As sure as Costello follows Abbot and Hardy follows Laurel, Part Sixteen must surely continue where Part Fifteen left off. Since the last edition I happened across another couple of programmes I’d completely forgotten about so they have now been added to the list. That’s the beauty of doing something like this, the programmes that lie long-forgotten in the memory bank are gently awoken from their slumber while researching the most obvious ones…
Airwolf, created by Donald P. Bellisario, was just one of a handful of high-concept action shows during the 1980s that included Knight Rider and Street Hawk where the vehicle was almost as big a star as the actors involved. The gloriously named Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent) is a renegade pilot who goes on missions in an advanced battle helicopter in exchange for the secret US agency conducting a search of Vietnam for his missing brother. Hollywood legend Ernest Borgnine co-stars as Dominic Santini, Hawke’s flight engineer and co-pilot.
WATCH IT FOR: Opening theme
2point4 CHILDREN (1991-1999)
This is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated British sitcoms of the 1990s. Written and created by Andrew Marshall, 2point4 Children follows the Porter family – Bill (Belinda Lang), Ben (Gary Olsen), Jenny (Clare Woodgate, series 1-2, Clare Buckfield, Series 3-8) and David (John Pickard) – seemingly average in appearance but who’s lives are often hit by bad luck and bizarre coincidences. The beauty of this series was the surreal and subversive elements that often punctuated the actual family life aspect of the comedy. The series ran for eight series and ended on 30 December 1999. The untimely death of Gary Olsen in September 2000 ended any speculation of future specials. What I enjoyed about it was how it felt a lot more like the US style of sitcom that our screens had been filled with for so long while still maintaining it’s essential British flavour. Underrated and unjustly forgotten by many, it is a joy of a sitcom that deserves more respect.
WATCH IT FOR: Opening titles
There are some quiz shows that fall by the way side and then there are the ones like Blockbusters that take on a life of their own. Hosted by Bob Holness, the series originally ran for ten years before being revived for additional series up until 2012. Airing on weekday afternoons at 5:15pm between Children’s ITV and the early evening news, it soon became a cult hit among students and families. Even though the later revivals kept to the same format it never lived up to the hype of the original. As well as featuring a very memorable theme tune (and hand jive!), Blockbusters has also gone into pop culture history thanks to an inadvertent catchphrase – “Can I have a ‘P’ please, Bob”.
WATCH IT FOR: Opening theme tune
NCIS: NEW ORLEANS (2014-present)
Having already been a fan of the original NCIS series, not to mention a Scott Bakula fan since Quantum Leap, I was really looking forward to this second spin-off series. Bakula stars as Agent Dwayne Pride who heads up the field office in the Big Easy. Lucas Black, Zoe McLellan, Rob Kerkovich and CCH Pounder co-star with Shalita Grant joining the series towards the end of the first series. We are so far behind here in the UK, the second series ended at the end of last year, so I can’t say whether the third series lives up to the previous two but I can imagine, like the original series’, it probably does. If only Channel 5 here would sort themselves out and show it I’ll be happy.
WATCH IT FOR: Opening titles
STAY TOONED (1990-1997)
Presented by Tony Robinson, Stay Tooned was a programme that showcased classic Warner Bros. and MGM cartoons. It often showed all the famous animations with Robinson filling in the gaps with in-depth knowledge of the process of the craft and stories about the cartoons themselves. As well as the well-known cartoons, there was the opportunity to show the lesser known and sometimes never-seen-before animations. This was the programme where I first saw The Cat Came Back (1988) among others. Its a pity there isn’t anything like this on TV anymore, in this day and age we need more cartoons in our lives.
WATCH IT FOR: Opening titles
WILD PALMS (1993)
Now, this one is a real oddity. Wild Palms is a strange mix of sci-fi, drama with a mix of thriller and film noir from executive producer Oliver Stone. James Belushi stars as Harry Wykoff, an unassuming family man who accepts a job as president of a huge, new television company. The company is pushing its new product, “The New Reality”, which provides projections of three-dimensional animated pictures into people’s living rooms. He soon finds himself at the top of the career ladder but is confronted by a web of intrigue and murder. It’s a strange brew in a similar vein to Twin Peaks where the surreal and the real mix and nobody is really sure what’s going on. As well as Oliver Stone, the award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow also directed an episode of this five-part “event series” that seems to have been largely forgotten.
