Monday, 14 June 2021

International Shipping Now Available for the Fanzine

 

I'm now happy, after learning that someone has been sending the fanzine onto a relative in Thailand and it arriving in one piece, to offer international shipping on the Curious British Telly fanzine. So, if you're outside of the UK and interested in a copy or two (or three) then please send an email to curiousbritishtelly@gmail.com and I'll work out some postage costs. Details on the contents of the three issues can be found here, here and here.

And many thanks to everyone who has bought a copy so far. Work on issue four has already begun...

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Curious British Telly Fanzine Issue 3 Has Landed!

Time flies when you're furloughed and in the middle of yet another lockdown, so it's no surprise that the launch date for issue 3 of the Curious British Telly fanzine is here. Yes, that's right, to prove that the first two were no flash in the pans, we're back with a third issue. And, dare I say it, it may well be the best one yet.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

A Curious BBC Engineering Test from 1987

Neil Miles is a man who, much like myself, enjoys delving through piles of old videotapes in search of long forgotten footage. And his excellent YouTube channel recently delivered an intriguing slice of late night television in the form of a BBC engineering test from 1987.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

A Chock-a-Block Mug?!

Chock-a-Block

In what can only be described as a ridiculous pursuit, I recently Googled "Chock-a-Block merchandise" in the hope it would reveal that there was a 1982 Chock-a-Block annual. But it didn't. As there never was any Chock-a-Block merchandise. However, the internet is full of enterprising and creative individuals, so there is some merchandise available. It may not be official, but this doesn't necessarily stop it being amazing. And this is best demonstrated by a particularly creative individual on Redbubble who has designed a lovingly accurate Chock-a-Block illustration.

You can buy it printed onto virtually anything: socks, posters and, I'm not even lying, shower curtains. Stepping out of a Chock-a-Block shower curtain isn't something I've ever considered and, to be truthful, I think it would be a folly too far even for me. But, nestled away in the listings, there was a brilliant mug which espoused nostalgic wonder and instantly had me humming the legendary theme tune. So, I bought it and two days later it was here.

You can find the mug - and all the other variations of the design - over here

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

18/08/1986 - Lets Pretend: The Singer Who Lost His Voice

One of my favourite television programmes as a pre-schooler was ITV's lunchtime children's programme Let's Pretend. With a firm footing in the world of imagination, Let's Pretend demonstrated how the mind could be unshackled to create anything. And in the 1980s, with no YouTube to rot the brain in a smorgasbord of toddler-based memes and toy promotions reviews, children had to rely on making their own entertainment. The show was a big hit with myself, but despite running for seven years between 1982 - 89, few people reference it in the wider discussion on children's television. 

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to write about it for one of my books - that specific section is reproduced here - and covered the outline of the series fairly comprehensively. So, there's not really any need for me to regurgitate that information again. However, when I wrote my book, footage of the series was curiously hard to source, despite just over 200 episodes being produced. I managed to track down a few at some television archives, but that was it. Thankfully, since then, a few have made their way on to YouTube. And this has provided me with an ideal opportunity to not only write a few, short articles reviewing them, but to also carve my Let's Pretend outpost of fandom a little more indelibly into the information superhighway's surface. So, on with the first one...

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Not With a Bang

Post-apocalyptic narratives have a tendency to be indebted to a catastrophic event. Popular choices range from deadly pandemics through to nuclear attacks and the emergence of zombie killers. These flashpoints need to be dramatic to leave humanity hanging on by a thread and create the drama required to hook in the viewers. It’s not a dynamic which immediately lends itself to comedy, but this doesn’t mean it should be off-limits. Comedy is capable of taking on each and every genre of storytelling and that’s why it’s such a versatile form. And maybe it can be achieved Not With a Bang but with a very British take on the genre.

Friday, 7 May 2021

50 British TV Comedies From the 1980s You Forgot About

We all know who the big hitters of British TV comedy were in the 1980s. Shows such as Only Fools and Horses, Minder and Spitting Image still elicit mass devotion all these years on. But there was so much more going on in the British TV schedules in terms of comedy. The majority of these have slipped our minds, but this isn't (well, not always) an indicator of their quality. Some simply didn't engage large audiences as well as others did. It's as simple as that. But I can assure you that all these other shows (well, most of them) deserve to be remembered. And that's why I've put together this look at 50 British TV comedies from the 1980s you forgot about.

Monday, 19 April 2021

The Memory… Kinda Lingers

G Neil Martin celebrates one of TV comedy’s finest double albums

It ended, in a way that didn’t really befit it at all, in a dusky power station, full of sinuous pipes, and shadows and angry gas and steam. As if HR Giger had been brought in to design satire. Four people - three men, one woman - and one monumental double entendre.

