Saturday 28 November 2015

LifeSpam: My Child is French

There's always a kid at school who's got at least two webbed fingers. It's a fairly minor quirk of evolution and completely innocuous, but it becomes somewhat of a fascination to everyone. And in particularly boring geography lessons all you can do is stare at this webbed fingered entity and wonder if their mum had a bit of how's your father with a frog.

And it's this lurid obsession with the abnormal that leads to a grotesque desire to shine a light on these harmless souls. Way back in the olden days the freak show was a popular carnival treat which promised to highlight the rarities of Mother Nature's hand, but it's not the olden days anymore, so TV reigns supreme. Hence the endless glut of shows on Channel 4 and Channel 5 which propose to document the lives of people who are physically unnatural in the eyes of a perfectionist society.

It's a fairly modern phenomenon of the TV schedules and one that don't seem to be going anytime soon, so it's ripe for lampooning and satirising. And that's exactly what Alice Lowe did in LifeSpam: My Child is French.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Alfonso Bonzo

When you're a kid, mastering the art of swapping is pretty essential. After all, there's always something your mate's got that you want and vice versa. Cold hard cash, of course, is a commodity so scarce to kids that it's not even worth saving up. And waiting for Christmas or your birthday takes absolute aeons when you're a little squirt, so yeah, swapping, what a great way to get what you want!

Actually, you know what? Eradicating all currency and purely relying on swaps wouldn't half be a good system to consider for the entire world. Ownership is purely transient, so why should we bother fumbling around with coins and notes when, instead, we could reduce the clutter of possessions that, the pursuit of which, causes us untold and biologically unnatural stress?

And money don't even exist anyway! It's purely a series of numbers floating around in the cloud (probably, everything's up there now except God and his unfashionable peace and morality), so let's consign it to the trashcan because quite frankly we've all had enough of bankers running round with their trousers down and their shirts off whilst glugging jeroboams of champagne.

So, to sum up, in just a few paragraphs we've managed to solve all the financial stresses and injustices that riddle society. The future of market trading lies in swapping and we're all gonna live happily ever after like in that John Lennon song 'Imagine'. Oh wait, hang on, we'd only gone and forgotten about bloody Alfonso Bonzo! Now there's a cautionary tale on the dangers of swaps if ever we heard one, so let's take a quick ganders at it!

Saturday 24 October 2015

Codename Icarus

Science is a magnificent enterprise which has helped us develop new technologies, make exhilarating postulations about the universe and even clear up athlete's foot.

And we're all exposed to it at school for several long years - science that is, not athlete's foot - so we're more than capable of holding a little scientific wizardry in our brains, even if it is just how to work a bunsen burner. However, some of us - not us obviously - are right science whizz kids and are adept at working out fiendishly complicated science riddles to help advance mankind.

Are these advances always put to good use though? It's a highly complex question and certainly not one that can be answered in a retro TV blog, but we can take a look at a TV program which brought this question to the fore in Codename Icarus.

Genre: Children's
Channel: BBC1

Transmission: 08/12/1981 - 22/12/1981

Martin Smith (Barry Angel) ain't the most popular of pupils at his secondary school due to his nonchalant approach to studying and, in particular, his maths teacher's fury. Martin's grades are hardly setting the world alight either, but then one day he decides to solve a perplexing equation with consummate ease after being challenged by his ranting maths teacher.

The school take this not as a sign that they have a brilliant thinker on their hands, but more that Martin's a bloody cheat, so they call in his parents to relay their utter disdain for Martin's attitude. However, old Martin is actually a child prodigy and spends his spare time working on a school computer solving exceedingly difficult equations set by some mystery taskmaster.

And this mystery taskmaster turns out to be John Doll (Philip Locke) who runs Farleigh School which specialises in nurturing child prodigies and preventing their talents from going to waste. With the rabid approval of Martin's family, young Martin soon finds himself enrolled at Farleigh School where he finds himself in the strange position of being in charge of his teachers due to his undeniable genius.

Things are looking pretty peachy for Martin, but there's a few things bugging him. The school is shrouded in mystery and he keeps getting hypnotised, drugged and put through the psychological washer by the staff and, in particular, his 'teacher' Peter Farley (Geoffrey Collins). And it all seems to be in order to isolate Martin from reality and twist his genius to their own nefarious needs.

Meanwhile, Andy Rutherford (Jack Galloway) is having a treacherous old time from his boss Sir Hugh Francis (Peter Cellier) as someone or something keeps blowing British test missiles out of the sky only seconds after being launched. It spells disaster for Blighty's defence and after Rutherford is unable to pinpoint who's behind it all he finds himself suspended.

However, Rutherford, being of the espionage persuasion, ain't going to let it lie, so decides to go it alone and solve the mysterious goings on which are eating into him. And he's not on his own as he has a scientific expert and confidante in the form of ex-Farleigh pupil, Frank Broadhurst (Gorden Kaye) who certainly knows his onions when it comes to advanced laser techniques.

Will Rutherford discover what the devil's going on and stop Britain tumbling into a state of vulnerability? And who exactly is The Wanderer (John Malcolm) and what are his machiavellian plans? Only time will tell, but Rutherford needs to be careful as there are some very powerful forces at work.

The Inner Workings of Icarus

Codename Icarus may sound like a chivalrous wartime operation where kicking the Hun's posterior and un-annexing Poland is the order of the day, but it is in fact a TV programme with all types of productional facts attached to it.

