Here we go again, folks…the fifteenth entry in this odyssey. Seeking out the television programmes of yesteryear that have, in one way or another, made an impact on me. So far there have been some classics, some not-so-classics and the very, very dodgy! What I’ve enjoyed, though, is the diversity in my selections, highlighting the fact that I really did watch anything as a kid!
SLEDGE HAMMER! (1986-1988)
Sledge Hammer! was really daft and completely bonkers but it was also so much fun to watch. David Rasche is the eponymous hero, a brash, insensitive police detective with a penchant for shooting first and asking questions later. The humour was broad and satirical, often making references to other police shows and films and has since gained a cult status. I used to watch a lot of the other police shows so this was always going to be on the list. I’m surprised, though, that it hasn’t been repeated as I think a new audience would really take to this absurd character, especially in the world we currently live in!
CRADLE TO GRAVE (2015-present)
Cradle To Grave is based on the autobiography of TV and radio personality Danny Baker which charts his life growing up in London during the 1970s. As you’d expect from Baker, the writing is expertly crafted and the jokes and humour hit at every punch. Peter Kay stars as Fred “Spud” Baker, man of the house and father to Danny and his two siblings. He’s a dock worker who does whatever he can to make ends meet, often involving unconventional methods. Lucy Speed plays his long-suffering wife, Bet but it is Laurie Kynaston as the teenage Baker who carries the weight of the show on his shoulders and does a fine job. A second series has been commissioned and writing has begun but as for when we see it is anyone’s guess.
WATCH IT FOR: Hand grenade!
CROSS WITS (1985-1998)
I used to love watching this on a weekday morning when I was either off school or had time off from work. Originally an American game show, Cross Wits was first shown in just the Tyne-Tees area before being fully networked across the regions. For the first two series it was hosted by Barry Cryer – I don’t actually remember seeing any of these – before Tom O’Connor took over for the remainder of it’s run. Two members of the public faced off against each other with the help of a celebrity guest to solve the giant crossword clues for the chance to win a holiday. It’s not exactly high-brow viewing but I enjoyed watching it along with my mum who loved a crossword.
WATCH IT FOR: Would you believe it, a full episode!
Another guilty pleasure (don’t hate me!) as it was for many people. Neighbours crashed on to British television in October 1986 and immediately became a massive hit – even overtaking the popularity in it’s native Australia! The mix of family dramas, Australian sunshine and beautiful people made it impossible to miss, reaching a peak when the repeat showing of the episode was moved to it’s teatime slot of 5:35pm. Attracting audiences of over 21 million, Neighbours is seen as a bit naff and cheesy but is cult viewing. It is also responsible for launching the careers of many stars including Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Craig McLachlan and Alan Dale. As with most Australian soaps, the theme tune (written by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent) is one of the most recognisable in TV history.
WATCH IT FOR: Theme tune through the years
VALERIE / THE HOGAN FAMILY (1986-1991)
This is an interesting entry as it is basically the same sitcom but with two different female stars and two names. Originally a domestic sitcom starring Valerie Harper as a working mum raising her three sons (including a young Jason Bateman) alone while her husband is away with work. When Harper left the show it was briefly renamed as Valerie’s Family before becoming The Hogan family and introducing Sandy Duncan as the boys’ aunt. All of this was lost on me as a young viewer, I was more interested in the comedy situations the family got themselves into. At times it was, in typical American fashion, very sickly and schmaltzy but I really enjoyed watching it.
TOP OF THE POPS (1964-2006)
For a whole generation of music fans, Top of the Pops was the go-to programme to see your favourite acts performing ‘live’ in the studio. Hosted by disc jockeys from BBC Radio 1 and the occasional celebrity guest host, TOTP ran for over 40 years. Featuring top pop acts of the time and a chart rundown, the show launched the careers of many stars and often made a name for bands who wouldn’t normally get television airtime. I grew up in, arguably, the show’s heyday – the 1980s – and would often find myself watching on a Thursday night, usually waiting for Shakin’ Stevens to appear! As I got older and music tastes changed I, like many others, switched off and the show’s ratings went into decline before finally coming to an end in July 2006. A spin-off show, TOTP2, aired archive clips and a Christmas Special still airs every year but the real joy for fans came in April 2011 when BBC Four began showing full repeat episodes from 1978, which they continue to do and the shows have been creating a buzz on social media, often trending on Twitter as fans reminisce about their idols and fashions.
WATCH IT FOR: The changing face of the TOTP theme tune
THE BIG BANG THEORY (2007-present)
Every so often an American sitcom comes along that just blows everything else out of the water with its tight scripts and finely-tuned performances. The Big Bang Theory is the latest in a long line of hit shows that has perfected the art of the modern sitcom. Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) are exceptional physicists, best friends and roommates. They are also friends with two colleagues, Howard (Simon Helberg)and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) and the four of them spend their time working on their projects, playing video games, watching sci-fi and generally being ‘nerdy’. Their lives are shaken when a beautiful girl, Penny (Kaley Cuoco), moves in across the hall from Leonard and Sheldon and life will never be the same again. Over the course of the past ten years or so, the show has evolved and introduced new characters while not detracting away from the essence of the show’s heartbeat – the relationship between Leonard and Sheldon. It’s smart, funny and very, very clever.
WATCH IT FOR: Guys vs Girls
HEIR HUNTERS (2007-present)
As a budding genealogist this programme, much like Who Do You Think You Are? ignites my enthusiasm for tracing ancestors. Heir Hunters, however, focusses the attention on probate and tracing living relatives of people who have died intestate so that any money they have doesn’t go to the treasury. It’s a fascinating programme that shows the inner working of this thriving business whilst at the same time unearthing some amazing stories of ordinary people who kept their extraordinary lives a secret.
WATCH IT FOR: One of the amazing stories
THE YOUNG ONES (1982-1984)
What always amazes me about some of the great British sitcoms that have stood the test of time, usually only lasted for a very short time. The Young Ones is one such programme, running for two series of six episodes each. Twelve episodes in total for a ground-breaking sitcom that is as loved and revered today as it was despised and hated back then. Four mismatched university students – Mike (Christopher Ryan), Neil (Nigel Planer), Vyvyan (Ade Edmondson) and Rik (Rik Mayall) – share a house in London in Thatcher’s Britain and live in a world of surreal and violent situations. It was, and still is, extremely funny and, considering its age, very relevant.
WATCH IT FOR: It’s my room!
MY TWO DADS (1987-1990)
Yes, I know what you’re going to say but you can save it. I’m a sucker for a cheesy American sitcom and there’s none much more cheesy than this affair! When Marcy Bradford dies, she leaves her teenage daughter Nicole (Staci Keanan) in the custody of a father she has never met. Well, two fathers. Strait-laced Michael (Paul Reiser) and footloose and fancy free Joey (Greg Evigan), both of whom were former boyfriends of Marcy and who now provide a somewhat unconventional approach to parenting. The concept is highly ridiculous but the familiar territory of chalk-and-cheese house-sharing provides some laughs. Complete with a cheesy theme tune, My Two Dads is one of those forgotten shows that should probably stay that way, even though I loved it!
WATCH IT FOR: That theme tune (sung by Greg Evigan)
As the end credits roll on another edition of this trip down memory lane, I’m reminded of just how much time I spent in front of the box. It feels like I never went out of the house, but I assure you I did, honest! Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen (any why wouldn’t you?) then please do let me know, I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch on here or you can find me on Twitter as @Shadow_Chaser – failing that, I’ll probably be in front of the television!! Until next time…
“Trust me, I know what I’m doing”