Series four of Not The Nine O’Clock News is the apogee of the series’ run. Broadcast in 1982, it led to the final of the NOT albums - this time, a double album (“Not The Double Album”, proper gatefold and all) which included a compilation of the best sketches and songs from series four on one disc and the group’s live Drury Lane show on the other. The CDs, which came later, were designed as two little 33 1/3 LPs. It is probably the greatest comedy double LP based on a sketch show ever produced.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Dogfood Dan and the Carmarthen Cowboy

Infidelity is a dangerous art to practice and one that comes pre-loaded with a weapons-grade risk. Nonetheless, it’s a perennial indulgence that mankind has been keen to nourish. A common joke, in the British Isles, is for an individual to jest that they will never stray from their partner within their post code. The rather feeble humour of this remark is that there’s less chance of being caught. Admittedly, there’s a logic what with the increase in distance reducing any visibility to the unknowing partner. Extend this to several postcodes and a national border and it should be ridiculously easy. But even with this on their side it’s far from easy for Dogfood Dan and the Carmarthen Cowboy.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

What Did the Readers of Look-in Think of Television in the Mid-1980s?

Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 80s should instantly recognise Look-in. Marketed as the 'Junior TV Times' it provided a wealth of features on everything that a youngster should be interested in. Comic strips infested its pages alongside interviews with pop stars and, of course, television featured heavily. Looking back at these magazines grants us a wonderful peek into the culture which was bubbling up at the time. It's almost as if they were custom made for the world of Curious British Telly. And, rather magnificently, around a year ago, I was sent a pile of mid- 1980s issues by a kind fan of Curious British Telly.

Aside from the nostalgic blast offered up by the gleaming smiles of Wham! and Paul Young's knitwear, the issues also brought a number of intriguing and enigmatic shows to my attention. Naturally, I'll be investigating them in more detail in the future. But what also caught my eye was the What's Your View? section. This allowed readers to write in and give their views on television. These opinions are decades old now, but I feel they represent an interesting glance at how children viewed television in the mid 1980s. And that's why I've decided to stick several of these features up here.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Ragtime Episodes Have Appeared Online!

The vast majority of television programmes are, unfortunately, out of reach for many of us. Collecting dust in the archives, these slices of cultural interest remain shrouded in mystery. All that remains in the public consciousness is a motley assortment of vague and conflicting memories. That's part of the reason why I put Curious British Telly together. If these programmes are to remain out of reach then perhaps I can put up some solid facts about them. 

Anyway, a show that I covered in my most recent book - More Curiosities of Children's Television - was Ragtime, and this fell squarely into the "out of reach" bracket for most people. The only way I'd managed to watch copies was by booking in at the BFI. But it turns out that several episodes sneaked online in late 2019.

S&M

We improvise almost continuously throughout the day whether it be stirring a cup of tea with a screwdriver in lieu of a spoon or thinking up an excuse on the spot when confronted by an angry partner over why the bins haven’t been put out. Improvisation tends to confound any expectations of normality and always takes things off on a tangent. I guess that’s why life is such a strange proposition. But improvisation, by way of this strangeness, is also a driving force for the hilarity that our lives are blessed with. And that’s why improv has been a crucial factor in comedy over the years. Two of the finest proponents of this are Tony Slattery and Mike McShane or, as they’re also known, S&M.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

L for Lester

The ordeal of learning to drive is a harrowing one for even the most confident individual. For a whole hour there’s the risk of slamming your foot on the wrong pedal and spinning out of control into a world of chaos and A&E wards. It’s rare this happens, but it’s a nicely dramatic way of making a point: driving lessons are unpredictable. These trials only last for an hour, though, so it’s not too bad for the pupil. But for the driving instructor it’s a literal non-stop rollercoaster of bangs, prangs, tempers and tears all day long. Accordingly, it takes a strong, calm and organised character to take on the role. And this is the complete opposite of what you’ll find in L for Lester.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Curious British Telly Fanzine Issue 2 is Here!

It's been three months since the first issue of the Curious British Telly fanzine landed, so it's about time for issue two. And it's now here! And, better yet, there's an extra four pages (for the same cost) this time around!

Once again it's packed full of features that should titillate anyone with even a passing interest in the stranger corners of British television. So, for example, there's a feature on The Last Train, a post-apocalyptic ITV series from 1999 that completely passed under the radar at the time. Oh, and there are fantastic write-ups by guest writers on the BBC shows Dead of Night (1972) and A Very Peculiar Practice (1999)And, if you're looking for even more obscure and untold stories, why not take a look at the articles on TX45 (1986) and Look Here (1986)? If you've heard of both of them then you deserve a medal.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

The London Weekend Show

The heartbeat of youth culture in the 21st century is the internet; it's a luxury that previous generations could have only dreamed of. This isn't to say they lacked the necessary cultural harbingers, there was still Radio 1, Smash Hits, NME and all manner of television strands dedicated to youth culture. But the precision with which every idiosyncrasy, of every individual, could be engaged was way off. Now, however, there's a YouTube channel, Twitter feed, blog or Instagram account for any whim that's ever fermented in a teenage bedroom. It's a seismic shift in dynamics and technology which has obliterated the monoculture right down to its foundations. It's even made the architects redundant.