The writer behind Codename Icarus was Richard Cooper who also wrote Quest of Eagles, Knights of God and Eye of the Storm. Cooper, of course, was so tickled pink with his scripts that he also novelised the serial which was published by the BBC/Knights Book in 1981. And a familiar, and favourite, name of Curious British Telly's, Marilyn Fox, took on the role of director.

Curiously, the show also featured a scientific advisor in the credits and pertained to the enigmatic Professor John Taylor who no doubt had a brain the size of Saturn.

Codename Icarus first aired over a two week period in December 1981 with episodes airing on a Tuesday and Wednesday evening at 5.10pm on BBC1. A repeat of the serial followed in Spring 1984 and was the last transmission of the series. However, a compilation VHS was released by the BBC in 1985 and a region 1 DVD release eventually followed in 2006, but frustratingly a region 2 DVD release is yet to surface.

Luckily, the whole series is up on YouTube or available to download from a few torrent sites.

Flying High with Icarus

We were whiling away our life reading up on the life and times of Gorden Kaye when we came across a little snippet of information about one of his early roles. And, yes, that was his 1982 performance in the barely heard of sitcom Allo, Allo. No, don't be silly, it was of course his role in Codename Icarus. It sounded an intriguing concoction of tellywaves, so we just had to dive in head first.

And Codename Icarus is that rare children's TV show which manages to combine both intelligence and a sense of simplicity without alienating the audience. Kids, you see, just wanna be given respect and treated like they're adults, but at the same time still be allowed to mindlessly run round with their pants down.

There's absolutely no condescending on show during Codename Icarus, but neither do they take the ruthlessly adult route of concentrating on weary political discussions which bore us to tears. And it demonstrates Richard Cooper's (and the BBC's) trust that the audience could engage with such a sophisticated serial which takes in cold war paranoia, child abuse and complex investigations into the concept of free will and choice.

It also helps the series cause that it's perfectly paced over 5 episodes. Many children's serials fall into the trap of being overlong with mind numbingly boring treks where nothing happens and we're left gasping in exasperation at the sense of tedium and bludgeoning repetition. Richard Cooper, however, manages to keep matters brisk and each episode unfolds in an advancing manner, but never once feels rushed.

The characters, too, are equally well formed. Sure, Martin looks like he should be in some Yorkshire Britpop band, but he's layered with depth and his battle with his own genius makes for a captivating watch. John Doll, blimey, he ain't half sinister with his menacingly calm approach to exploiting young genius like some type of diamond mine owner. And Andy Rutherford brings a nice helping of espionage heroism to the table with a sense of determination whose teeth are so gritted he ought to see a dentist after Codename Icarus.

Sir Hugh Francis, we suppose, is a bit of a cliché of a posh espionage boss, but he's a good guy at heart and we found his constant referral to Frank Broadhurst as "the fat man" absolutely hilarious. Talking of Broadhurst, he, again, is well drawn, but we kind of felt as though we didn't get to see enough of him and exactly why he was rebelling against the beauty of his beloved science. A small quibble though as he still makes up a nice part of the jigsaw. 

Acting's pretty damn professional too. We suppose Barry Angel ain't exactly on BAFTA award winning form, but let's be fair, it was one of his first roles, so we can't be too harsh on the old chap. Gorden Kaye is certainly less René Artois in this piece and more nuanced, but as we said earlier he doesn't get any truly huge scenes or amount of screentime which is a shame, but he'd certainly go on to make up for that in his career. Finally, Jack Galloway is not only amazingly handsome with his fantastic coiffure, but he's a bloody good actor with a steely British determination and intelligence flowing through his veins.

Not everything, of course, works as is the nature of the imperfect world that we live in, but Codename Icarus comes pretty damn close. However, a few little bits niggled for us. Firstly, how on God's green Earth, did John Doll manage to get in touch with Martin online? It being the early 80s means the internet was in its completely and utterly most basic form, so quite how he managed to zero in on Martin is rather dubious. And the Sue Kleiner character seems rather redundant as she's mostly relegated to acting as a feed for working out Martin's mood.

Overall, though, Codename Icarus is an amazing testament to the intelligence that can be imbued into a children's TV show. Demonstrating such a clever examination on the beauty of science and how it can be twisted by man's greed is a scintillating setup and keeps you on the edge of your seat. God knows why it ain't had a UK DVD release yet, but we live in hope. In the meantime, get over to YouTube and digest its majesty.

Monday 12 October 2015

Paddington Green

Humanity thrives upon communities coming together and co-operating in order to ensure society has some sort of common objective to work towards that will preserve our sometimes feckless ways. And this is why we've managed to upgrade our lives from crouching in dank, dark caves into a society where, at least for the majority of us, we can now stretch out in the comfort of centrally heated and fully lit homes.

Man's advancement is a compelling one, but due to the vast amount of time involved in this evolution, the narrative has generally concentrated on society as a whole rather than individuals. Come the late 1990s, though, we began to wonder about the stories behind the people scurrying around in these bustling societies and, thus, docusoaps were born.

They were a fantastic exercise in voyeurism and allowed us to peer into the lives of "people just like us" and see how they dealt with the rigours of life. Perhaps we should have been investigating our own lives and trying to better ourselves, but the stars of docusoaps were cast and edited to ensure that their lives were much more exciting. And it was perhaps never done better than in Paddington Green.

Genre: Docusoap
Channel: BBC1

Transmission: 28/12/1998 - 24/07/2001

Paddington Green is a curious little corner of West London which, when first recorded in 1549, consisted of little more than wastelands and a medieval church. Hardly a startling backdrop for people's lives to play out against, but by 1617 there was a fishpond there, so heady times indeed. I'm on a bit of a schedule, though, so can't fanny about and discuss the introduction of the first bird table in Paddington Green. Instead, I'll nip forward about 380 years and take a look at what was going on in Paddington Green in the late 1990s.

