of his shows has remained strong for one generation after another.
Sunday, 24 June 2018
Wednesday, 20 June 2018
If you were young at some point between 1974 and the early 2000s then there's a good chance you would have watched a Saturday morning children's TV show along the lines of Tiswas, Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, Saturday Superstore, Going Live, Motormouth, Ghost Train, Live and Kicking, The 8.15 from Manchester etc. In fact, there's more than a good chance you watched these as they were on for around three and a bit hours every single Saturday morning.
Monday, 4 June 2018
It’s thanks to inventors and their unique innovations that we live such a blessed life in the 21st century. Take the light bulb, for example, just how amazing is that? And it's all thanks to one man: Thomas Edison. In fact, there's an almost endless list of inventors such as John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell and Nikola Tesla who have all made an indelible impact on society. However, just how many people have heard of inventor extraordinare Norman Lovett? That’s right, hardly anyone, but if you want to know a little more, maybe you should look at I, Lovett.
Sunday, 3 June 2018
Clerical celibacy is an absolute prerequisite when it comes to being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest; the objective of this celibacy is to help the clergy focus their energies on serving God. Now, if you ever attended biology lessons, then you should be able to do the maths (or should that be biology?) and realise that priests can never father children of their own. However, this clerical celibacy doesn’t mean that a priest can’t become a father in familial terms. It’s perfectly possible, but the relationship just needs a little tinkering as seen in Father Matthew’s Daughter.
Saturday, 2 June 2018
Stand-up comedy has become more and more ubiquitous as the 21st century has unfolded, particularly on television. In fact, it seems that it’s almost impossible to flick through the channels these days and not come across either a stand-up showcase or a panel show packed full of stand-ups. Jump in a time machine and head back three and a half decades, though, and you’ll discover a very different landscape for comedy.
Aside from The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club and The Comedians, fully fledged television platforms for stand-ups were rare. And stand-ups weren’t even called stand-ups then, they were just comedians. It was never seen as a career either – the modern age now offers degrees in stand-up comedy – and many of the stars of the circuit just fell into it in between jobs.
However, the alternative comedy boom promoted a new interest in comedy and, with the establishment of The Comedy Store in Soho in 1979, a whole new raft of exciting comedians began to enter the fray. And showcasing this burgeoning scene was Pyjamarama.
Hancock’s Half Hour was the first modern sitcom and, consequently, it turned Tony Hancock into the first star of British sitcom. With his hangdog expression and downtrodden personality, he encapsulated everything that, even to this day, is painfully funny about being British. As is well known, the tragedy that played out at 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam was refracted into an even more sorrowful angle in Hancock’s personal life. Spiralling into a destructive alcoholism, Hancock committed suicide in June 1968 while living in Sydney, Australia. His relocation to Antipodean climes had been a disastrous attempt to re-ignite his career in Hancock Down Under, but his final British TV series had aired a year previously in the guise of Hancock’s.
Saturday, 5 May 2018
Packed full of tension, The Mad Death is a chilling, disturbing watch and, after watching it, one that ensures you'll never stroke a dog in the same way again. Not seen on British TV screens since the mid 1980s, The Mad Death is finally available on DVD for the first time through Simply Media.
First transmitted in July 1983 on BBC1, The Mad Death was a three-part drama series which examined the impact of a rabies outbreak in Britain. Based on Nigel Slater's novel of the same name, The Mad Death tapped into a contemporary fear of rabies. Despite Britain being declared rabies free since 1922, the ominous threat of the disease still hung heavy in the air due to the risk posed by animals imported from the continent. Helping to instill fear into the hearts of millions, numerous public information films were released throughout the 1970s and 80s to warn about the horrors of rabies.
The Mad Death, however, manages to trump all of these with a disturbing ease.
Saturday, 21 April 2018
A thrilling game of cat and mouse, The Price is a drama which grasps political ideologies, romantic discord and the pursuit of happiness close to its chest. Unrelenting in its analysis of relationships and the seismic impact of wealth upon British society, 1985's The Price radiates with a vitality and thrust that many a mini-series has failed to maintain. And, as luck would have it, this gripping narrative has finally received a commercial release on DVD through Simply Media.
Thursday, 19 April 2018
I haven't been digging through too many tapes over the last few months, but I've still managed to work my way through several hundred metres worth of magnetic tape. And, with it being such a harmless pursuit, who would possibly want to break a butterfly on a wheel? So, that's why I've managed to gather together a few curiosities for you to gaze upon and get terribly nostalgic over.
