I’m having to keep myself in check by not posting too many ‘modern’ posts, even though there are some amazing tv programmes of the past few years that have made an impact on me. I really wanted this to be a trip down memory lane with the occasional up-to-date post thrown in for good measure. Its also quite difficult to trawl through my scramble of a mind palace for all these gems but so far, I think I’m doing pretty well…
AMERICAN GOTHIC (1995-1996)
Visit Trinity, South Carolina, a small town with more chills than charm. Sheriff Lucas Buck (Gary Cole) won’t let anyone – including local doctor Matt Crower or the determined Gail Emory – stand in the way of his evil plans. This is one of those shows that tried to cash in on the success of offbeat dramas like Twin Peaks but ultimately failed. At the heart of the show is a stunning performance from a young Lucas Black as Caleb Temple, a boy who’s life is turned upside down in the first episode when his sister is murdered by the sheriff and his father is subsequently accused and later commits suicide. There are dark, supernatural elements to the show which, I think might have been a little ahead of its time for some viewers.
WATCH IT FOR: The dark and supernatural story
COCKLESHELL BAY (1980-1986)
Charming animated series about two children, Robin and Rosie, who have moved with their family to the seaside town of Cockleshell Bay in order to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, where they open a guest-house. From the genius company of Cosgrove Hall, and narrated by the legend that is Brian Trueman, this series first appeared on hit kids show Rainbow before being given its own slot. Just hearing the music transports me back to my childhood…
WATCH IT FOR: The opening titles
The cases of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s Washington DC Major Case Response Team, led by Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon). Not your run-of-the-mill procedural, NCIS has warmth, depth and lots of energy. Its thanks mostly to great casting and writing that this show is one of the most watched tv shows in the world. Creator Donald P. Bellisario (Quantum Leap, Magnum) has given us a show that has seen major cast changes but has never really faltered in its stories. David McCallum, Pauley Perrette, Michael Weatherley and Sean Murray are the team that have Gibbs’ back at every turn. The chemistry between the cast is perfect which also lends to the success of the show.
EARLY DOORS (2003-2004)
The Grapes is a typical pub in Manchester, hidden away in the back streets that is fighting extinction while still entertaining its regulars. Everybody knows everybody’s business and the daily chat involves temporary traffic lights and circuses. What makes this programme so special is the warmth that writers Craig Cash and Phil Mealey bring to each and every character. There isn’t one person in the pub who doesn’t have a story or who doesn’t remind you of someone you know. The conversations feel real as do the situation they find themselves in. Finding humour in the mundane comes easy to Cash, who found fame on The Royle Family and he’s assembled a cast of amazing actors who make you care about them. Mark Benton and Lorraine Cheshire as Eddie and Joan; Rodney Litchfield as Tommy and Peter Wight and James Quinn as Phil and Nige, the two coppers who spend more time drinking than patrolling the streets; John Henshaw as Ken, the owner of the pub who holds it all together as well as the usual suspects of pub regulars. Running for just two series of 12 episodes in total, Early Doors is one of the best of the modern sitcoms and an underrated gem. “To the regiment! I wish I was there!”
WATCH IT FOR: Eddie and Joan
TJ HOOKER (1982-1986)
Sgt TJ Hooker (William Shatner) is a hard-as-nails veteran who, partnered with rookie Vince Romano (Adrian Zmed), patrols the streets picking off the scum of Los Angeles. Heather Locklear and James Darren complete the cast as Stacy Sheridan and Jim Corrigan. The show usually tries to be gritty and realistic but often ends up looking like a spoof of cop shows of the past. The only reason this show sticks with me is Heather Locklear in a uniform – one of my first tv crushes! – and the awesome theme tune. But I always think of my dad who referred to Shatner’s running and jumping as “The 90-yr-old cop”. Ahh, great memories!
One of the biggest sitcoms of all time, Friends was a phenomenon. A whirlwind of beautiful, funny people; characters to fall in love with and ten years worth of quotable episodes. Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston); Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica (Courtney Cox) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) have become part of our lives and its the chemistry of the six leads that really makes this show work so well. It still works today, over ten years since the last episode was shown, and that is testament to a great programme. You can watch and rewatch the episodes in any order and at any time of the day. Friends will always be there for you!
WATCH IT FOR: The funniest moments…ever!
Bertha is the best machine at Spottiswood & Co. When programmed right, she can produce just about anything. All the employees at the factory lover her and almost treat her like a real person. I used to love watching this as a kid, was a big fan of narrator Roy Kinnear.
WATCH IT FOR: Theme tune
One of the more bizarre entries in the eighties tv canon. Simon MacCorkindale stars as Dr Jonathan Chase, a British college professor at a New York university who had the ability to transform into any animal. He used this ability to help fight crime (as you do!) To be honest, looking back at it, Manimal was way, way, way ahead of its time. But, alas, nobody watched it so it was canned after only 8 episodes. Just think what could have been…
WATCH IT FOR: The batshit crazy opening titles
You can forget your Jonathan Ross and your Claudia Winkleman (why, God, why?) There was, and to me still is, only one presenter of the Film… programme – Barry Norman! Although it was scattered around the tv schedules, I still managed to learn almost everything I know about film from the master critic. On set reports, interviews and clips of the latest releases, Film… taught me how to appreciate the moving image more than any other programme before or since. Thank you Barry Norman for your wisdom and for bringing this most amazing of art forms to life for me!
WATCH IT FOR: The best damn theme tune ever!
PLAY SCHOOL (1964-1988)
Stories, fun, and things to make and do for pre-school children. There only a couple of generations who understand when you mention the words “square window” or “humpty and big ted”. This was children’s television at its very finest. Presenters who were like the best aunties and uncles you ever had and a set of stuffed co-presenters who often stole the show just by sitting there (or falling over!). Brian Cant, Derek Griffiths, Fred Harris, Johnny Ball, Floella Benjamin…the list is endless of the talent that taught pre-school kids how to count, read and be the very best they could be. Long since gone, but never forgotten, Play School was consigned to the children’s tv heaven in 1988 and into our hearts forever.
WATCH IT FOR: The opening titles
And there you have another batch of childhood memories, wrapped neatly with a bow and presented to you for your pleasure! There are more to come but before Part Five there will be a special Halloween edition featuring spooky shows, Halloween episodes and seasonal specials…stay tuned!