WATCH IT FOR: Series trailer
LIVE & KICKING (1993-2001)
British television had a long tradition of Saturday morning shows that the whole family could enjoy. Both the BBC and ITV had long-running programmes with varying degrees of success but it was the BBC’s output that seems to have the most loved memories. Following the end of Going Live! in April 1993 it looked like Saturday mornings would get a lot more dreary. Not so because in the following October, Live & Kicking carried on where it’s predecessor left off. Originally hosted by Andi Peters, Emma Forbes and John Barrowman, L&K featured the same anarchic mix of live guests, games, quizzes and phone-ins as well as keeping Trevor & Simon on as the resident comedy act. Peters and Forbes were a brilliant pairing and provided some of the best moments of live TV. Once the main three hosts left, though, it had lost it’s spark and I stopped watching but it continued until 2001, ensuring the long-run of entertainment programmes to keep everyone busy until Grandstand started at 12:15pm.
WATCH IT FOR: Spot it!
THE DURRELLS (2016-present)
I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this programme. I’m not usually a fan of the period dramas that often grace our TV screens on a Sunday night but there is something different about The Durrells. The life and work of naturalist Gerald Durrell has been filmed many times before, most notably My Family And Other Animals (1987) and again as a TV movie in 2005. Keeley Hawes stars as Louisa Durrell, newly widowed matriarch of her dysfunctional family, who decides to up sticks and move the whole brood to the Greek island of Corfu. Milo Parker plays young Gerald with such wide-eyed innocence and freedom that you totally believe that he genuinely cares about the various animals he brings home. Josh O’Connor, Daisy Waterstone and Callum Woodhouse round out the rest of the family, each with their own wonderful quirks and eccentricities to add to the pure delight of the whole programme. With two series already shown and a third currently filming, The Durrells look set to be a feature of Sunday nights for a while to come.
WATCH IT FOR: Series 1 trailer
MURDER, SHE WROTE (1984-1996)
Angela Lansbury stars as Jessica Fletcher, a retired English teacher turned successful crime writer. Despite the fame and fortune that comes with the sale of her books, she still lives among her friends in the small town of Cabot Cove. Each episode sees the amateur sleuth solving murders the local police departments aren’t clever enough to solve themselves. Ignoring the frequency that Fletcher’s various friends and relatives find themselves involved in serious crime, the show was a huge success running for 12 series and over 250 episodes. The show often featured well-known guest stars, most of whom were friends and colleagues of Lansbury and the show looked like a who’s who of old Hollywood. My mum used to love watching it and even enjoyed watching the repeats that always seem to be on somewhere. I enjoyed the sheer escapism of it, not to mention taking the mickey out of mum for watching a show where the main character could legitimately be a serial killer. Honestly, take a look at how many coincidences occur during the run and tell me JB Fletcher isn’t America’s most notorious killer!
WATCH IT FOR: The opening titles
MEN OF THE WORLD (1994-1995)
Oh, I used to love this. A Manchester-based sitcom from Daniel Peacock and starring David Threlfall and John Simm. Lenny and Kendle are flatmates and work together as travel agents and the humour derives from the almost chalk-and-cheese nature of their friendship. Doing a quick bit of research it appears that, as I’d expected, Men of the World has largely been forgotten, not really having a repeat showing and never being released on DVD so it’s thanks to the glory of the internet that there are episodes online for us to enjoy. Every so often I find myself humming the theme tune in my head and wonder how it could end up being so forgotten.
WATCH IT FOR: The full, first episode online!
And that’s all we’ve got time for tonight, please do join me next time for more of the same eclectic mix of long-forgotten television shows. That’s Part Sixteen done and dusted and I can’t believe some of the programmes I’ve featured here haven’t had the love they deserve. Hopefully, by reintroducing these shows to a new audience will spark the love they’re missing. Please let me know if you love these shows as much as I do, or, indeed, if you don’t. Find me on Twitter or message me direct on here. Until next time…
“Can I have a ‘P’ please, Bob?”