Perhaps the most notable event was that the BBC were sticking their cameras and boom mics into the lives of those living in Paddington Green. And it wasn't just a random selection of people they'd met down at the pub, no, in fact, it was a highly varied cross section of the bubbling community of Paddington Green.

The most famous face followed around the Green was Jackie McAuliffe who was a highly complex soul. Jackie, of course, started off as humble Jason McAuliffe, but by the mid 1990s underwent gender reassignment surgery and the chirpy Jackie was born. And how did Jackie earn her crust? That's right! She was a prostitute down at Sussex Gardens. I told you she was complex.

Whilst Jackie was coming to terms with her new life, there was plenty of people finding themselves locked out of their houses or even needing ancient safes unlocking. Enter Jason Osborne, a 24 hour locksmith who laughed in the face of 'uncrackable' safes and appeared to never sleep. Now, this hectic on-call lifestyle probably pays well in the cash stakes, but in terms of love, it was putting a huge strain on his relationship with his beloved Anna.

Harry Gilbert, though, seemed to have finally - at the age of 85 - snared himself a sweetheart in the form of dear old Joyce. However, even in his twilight years, he was being kept on his toes by more than his beau as old Mr Gilbert was still running his wig shop. And a 'hotel' above it. Then there was his revolutionary 'skin cream' he was formulating in his basement which looked like a health and safety officer's nightmare. Give him his dues, though, Harry didn't look too bad for 85, so maybe there was something in his dubious goo after all.

Those three were perhaps the most famous and most featured, but plenty of other memorable characters popped up throughout the series' run.

There was the wonderfully curvy and beautiful Claudia who relentlessly fought with her Dad to revolutionise their scooter shop and bring it up to date. Testing his business partner's mental health on a daily basis was Dave, a good old fashioned wheeler dealer in the mould of Del Boy who could sniff a 'bargain' at 50 yards. And who can forget the good time, laid back bus conductor Danny?

Oh and we also got to follow the early tentative steps of Kelly in the world of modelling, but she's now best known as Kelly Harrison who's barely kept off our screens since.

The Docusoap Boom

Big Brother was still a couple years away, so the British public hadn't been exposed to the full insanity of reality TV and were being kept busy with a sudden interest in docusoaps - kickstarted in no small part by some crazy Welsh learner drive by the name of Maureen Rees in Driving School. And what better place to set the latest docusoap than London? It's a thriving old place, so just perfect for plucking out a few stories to titillate the viewers.

Paddington Green was created by Lion Television and filming began in the summer of 1998 with the first series airing just after Christmas 1998. A total of six series aired between 1998 and 2001 with Ross Kemp narrating the first three series before handing over the torch to his Eastenders co-star Todd Carty for the final three. Paddington Green did not receive any terrestrial repeats, but some episodes were re-aired on BBC Choice in 1999 and episodes also received screen time in 2006 on UKTV People. The first two series are currently up on YouTube, but nothing else is available from the later series!

The jazzy score to Paddington Green was cooked up by the amazing composer Guy Dagul, so we asked him for a quick recap of his involvement with the show:

I followed the producers Bridget Sneyd and Ludo Graham straight from scoring the complete DK Eyewitness Films for them at BBC Worldwide. The brief was simple…raw, urban and sexy.
Thus using "Take Five" (Brubeck) as my template, I let rip! I knew Phil Todd (sax) from my days working on films such as Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning and Arachnophobia. The theme tune was weaved in and out, as variations, throughout as the underscore.

Taking a Trip To Paddington Green

Blimey, Paddington Green! It only seems like yesterday that we werr glued to our screens watching the residents' intriguing lives unfold, but, oh Christ, it was actually 17 years ago which reminds us we're not getting anything but a little further over the hill with each passing day.

Anyway, we bloody loved Paddington Green!

You see, as a 16 year old squirt, these tales of suburban life in the big smog filled monster of London seemed like amazing little glimpses into this exciting adult world we were clamouring to be part of. "Oh please let us into the party and let us dance with Jason at the Notting Hill Carnival and then go pick a few locks! PLEASE!" our teenage self would scream.

In fact, we did, at some point, plan some type of pilgrimage to Paddington Green to visit all the landmarks, but, as with most teenage follies, it didn't happen and we just sat at home reading the NME, dreaming about girls who were well out of our league and wallowing in the sickening reality that we weren't a rock star.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, though, and we were over all that teenage angst nonsense (yeah right!) and decided it was high time we rewatched Paddington Green. Luckily, the first two series went up on YouTube earlier this year, so we could finally reconnect with it.

The first aspect of the show that got the old nostalgia juices flowing was Guy Dagul's jazzy theme. Again, to a 16 year old Britpop fan, the world of jazz was a mysterious world which tempted us in to a new world of time signatures and complex sax arpeggios. And it still stands up. It's bright, it's cool and it sums up a late night stroll through London's beguiling streets.

Oh and the characters! They made such an indelible impression on us at the time, so we were quite literally hysterical with excitement over the prospect of revisiting this old bunch of charmers. And, you know what? They've still bloody got it! Well, some of them...

Because, you know, with such a diverse cast it's obvious that some are going to be that little bit more sparkling than others.