Television programmes, in 2021, that are dedicated to youth culture are virtually extinct. But these prehistoric beasts, all currently becoming fossilised in various archives, provide a wealth of detail about the society of our recent past. And, at least for anyone who regularly loads up Curious British Telly, there's an intoxicating hit lurking within these programmes. The vibrancy of youth, juxtaposed with its various challenges, makes for an engrossing brand of social analysis. One of the finest examples of this is The London Weekend Show.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Dramarama: A Couple of Charlies

Children's television can be a powerful format, one which holds no punches and holds up the grim reality of life as a child to the camera. Shows such as Grange Hill, Byker Grove and the somewhat overlooked Children's Ward all excelled when it came to peeling away the layers of innocence that society has been so keen to weld tightly to childhood. Another series of note is Dramarama. Running between 1982 - 89, Dramarama was an ITV anthology series which tackled numerous genres for a young audience. Whilst there was room for comedy, sci-fi and the supernatural, there was also time to tackle the harsh realities of life in powerful dramas. And one of these was A Couple of Charlies. 

Monday, 22 February 2021

Lord Tramp

It’s comforting to dream about the all the possibilities that a sudden windfall could bring. One moment you’re struggling to stave off the wrong end of your overdraft and the next, well, it’s whatever you heart desires be it sailing a luxury yacht around the Med or buying rare comedy memorabilia such as the actual suit worn by John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. Yes, the process of rags to riches is an appealing one, but does it bring happiness? Are these transformations too swift and too unnatural for those individuals whose lives are suddenly turned upside down? Or can this sea change in life events pass them by and fail to temper their interest in a dustbin full of potential and a comfortable park bench? Let’s ask Lord Tramp.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Over to You

I may have written rather extensively on long forgotten children's television programmes, but it's impossible for me to know everything. And, when it comes to schools programmes, I'm barely even knowledgable. Despite my love of television from a young age I can hardly remember the programmes I watched at school. Sure, I recall gathering around the caged TV and VHS player to watch Look and Read, but that's about it. All my other memories are just of the teacher fast forwarding through the spinning ITV Schools on Channel 4 ident. A modern tragedy this may be, but at least it gives me plenty to explore on here. And today I'm going to look at Over to You.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Come Back Mrs Noah


Space is the final frontier and it’s one that has fascinated humans since they first crawled out of the primordial soup and cocked their eyes towards the Milky Way. This obsession has led to a pop culture littered with galactic adventures that form fantastical narratives out of the great unknown. And this popularity is seemingly endless. No one ever rolls their eyes at the prospect of yet another space-based narrative. Instead, we consume these interstellar stories with a ravenous passion. But a space setting alone doesn’t guarantee success. There needs to be a hook, an original hook. So, what about a housewife being accidental jettisoned into space? It sounds original but will it leave us shouting Come Back Mrs Noah?

Sunday, 14 February 2021

A Small Problem

A short stature is not one that tends to be celebrated in our society. There’s a tendency to ridicule those who don’t conform to specific measurements and an unfair labelling of them as weak and ineffective. It’s all part of humanity’s kneejerk reaction to anything that’s slightly different. An approach to thinking which has been responsible for all manner of prejudices since humans took their first breath and started to eye their neighbour suspiciously. And a lack of inches is far from an endorsement of weakness, Mahatma Gandhi, for example, was only 5ft 4in. But prejudice takes no prisoners and it’s more than possible that height could cause A Small Problem.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Men of the World

Men, as we all know, have a tendency to strut, pontificate and make silly tits of themselves. It’s a misguided attempt to keep the embers of patriarchy flickering when all it really does is fan the flames of equality. But, deep down, men are aware of this. Because they do have feelings. And, as such, they need strong friendships and they need love. Nonetheless, these desires are insulated by thick coats of arrogance and delusion which make them perfect for comedy. Want a quick demonstration of these social dynamics in action? Just look at the Men of the World.

Friday, 12 February 2021

Lame Ducks

Some people take to life like a duck to water. Their lives are full of social and professional successes and the only way, for them, is up. But not everyone’s life is an effortless triumph. The world may be full of round holes, but there are just as many square pegs out there, forever banging their heads against the periphery of normality. These are the lame ducks of life. They don’t mean any harm and, like everyone, they just want to be happy. But they’re not designed for the rewards of normal life. What happens, though, when they gather together into a flock of Lame Ducks?

Arena: Masters of the Canvas


Back in late 1991, I experienced my first taste of live wrestling at the King's Lynn Corn Exchange. However, rather than the WWF being in town, it was British Wrestling (yes, I'm capitalising that). A world away from the glitz and glamour of Vince McMahon's US enterprise, British Wrestling had, by 1991, been shunted off of television for a few years. Nonetheless, as it travelled around a succession of decaying venues, British Wrestling could still pull in adequate crowds. And one of its crown jewels was the presence of the masked and mysterious Kendo Nagasaki. Truth be told, he almost flattened me that evening in 1991 as he angrily sent a section of empty chairs flying in my direction. But this enigmatic man of intense fury was instantly fascinating. A few months later I would see him again, but this time he was the subject of the Arena episode Masters of the Canvas.