Monday, 2 April 2018
Ever since The Beatles first burst into the public's consciousness in 1962, there has been an enduring interest in John, Paul, George and Ringo thanks to the the manner in which they redefined modern culture and conveyed a sense of togetherness to millions. John Lennon, as anyone who's ever listened to a note of music knows, departed the stage far earlier than anyone would wish, but his legacy lives on as the finest encore imaginable. John Lennon: A Journey in the Life may not add anything new to Lennon's legend, but it maintains the absorbing appeal of the man and is a must watch for any fan.
Thursday, 22 March 2018
Threads is one of the most fantastic slices of British television ever transmitted, but it's also one that will bring you to your knees and leave your soul battered and bruised for days afterwards.
Originally broadcast in September 1984 on BBC2, Threads is a drama-documentary which presents a disturbing look at the effects of a nuclear attack on Britain. Taking its title from the threads which hold society together, Threads examines the catastrophic events that unfold as these threads are ripped to pieces.
Focussing on the fortunes (or rather devastating misfortunes) of Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher), Threads tells Ruth's tale as she stumbles first from unplanned pregnancy to the crippling ordeal of a nuclear winter. Providing a broader analysis on the impact of nuclear weapons falling on the UK, Threads uses a mixture of onscreen updates and statistics alongside the dulcet, yet academic tones of Paul Vaughan's narration.
And, now, after undergoing a 2K restoration from the original 16mm prints, Threads has been remastered for DVD by Simply Media in a two-disc release. Whereas previous DVD releases have, in terms of features, been as stark as the content within Threads, this new release is everything that fans have been waiting for. Comprising interviews, cast and crew commentaries along with original Radio Times articles and letters, it's an exhaustive run through the film's history.
Monday, 12 March 2018
Monday, 5 February 2018
Les Dawson may be synonymous with mother-in-law jokes, Blankety Blank and his performances with Roy Barraclough as Cissie and Ada, but, what he's less well known for, is his involvement in a narrative which examined corporate greed, gangland crime and a doomed romance which starts with congealed custard. Don't believe me? Well, let's take a look at The Loner.
Sunday, 28 January 2018
If irrefutable proof was ever required that genius is not a guarantee of delivering a hilarious sitcom then Pygmalion Smith is a damning piece of evidence. And Pygmalion Smith is blessed with genius on two fronts: Roy Clarke on writing duties and Leonard Rossiter in front of the camera. Whilst Pygmalion Smith certainly isn’t bad enough to leave you weeping at the waste of talent, it won’t leave you laughing either.
Sunday, 21 January 2018
Moondial is a children's TV show which may leave you rather baffled as questions with no answers rain down on you like a summer storm, but you can rest assured that this irked puzzlement will take place from behind the sofa. You see, from the cold opening sequence with its cacophony of haunted, otherworldly tones to the creepy Halloween finale, Moondial is real horrorshow. Founding its narrative in a good old fashioned ghost story, Moondial taps into that area of the brain which operates purely on instinct and won't rest until every square inch of your body is covered in goosebumps.
Friday, 12 January 2018
Netflix is a wonderful marvel of modern entertainment which provides hundreds of thousands of hours worth of visual delights with just a few swipes of a screen. Apparently. I've only used it a few times, so can't really comment on the stranglehold it has over our modern viewing habits.
I do, however, absolutely love the rich history of British TV. I also adore the nostalgic thrill of wading through old VHS tapes to discover the home recordings which may be lurking within. So, why don't I try to combine these two passions? Well, I already do and my Archive Tape Digging articles are testament to this
However, what I'd really love to do is create something which is a little more communal, so that's why I've dreamt up the Video Tape Swap Club. And, no, it's nothing like Blockbusters. Or even LoveFilm. Instead, the Video Tape Swap Club will provide a curiously analog alternative to Netflix with all the mystery and excitement of a lucky dip down on the village green.
Tuesday, 9 January 2018
When you watch Kazuko's Karaoke Klub you have to wonder exactly what Channel 4 executives were smoking in the late 1980s. Sure, the channel was a much needed beacon for the alternative and the strange and, in a trashy way, this continues with shows such as Naked Attraction. However, whereas Naked Attraction, serves up some mild titillation (no, I'm not going to apologise for the pun) that taps into our base instincts, Kazuko's Karaoke Klub is very much the kind of television that leaves you as bewildered as an aging aunt confronted with a new TV remote.
Friday, 5 January 2018
Whatever You Want is thrilling, agitated, rock and roll, hilarious and out to prove a point. It's the kind of television that the British youth had been waiting for in 1982, a soapbox for them to investigate and discuss the issues affecting a Britain gripped by unemployment figures tipping over the three million mark. With an acerbic brand of journalism forming the show's background, it's presented by the unpredictable, forthright stylings of Keith Allen. Whatever You Want is also a disjointed melange of viewpoints, moods and styles.