Jason the locksmith was always our favourite due to him being bestowed with an almost shamanistic ability to magically open locks with just a few furtive twists of his wrist. It created a sense of amazement, plus he seemed to get paid big wodges of cash for about 5 minutes work - nice work if you can get it. Jason, though, wasn't purely a one dimensional workaholic. He also had a couple of fractious relationships on his plate with his mother and his girlfriend. And God knows we've all been there - gender specific of course.

Mr Gilbert, too, was a charming old stunner of a gent. Completely rude to his customers, but this he promised was simply down to his no-nonsense dispensing of the truth and, come on, all he wanted to do was make them ladies look their prettiest. The wig shop side of things was rather sedate though due to a lack of trade, but his skin rejuvenating cream was a marked piece of genius. God knows what went in it, but again it was an intriguing angle to his character and highlighted his sense of enterprise even in his twilight years.

Jackie, of course, brought a huge helping of poignancy to Paddington Green and was a real case study in the trials and tribulations of humanity. Despite numerous setbacks throughout life such as being fostered as a child, gender identity crises and having to work the seedy streets of west London as a prostitute, she generally remained resolutely upbeat. A world away from the rest of the cast, Jackie helped bring a unique story to the show to stop the series being mired in the mundanity of life.

And, yeah, some of the characters were a little mundane and failed to inspire that devotion to giving two hoots about their unstimulating lives. Thankfully, the editors of Paddington Green soon seemed to cotton on to who the more curious characters were and either consigned the lesser characters to the dustbin or shunted them to the sidelines for nothing more than brief appearances.

That's not to say the main characters didn't slip into mundanity at times. You see, life on this ever revolving, but never truly changing globe is, generally, one quotidian event after the other, so that's why we bear witness to such earth shattering events as Danny going overdrawn. Oh man, he's overdrawn! Jesus! Whatever next? He's lost his favourite scarf?!

But, you know what? By this point we've invested a substantial amount of interest and empathy in Danny's cheery way of life. Seeing his freewheeling ways come off the rails and not being able to afford a night down the pub cuts deep. It's not like Hitler's gone and got himself overdrawn buying one too many lederhosen for his upcoming rally, is it? So, remember: Danny - YES! Hitler - NO!

The original characters, however, slowly started to leave Paddington Green after the first couple of series and, as so often happens, the replacements were unable to imbue that initial connection now that our sensory receptors had been filled by their predecessors. That's not to say the later series weren't full of insightful social intrigue, just take the story of Gary, a survivor of the 1999 Soho pub bombings trying put life in perspective after such a harrowing ordeal.
But the horse had bolted and our attention waned. Although, to be fair, this was also partly down to us finally getting the keys to the adult world and wanting to make our own mark on the world i.e. get drunk and act stupid.

Final Thoughts

Paddington Green was a great piece of late 90s television. Sure, it didn't always reflect the true horrors of urban life, so, in some ways, is very misleading in it's representation of society, but it was able to deliver a fantastic examination of the humdrum life of a living, breathing human chasing those highs and hot tailing it away from the dreaded lows which so often define our character.

One aspect of the show which really stood out was the real sense of enterprise on show by the characters which sums up the power of money in the modern society. Jason relentlessly chases another job sometimes at the expense of his relationships, Dave is constantly searching for that next big deal and Jackie seizes back the power from her schoolhood bullies by exploiting their leering lusts financially.

It's this aspect which gives the show an aspirational feel, but at the same time underlines how us humans can be a magnanimous, but foolhardy bunch. So, we're a bunch of twits, but we don't half love having a fiver in our back pocket at the end of all our endeavours and to hell with the mental ramifications!

What followed in Paddington Green's wake has perhaps tarnished it slightly in the annals of TV history, but come on, it's not like any of the Paddington Green characters were directly responsible for the ignominy of Kinga and that wine bottle in Big Brother was it?! Regardless, it's not actually as well remembered as it perhaps deserves to be. Despite being a popular show to discuss at the time it seems to have faded from many people's memories, so perhaps it's time to start working on that 20th anniversary reunion special.

In the meantime, head over to YouTube and reacquaint yourself with the genteel charms of Paddington Green and let us know who your favourite characters were and why!

Saturday 12 September 2015

5 of the Best British Comedy Sketches You Don’t Remember

When we're not drowning our sorrows over "what we coulda been, man!" in the deepest depths of gin hell, we're more than likely to be found lamenting the death of the great British sketch show.

Yeah, we used to love them crazy little sketch guys with their bite sized three act narratives designed to give us quick comedic bursts one after the other before our attention buggered off elsewhere.

But, despite the mid 00s success of The Catherine Tate Show and Little Britain, the whole genre seems to have disappeared quicker than our dignity on a Friday night. Sure, Cardinal Burns is pretty damn hilarious and if we had our way WitTank would have their own TV show and tie in annual, but they're in a moribund minority.

When the future's bleak, though, we here at Curious British Telly retreat backwards ever more into the rich recesses of British TVs past for a little bit of cultural salvation. And, blimey, ain't there just a bucket load of comedy sketches lurking there which are bloody amazing!

Problem is that, despite what them 'comedy gurus' say, there is actually a limit to the amount of times you can watch the 'Four Candles' sketch (does anyone even know how that ends?), so we're going to take you through 5 of the hidden gems of British sketch comedy you don't hear enough about. But bloody well should.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Dark Season

Children certainly encumber adults what with their precarious antics and devil may care attitudes, but you know what? Sometimes, it's these juvenile traits which allow children to see and tackle the world in ways that adults can't even comprehend. You see, adults are too predisposed to sense and logic, so they flounder in the face of concepts they can't rationalise.

