The wheels of television’s truck keep on rolling and we find ourselves at the fourteenth part of this voyage. So many great television shows have been featured already and, yes, there are still so many more to come. Well, some aren’t that great to be honest but I hold them close to my heart purely for nostalgia’s sake!
GRACE UNDER FIRE (1993-1998)
Here’s an American sitcom that, although not as fondly remembered as some of it’s contemporaries, is one of my favourites from the 1990s. Created by sitcom legend Chuck Lorre and starring Brett Butler, Grace Under Fire sees Butler’s character, Grace, a recovering alcoholic just out of an abusive marriage, trying to rebuild her life with her kids. I’ll remind you that this is a comedy. Grace works in an oil refinery and a lot of the humour comes from the relationships with her colleagues, her family and friends. Fact and fiction collided during the production as Butler, herself battling alcoholism, apparently fought with cast and crew and, subsequently, caused a lot of cast changes over the 5 seasons and, eventually, it’s demise. I seem to remember the series being shown here in the UK on BBC2 at around 9pm but then disappearing later into the schedules. Honestly, I don’t think I ever saw the full five series but the first couple I did see really impressed me so it’s unfortunate that life imitated art and became the show’s downfall.
WATCH IT FOR: The opening titles
THE CHAMPIONS (1968-1969)
In the 1960s, British television did this kind of show very well indeed. Man In A Suitcase, Jason King, The Avengers and this slice of fantasy from the mind of Dennis Spooner. The Champions are Craig Stirling (Stuart Damon), Sharron Macready (Alexandra Bastedo) and Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) – three agents who crash land in a remote area of The Himalayas where they are taken in by a mysterious civilisation and emerge with special powers. They use these new powers – telepathy, superior strength and memory – as champions of law, order and justice. As with most of Spooner’s other series’, The Champions has one of the best theme tunes in television.
WATCH IT FOR: The opening theme
Here’s a real treat of a programme from the brains behind Horrible Histories (2009-2016). Debbie Maddox (Martha Howe-Douglas) is a bored stay-at-home mum when suddenly and elf appears from a portal in her kitchen cupboard and informs her that she is the chosen one and must help save the magical, and very silly, realm of Yonderland. Matthew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond take on many of the roles across the series as well as creating and writing duties. The humour is, as you’d expect, brilliant observed and you can tell that the whole cast is having an absolute blast dressing up and acting daft for the sake of art. If you haven’t been bitten by the Yonderland bug yet, you really should give it a try, and stuff.
WATCH IT FOR: The Elders!
This is another one of those curiosities of television that I don’t think received the recognition it deserved. The ever brilliant, and much missed, John Ritter plays San Francisco cop Harry Hooperman who inherits a run down apartment building as well as the building owner’s nasty little dog. Unable to juggle this building with his police work, he hires Susan Smith (Debrah Farentino) to be it’s superintendent. They soon fall in love and the show follows their relationship as well as his occasional police work. Created by Steven Bochco, Hooperman is an oft-forgotten comedy drama that deserves a revisit.
WATCH IT FOR: Opening theme
JOE 90 (1968-1969)
The world’s smartest secret agent is only 9 years old! Surely every child’s dream was to be a secret agent fighting crime and outsmarting the adults. Here, the legendary Gerry Anderson does just that with this wonderful supermarionation. Joe’s adoptive father has found a way of transferring specialised brain patterns into his son’s mind. Now Joe has the ability to become a test pilot or brain surgeon, skills that make him invaluable to the World Intelligence Network. Add to this yet another outstanding theme tune and you’ve got one of the best, and probably underrated, of Anderson’s output.
WATCH IT FOR: That theme tune!
One of the things that British television does so well is the panel show. QI is one of the best examples of this. It’s less of a quiz and more of an intellectual anecdote sharing contest where the scoring is incomprehensible but the Quite Interesting stories and celebrity panellists are the main draw. Original chairman Stephen Fry has more knowledge than most encyclopaedias and with his comedy background is more than capable of keeping the comedians, like permanent resident Alan Davies, in check. Fry has since left the show for pastures new yet his replacement, Sandi Toksvig, is just as engaging and has brought a new energy to this wonderful series.
WATCH IT FOR: Interesting facts like this one
HUDSON & HALLS (1976-1990)
Until I began researching I didn’t realise that Hudson & Halls had been going for a long time before they brought their show over to the UK in 1986. I particularly remember watching this programme with my mum who loved their silly antics in the kitchen. Essentially, rather than being a straight-forward cooking show, Hudson & Halls were light entertainment. They cooked, yes, but they had guest stars and interaction with the crew, too. But the main draw, if you can call it that, was the on-screen bickering between them, falling over each other as they each prepared food and bringing a special kind of humour to the table. Largely forgotten these days, their double act was brought to a tragic end when Peter Hudson died of Cancer in 1992. David Halls, stricken with grief, committed suicide a year later but their legacy of keeping things light and fluffy in the kitchen lives on.
WATCH IT FOR: A brief clip of their partnership
DREAM ON (1990-1996)
What always amazes me about this programme is how, here in the UK, it was tucked away in the graveyard slot on Channel 4. If you didn’t seek it out you would miss it. Brian Benben stars as Martin Tupper, a book editor who is divorced and living with his teenage son. He’s still friends with his ex-wife and is trying to date again with poor results. What marks this as different (for the early nineties, at least) is the use of clips of old TV shows and films that act as a metaphor for Tupper’s thoughts. I really enjoyed watching this show and am surprised it hasn’t been picked up recently for repeats, although saying that, it’s probably dated quite badly.
WATCH IT FOR: Theme tune
THE KNOCK (1994-2000)
Sunday nights needed gritty dramas back in the 1990s and The Knock was one such drama that didn’t hold back. Following the lives and careers of Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise officers as they fought against the criminals trying to smuggle all sorts of contraband in and out of the country. Notable for an early appearance from David Morrissey and featuring an array of famous guest stars, the show harked back to the old days of The Professionals and The Sweeney whilst still remaining fresh and modern.
WATCH IT FOR: A vintage advert for the show
GHOST WHISPERER (2005-2010)
This high-concept, paranormal drama often wandered onto the path of complete and utter nonsense but for the most part it was a hugely enjoyable show. Jennifer Love Hewitt stars as Melinda Gordon, owner of an antiques store in a small town who just so happens to be able to communicate with spirits of the recently departed. She helps them with their unfinished business before helping them to “cross over”. Glossy, glamourous and often cheesy, Ghost Whisperer remains one of my favourite of these paranormal-style dramas.
WATCH IT FOR: Series trailer
There we go, another set of ten television programmes that I’ve enjoyed watching over the years. Some good, some cheesy but all loved. It’s been a few weeks since the last batch of programmes due to the untimely deaths of some TV heroes – both of whom were already on the list to be celebrated before they passed away. Don’t be surprised if Part Fifteen comes along pretty soon (I’ve already got the list of ten ready to go), but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this post and, as ever, please get in touch by the usual methods. Until then, it’s time to say goodbye…