And that's why, when it comes to tackling psychopathic megalomaniacs, children have a slight edge. Now, I'm not suggesting that we send children into war zones, but when it comes to standing toe to toe in teatime TV dramas there's nothing better to have on your side than a precocious teenager who still doesn't quite understand risk.

If you want some definitive proof of this fact then just tune into the sensational tellywaves known as Dark Season.

Friday 31 July 2015

Rockliffe’s Folly

Genre: Drama
Channel: BBC1

Transmission: 02/11/1988 - 14/12/1988

If you've ever spent more than a millisecond living and working in an urban environment then we'd bet our bottom shilling that you ain't half fantasised about a more pastoral existence.

You see, the countryside - to us city folk - exudes nothing but a sense of serenity and low blood pressure. And no one wants to be having a heart attack surrounded by smog and ever spiralling crime statistics. Mind you, we ain't one to judge, so if that's your bag, more power to ya!

However, some people do end up thinking "Screw this city living for a game of soldiers!" before getting off their behinds and vamooshing straight to the rolling hills of the countrysideland.

And that's exactly what Detective Sergeant Rockliffe went and done in Rockliffe's Folly.

Monday 20 July 2015

Beggar My Neighbour

Genre: Sitcom
Channel: BBC1
Transmission: 24/05/1966 - 26/03/1968

Reg Varney, now there was a salt of the earth fellow and perhaps best known for being the first ever human man person to use an ATM in the entire world. He also did some sitcom about buses as well. At least that's what we learned at school.

But, lo and behold, he only went and did a few more things with his spell on good old planet Earth! And one of them was a sitcom from them crazy old black and white days called Beggar My Neighbour.

Oooh! Black and white! You don't see much of that on Curious British Telly!

And that's why it's the perfect time to get all monochromatic-sixties-groovy-baby with Beggar My Neighbour.

Saturday 11 July 2015

Fairly Secret Army

Genre: Comedy
Channel: Channel 4
Transmission: 1984 - 1986

Sometimes secrets are necessary in order to protect the fragile feelings of some wretched soul who can't cope with the stresses of truth. And, frankly, yes, if you find out some god awful secret about us we'd rather you keep it under your hat or we'll tumble in to a lachrymose state pronto. Delicate flowers we are.

But sometimes, you know, secrets are there to act as a front for more Machiavellian pursuits such as overthrowing the namby pamby lefty framework of dear old Blighty, so keep schtum or the whole plan'll come tumbling down upon us.

And that's exactly what Harry Kitchener Wellington Truscott had planned in Fairly Secret Army.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

How to Get Hold of Rare Retro TV Shows

The world's a beautiful old place, but it's missing something and that something is comprised of about a million and ten rare retro tv shows we wanna lay our peepers on.

You see, when we started this blog we spent most of our time trudging through the streets bemoaning the lack of availability of those rare old TV shows we craved so badly. Sure, we could head to YouTube to get a quick fix of retro TV shows, but what happened if YouTube provided no search results? Well, there are numerous ways to feed this passion of yours, so, being the charitable, generous organisation that we are, we're going to point you in even more directions for getting hold of those rare TV shows.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Dizzy Heights

Genre: Childrens
Channel: BBC1
Transmission: 15/02/1990 - 01/04/1993

One of the golden rules of the old comedy game is that YOU CAN'T DO A BLOODY COMEDY SET IN A HOTEL, ALRIGHT?!

And this, dear readers, is due to John Cleese going and breaking the mould with Fawlty Towers. And, yeah, when you take a ganders at Heartburn Hotel you could be mistaken for thing "Blimey! If John Sullivan can't make it work, what time of devilish magic is required?!".

But, you know what, John Cleese ain't exactly got the whole tourism sitcom genre sewn up as tightly as people reckon.

You see, a hilarious hotel comedy has, in fact, broached our telly waves. And no, it's not Hotel Babylon! It is, of course, the latex fuelled hijinks and shenanigans of Dizzy Heights!

Thursday 4 June 2015

Break in the Sun

Genre: Childrens
Channel: BBC1
Transmission: 11/02/1981 - 18/03/1981

Our teenage years can be a bit of a nightmare what with having to worry about acne, how cool our trainers are and, most importantly, the opposite sex. However, these are all rather superficial worries and, for some, the least of their teenage angst.

For some teenagers, the real life rigours of life can come a calling and completely deconstruct everything you've held dear and believed would be never ending. And when this type of upheaval comes to town what you need to do is take a Break in the Sun.
Getting Away From it All

Patsy Bligh is a girl at breaking point. If she sticks around in the abusive environment she's in then her spirit is going to snap. And it could cause irreparable damage.

Plucked from the security and warmth of her Margate home - where the grandmotherly Mrs Broadley (Kathleen Heath) dotes upon her - she now finds herself trapped in Deptford thanks to her mother, Sylvia Green (Catherine Chase), getting married and having a baby with Eddie Green (Brian Hall).

Now, the main thrust of Patsy's woes and worries come directly from the embittered rage of Eddie who not only belittles her verbally, but also gets handy with his fists leaving her bruised and so full of anxiety that her nights have become a real horrorshow of bedwetting. And this frustrates Eddie even more ergo a vicious cycle ensues.

Obviously, Patsy is rattled up by this and feels completely alienated from her household where her mother is far too busy with the new baby. Sure, Patsy's got her mate Kenny Granger (Kevin Taffurelli) - ginger, portly and prone to swimming a few lengths in the murky Thames - but there's only so much support his bespectacled form can offer.

Patsy's only escape from all this hideousness appears to be immersing herself in the world of drama. She's a bit of a starlet next to her monotone peers and, just maybe, this precocious talent is going to help her escape the doldrums of Deptford.

Now, what's gone and happened is that Patsy's spied a curious old boat down at the quay which houses an acting troupe who are travelling up and down the coast putting on a production of 'A Happy Release'. Oh and they're heading towards Margate where the comforting bosom of Mrs Broadley resides.

Patsy, of course, soon finds her eyes twinkling with visions of her treading the boards and finding refuge from the bothersome Eddie. And, by a stroke of luck, half term's coming up, so wouldn't it be just spiffing for her to join the production and sail all her worries away?

Not going to happen unfortunately as the actors aren't too keen on whisking her away from her parents into a world of seafaring performance. And rightly so, the conscientious old buggers.

However, Patsy's determined to get away from it all, so she tricks Eddie into writing some vague nonsense about allowing her to go on a school trip. The actors are overjoyed and soon head off onto the high seas for deepest Kent.

Patsy, of course, has already skipped school by this point, so a teacher heads round to see her parents and find out where the little tyke is. All hell breaks loose and Patsy's mother is distraught about the loss of her beloved daughter and finally starts laying down the law at Eddie's door.

Kenny, after being harassed by his saccharine, but well meaning mother, Mrs Granger (Patsy Rowlands), reveals that he saw Patsy getting on a boat. Eddie's bundled out of the house and told to find out where the hell she's got too and discovers that the boat's headed for Kent.

Teamed up with Kenny, Eddie is sent to chase the boat - there's no point getting the fuzz involved he reckons - and bring back little Patsy.

Producing the Drama

Break in the Sun was a novel by Bernard Ashley which had the adaptation treatment given to it by Alan England's capable and crafting hands. The 6 episode series aired on BBC1 in winter 1981 and had a repeat visit in spring 1982.

Getting himself comfy in the director's chair was Roger Singleton-Turner who would later go to direct proceedings in Grange Hill, Watt on Earth and The Demon Headmaster.

No commercial releases ever followed.

Oh What a Lovely Break!

We'd been waxing lyrical about old Bernard Ashley's writing talents on Twitter when one of our loyal and beautiful followers mentioned Break in the Sun.

So what we did was this: we jumped on our trusted information superhighwaynet and swung by YouTube to see it was available for our viewing pleasures, but it sadly yielded nothing. A gutting experience, but not one which dissuaded us from the chase.

We soon found someone selling DVD copies for a not completely unreasonable price. You've got to be careful of the rip off merchants littering the web, you see, as they want nothing more than to charge £40.00 for grainy old copies of David Jason in shows before he was the household name he became.

Yeah, so we got this DVD delivered and were gobsmacked to find it had come all the way from Georgia, USA. What on Earth is someone doing over 3,000 miles away tenderly burning copies of Break in the Sun? Shouldn't they be concentrating on rare copies of, uh, My Mother the Car, or something?

We're not going to argue, though, seeing as we're pleased as punch we've got a copy of the show, but it does raise some interesting questions about the machinations of the pirate DVD business in the 21st century. Questions that, you'll be glad to hear, we won't bore your lugholes with today. Or ever.

So, yeah, the actual show.

Although it's an adaptation, Alan England has delivered that trademark tone of Bernard Ashley's tales of teen alienation and the hardships that define those difficult years. And that recurring Ashley motif of running away is pumping strongly through the veins of Patsy.

Patsy's a curious little character and one who's well played by Nicola Cowper even if the role doesn't really call for too much in terms of mood. She's, not surprisingly, quite a maudlin little madam and most of her emotion is displayed by a morose look. We'd kinda like a little more depth to the main character because, as it is, all her hopes and fears seem glossed over.

However, believe it or not, the actual star, in our eyes, isn't actually Patsy. No, sir, it's Eddie aka Terry the chef from Fawlty Towers.

He's an amazingly crafted character with countless layers that we see gradually stripped away over the course of the series. He might start off as a boorish cockney thug, but when he gets teamed up with Kenny we gradually see a different side of him being revealed.

Now, Kenny and Eddie are like chalk and cheese, but it's this combination that begins to unlock the better side of Eddie's character. In between despairing about Kenny's obesity, he takes on a paternal role for the rotund redhead and begins to share insights into the rigours of growing up in his father's shadow.

And it's Kenny who finally opens Eddie's eyes to the quite gruesome truth that he's to blame for all of Patsy's shenanigans. It's a complex piece of drama to be aiming at the kids, but it's pulled off maturely and never sinks into the realms of soppy atonement - it's just your typical geezer with a few issues stored up in his noggin suddenly realising he's just a little bit of history repeating itself.

We were left tingling down our spine by Brian Hall's performance and it's a shame he perhaps isn't better known for more than his role in one of the best sitcoms ever. Mind you, it's not a bad show to be defined by, is it?

But how does the series pan out? Well, early on, we began to fear that Eddie and Kenny's pursuit - where they constantly seem to be one Kent town behind Patsy - would become tiresome, but as Eddie's whole id is slowly dissected and reassessed you can't help but be transfixed on the action.

And then there's the quite ghoulish nightmare sequence in episode 5 which feels like a bad batch of LSD which propels you into the final episode which conjures up bleak themes such as death, suicide and, finally, redemption. Hang on, is this a kids show or something by Mike Leigh?!

Special mention also has to go out to the opening theme which is like an offcut from The Who at their acoustic best.

One thing that seemed kinda disturbing to our 21st century eyes was the willingness with which Patsy clambers onto a boat full of strangers. However, you've gotta remember that this was 1981. And if you've ever read the Daily Mail you'll be well aware that paedophiles didn't exist before the dawn of the internet.

Probably the only flaw with the story is that, whilst Eddie has his road to Damascus moment, we didn't really feel that Patsy came out of the piece any wiser. Rather than realising that she can't just run away from her problems she ends the series heading towards Eddie with a tentative gait. So, yeah, it finishes with a slight whimper where it needed to deliver something a little more philosophical to the kids.

Final Thoughts

We can't fault Break in the Sun as it ticks pretty much every box on our comprehensive check list of what makes a classic bit of children's tv.

It's got that bleak edge cutting through it with an almost kitchen sink quality at its fingertips and the character of Eddie is so well realised that it's hard to believe you're watching children's tv.

And what kid can't engage with themes of alienation and just wanting to run away from all their troubles?

It's a shame that the only copy that seems to be floating about is quite low quality and we can only pray to the gods of retro TV that it gets a proper, cleaned up release one day.

***UPDATE - As of 30/10/2016, BBC Store are now selling Break in the Sun

Saturday 23 May 2015


Genre: Documentary
Channel: Play UK
Transmission: 2002

Larger than life, libertarian, ravisher of women, yes, these are just some the ways you can describe Russell Brand.

And it's these dominant traits which create the quintessential Marmite debate. Some of us are more than happy to lavish his yeasty goodness on a piece of toast and devour it whole, but others retch at the mere mention of his name.

We absolutely love him, though, and no matter how misguided he can be at times we'll offer up a fistful of knuckles for anyone who bemoans his lustrous locks and big mouth.

He wasn't, of course, always the media presence that he is today. No, everyone needs to start somewhere and one of old Russ' earliest forays into TV was with Re:Brand.

Dennis the Menace and Gnasher Show

Genre: Childrens
Channel: The Children's Channel
Transmission: 1990 - 91

If you're anything like us then you storm through the door after a hard day at work, grab a beer and crank out the songs of your youth to relax.

Kids, though, tend to waltz through the door with an insouciant swagger, a pack of sweets in their back pocket and, rolled up under their arm, a comic.

It's not much, but it's enough to satisfy anyone under the age of 10. And there's only one comic these youngsters can be seen with. And that's the Beano.

Dennis the Menace, of course, is the star of the Beano and he's received several TV adaptations over the year, but the most interesting one is The Dennis the Menace and Gnasher Show.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Fred Basset

Genre: Childrens
Channel: BBC1
Transmission: 25/04/1977 - 20/05/1977

We don't know about you, but we don't half love dogs.


No, seriously, we love dogs and we're pretty sure you do too. Unless you're one of those cat lovers, but, well, we suppose Custard of Roobarb and Custard fame was a right cackling enigma if ever there was one.

Anyway, we're getting sidetracked by that curiously retro tv mind of ours. You see, the real reason we've gathered round the great British TV alter today is to take a ganders at Fred Basset.

Thursday 30 April 2015


Genre: Childrens
Channel: BBC1
Transmission: 20/02/1991 - 27/03/1991

The fairground is one of those magical landscapes that a child's brain can barely comprehend the majesty of.

With the bright lights, the booming music, the thrills and, of course, the sweets, the fair is custom built to appeal to every sensory desire of a child.

A parent, meanwhile, looks at the pools of vomit, holds onto their wallet tightly and prays to God that their child doesn't fall in with 'the fair lads'.

However, even the most pessimistic adult, can't deny that the fair acts as an escapist fantasy even if it's just for the briefest of moments on the waltzers before they vomit up their £4 hotdog.

And in Dodgem we find a father and child retreating into this fantasy world to escape the rigours of life.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Britpop Now

Genre: Music
Channel: BBC2

Transmission: 16/08/1995

Ah, Britpop! Now there was a musical movement that the whole country could get behind!

With a confident, chirpy spring in its step it celebrated British life and took its cue from a rich legacy of British bands stretching from The Kinks to Wire to The Smiths.

Sure, it was jingoistic and never really consumed the world like we thought it would, but at the time it seemed anything was possible. Especially if you had a retro tracksuit top and hung about in The Good Mixer.

At the height of Britpop, in August 1995, the two biggest bands in the country - Oasis and Blur - went head to head in the battle of Britpop for the number 1 single. Blur prevailed with Country House outselling Roll With It, but you may have forgotten that week also saw the cream of the Britpop bands convening for Britpop Now.

Saturday 18 April 2015

20 Things to Do Before You're 30

Genre: Comedy drama
Channel: Channel 4

Transmission: 06/02/2003 - 27/03/2003

Hitting the ripe old age of 30 is a depressing landmark for pretty much anyone who's ever enjoyed themselves.

It's viewed as the end of your youth and time to knuckle down and really get to grips with being an adult.

Suddenly, you realise you probably should have spent less time in the pub and less time speculating what went on in the Rainbow house when the cameras stopped rolling. Instead, you could have been building a career, searching for love and securing that mortgage.

Jesus! That sounds depressing as hell!

You know what, there's nothing wrong with mucking about in your 20s! That's what they were invented for - the dress rehearsals for becoming an adult, so be silly and bugger things up rotten!

If you are in a rush, though, perhaps you could draw up a list of 20 Things to Do Before You're 30.

The Dreaded Landmark

Four friends, all working in the aspirational world of market research, have decided that their 20s are running out fast and they haven't achieved enough. Together they're each going to draw up a list of objectives that they have to tick off before they hit the big 3-0.

Conrad (Mathew Horne) is a lowly market researcher, neurotic about his position as a single gay male in a world where he can't find love or face up to adult life.

He lives with his co-worker (and best friend) Shona (Amanda Abbington) who strives to break free from her single life at an age when her peers are settling down and starting families. Recently, she's started dating the softly spoken, but handsome Glen (James Murray).

Together, Conra and Shona have to deal with Dominic (Chris Polick), a laddish, market researcher who takes great delight from being in a relationship with his girlfriend Katie. He also lives with his mother who waits on him hand and foot. His confidence with women is also incredibly misplaced.

Finally, we have Zoe (Georgie Mackenzie), who manages Conrad, Shona and Dominic. She's currently going through divorce proceedings and wondering if life can offer her anything at all.

Their ticksheet contains such bold tasks as turning a member of the same sex, sacking someone and putting up a shelf amongst other plots.

Researching the Researchers

20 Things to Do Before You're 30 aired in early 2003 on Channel 4 and took up a late Thursday night slot. It ran for a total of 8 episodes which were roughly 25 minutes long.

It bears a striking resemblance to Teachers and it's not a surprise that it was produced by the same company, Tiger Aspect, and was created by Jane Fallon -who also produced Teachers. Both Mathew Horne and Amanda Abbington would also star in Teachers.

A number of writers contributed scripts to the series with Charlie Martin, Stephen Leslie, Rachel Pope and Jack Lothian all getting writing credits.

The series has never had a commercial release and neither is it available on 4OD. The whole series, however, has popped up on YouTube.

Ticking Off

Curious British Telly watched 20 Things to Do Before You're 30 way back in the early 00s and vividly remembered three things about it:
  1. Matthew Horne was in it.
  2. The critics hated it.
  3. We were texting a girl about it one night, so she tuned in and commented that the acting was horrendous.
And you know what?

Mathew Horne is in it.

The critics did hate it.

The acting... isn't quite so bad.

First things first, let's take a gander at the concept. Yeah, you know, it's not half bad. A group of 20 somethings trying to grasp at life before their youth slips away. Plenty of people can identify with that.

We spent a lot of our 20s talking crap in an office, so we can really engage with the joys that it brings. Truth be told, we're still doing it in our 30s, but that's by the by.

Curiously, for a show from this era, there's actually a few nicely composed shots making use of the surroundings to create framed, long shorts more commonly found in TV these days. Many times, though, the direction feels a little static and this contributes to a lifeless tone at some points.

And what about the acting?

Mathew Horne is, well, he's Mathew Horne here. And very similar in nature to the character he would portray in Teachers. It's an easy watch and his curious little facial expressions always embue his characters with plenty of personality.

What about Amanda Abbington? She's forthright and plucky with great comic timing here. Like Mathew Horne she certainly hasn't done too bad for herself in the acting stakes since.

Chris Polick is the first weak point and a genuine candidate for bad acting. He just can't inject much personality into Dominic and his monotonous delivery grates.

James Murray - who's given limited screen time - is fairly nondescript as well. His delivery is just plain irritating and it's hard to believe he's the same actor who gave such an amazing performance in Cucumber recently.

And Georgia Mackenzie also fails to sparkle. She's not really given much to work with, though, which brings us on to the characters.

They're badly formed and we found ourselves struggling to connect with them. There's little genuine heart on show and the come across as shallow, self obsessed individuals. Frankly, we couldn't care if their lives are in disarray.

Conrad and Shona perhaps have the most characterisation, but even then it's lacking in the basic human emotions. All their frustrations come from a lack of success and expectation that they deserve all that life has to offer.

The character of Dominic is perhaps the most interesting character and the one that is the biggest disappointment. He's ready made to be shot through with pathos due to his boorish front being countered with being a mummy's boy. Instead he's just labeled as an FHM caricature. Imagine Jay from The Inbetweeners but with no bullying dad.

And Zoe, well, we're not even sure why she's in it. She adds very little to the proceedings and all we learn about her is that she has some half baked divorce going on in the background.

Who can we blame? We'll blame the writers as it's their job to create a universe and characters that we want to invest some emotional attachment in. The lack or any deep plots also hinder proceedings and the series starts to feel repetitive as episodes all segue into one.

For a comedy drama, the length of the episodes is rather short, but this is somewhat of a blessing in disguise here. With a lack of any real jeopardy on hand then a 45 minute episode would have felt painfully stretched.

The final episode, however, does begin to deliver in areas previously lacking and was probably the most enjoyable of the lot. Our favourite scene, incidentally, is in this episode and simply sees Conrad and Shona observing an exceptionally tall man walk down a corridor.

Was It Worth It?

20 Things to Do Before You're 30 really struggles to deliver anything that makes it stand out. It's, perhaps, in the shadow of Teachers far too much and quite why Tiger Aspect decided this was needed at the same time is anyone's guess.

And it doesn't truly reflect the lives of 20 somethings. Sure, there's love and sex, but that's about it. A little more depth to the characters could have made it a more honest portrayal that a whole demographic could have latched onto. This Life, it ain't.

Saying that, there's something in there that we find marginally likeable, but it only really leaped out at us in the final episode. Was there room for another series? Perhaps, but the whole concept would have started wearing thin by then. What would they call it? Another 20 Things to Do Before You're 30?

As it is, we'll label this as a curio due to Mathew Horne's early appearance and its relative obscurity.