My Life In TV: Part Nineteen

Here we go with another eclectic mix of the great and the good (and the not so great and good!) of television past.  This time around I’ll endeavour to recite the You Bet! rap as a special Brucie bonus for you all.  Failing that, you could just sit back, relax and take in the sights and sounds of another trip down memory lane.  With that in mind, let’s take a little stroll…

 

WHY DON’T YOU…? (1973-1995)

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Why don’t you just switch of your television set and go out and do something less boring instead? to give it it’s full, Sunday name was a magazine-style show for kids that was most often shown during the school holidays and featured groups of children responding to viewers’ letters suggesting games and days out.  Usually made up of arts and crafts makes, the presenters would show us how to do stuff to keep us occupied during the long weeks.  Some of these presenters would later go on to become household names (Ant McPartlin and Pauline Quirke).  The show was perhaps most famous for its opening theme and animated sequence that foreshadowed the anarchy that followed.

WATCH IT FOR: That opening theme

 

BLOSSOM (1990-1995)

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One of those American sitcoms that tried to mix serious issues with comedy.  The results were quite often filled with schmaltz but I still remember it with fondness.  Most of that is due to Mayim Bialik who plays the title character and who’s teenage life the series revolves around.  She lives at home with her single father, Nick (Ted Wass) and her two brothers, Anthony (Michael Stoyanov) and Joey (Joey Lawrence).  This show didn’t tax the brain but it was good fun and featured a great theme song by Dr John.

WATCH IT FOR: Theme tune

 

UNCLE JACK (1990-1993)

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A children’s television programme with an environmental twist.  Sixties pop star Paul Jones stars as Uncle Jack Green, an environmentalist and secret MI5 agent who, along with his family foils plot after plot of his arch nemesis The Vixen (Fenella Fielding).  I remember this mostly because the title character had the same name as my grandfather as well as it being quite cheesy and having a pantomime feel to it all, like a lot of kids’ shows had in the late 80s and early 90s.  There were four series with six episodes in each and following a different storyline but still keeping it’s finger on the environmental pulse.  I think most people would be hard-pushed to remember this show as, like most of them, it has been largely ignored and forgotten all these years.

WATCH IT FOR: The first episode!

 

NEW BLOOD (2016)

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Sometimes a show comes along that is criminally underrated and cut down in it’s prime before it has a chance to show what it can really do.  That’s the case for New Blood, a buddy cop drama with a difference from Anthony Horowitz that was sadly ended after just one brilliant series.  Two investigators, Stefan (Mark Strepan) a junior Serious Fraud Officer and Rash (Ben Tavassoli) a trainee Detective Constable are brought together when their seemingly separate cases find a common link.  It has a Lethal Weapon vibe with the two leads bickering at first but learning to work together in their unconventional style.  I honestly can’t believe it wasn’t renewed for a second series as it was a breath of fresh air in a barren wasteland of bland, copycat cop dramas.

WATCH IT FOR: BBC One trailer

 

THE HENDERSON KIDS (1985-1987)

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The thing I remember most about this Australian drama series is that it featured a young Kylie Minogue.  The series sees teenage siblings having to move from the city and forced to live in the country with their uncle when their mother dies.  They make friends with the local kids and fight to save the land of their ancestors.  A second series followed where the action was moved to a different location and featured a lot of new characters.

WATCH IT FOR: Opening theme tune

 

GET FRESH (1986-1988)

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Here’s another one of those classic Saturday morning shows that often gets overlooked for some reason.  Hosted by Gareth Jones, best known as Gaz Top, and Charlotte Hindle who would travel the country in their spaceship, landing in a new town each week.  As usual with these types of shows there were guests, games and cartoons.  They were joined by their puppet alien, Gilbert (voiced by Phil Cornwell) who had some dubious manners.  For decades, both ITV and BBC fought for the most viewers on a Saturday morning with the BBC often taking the lead.  Occasionally, though, ITV would produce such gems as this.

WATCH IT FOR: Opening titles and a bit of Gaz & Charlotte

 

STREETWISE (1989-1992)

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A children’s television drama about the lives of a group of bicycle couriers set in London.  It is, perhaps, best known for featuring an early appearance from Andy Serkis who played Owen, the owner of the business.  It was a great show, filled with all the drama you find with a mix of colleagues and some great characters.  One of my favourites being Troop, played by Garry Roost.  It is yet another example of a good programme that has since been forgotten and deserves at least another showing on one of the many channels out there.

WATCH IT FOR: Sadly, I can’t seem to find any clips of this excellent series so if you happen to know of any please let me know!

 

FRENCH & SAUNDERS (1987-2017)

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There are some comedians who make sketch shows that just aren’t very funny.  And then there are French & Saunders.  Their show capitalised their talent for the absurd and brought us some of the best film and television parodies in recent years.  With most double-acts you usually find the straight one who was the set-up and foil to the funny one who took the glory.  With Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders they are both just as funny and straight as the each other.  Their film pastiches are stuff of legend with Saunders nearly always bearing a remarkable resemblance to whomever she is imitating.  Both are just as good apart as they are together and have had very successful careers away from the partnership but its this, and their take on the hit films of the time, that set them apart from everyone else.

WATCH IT FOR: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes!

 

YOU BET! (1988-1997)

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A game show where celebrities gamble on the outcome of a challenge or a stunt performed by members of the public.  The challenges usually involved feats of memory and recall, stunts and showing off skills.  Three celebrities would champion a challenge each and the audience would vote on which way the challenge would go.  If the challenge was unsuccessful then the celebrity would have to do a forfeit which would either be done there and then in the studio or filmed and shown the following week.  Originally hosted by Sir Bruce Forsyth complete with his own You Bet! rap, the show evolved slightly and was later hosted by Matthew Kelly and finally Darren Day.

WATCH IT FOR: A full episode!

 

MOONLIGHTING (1985-1989)

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A former model and a smart-aleck detective join forces to run a private investigation firm.  The words ‘quirky’ and ‘offbeat’ are often used to describe programmes that you just can’t put an adjective to.  Moonlighting is one of those shows.  Yes, it’s a detective drama while at the same time being a comedy and romance.  But there is a surreal undertone to the proceedings which adds to the quirkiness of things.  The real magic of the show, though, is the chemistry between the two stars Cybill Shepherd and a pre-superstardom Bruce Willis.  Their will-they-won’t-they relationship kept viewers hooked over five series.  Add in one of the all-time best theme songs ever and you’ve got yourselves a massive hit.

WATCH IT FOR: A nice little compilation

 

We’re rapidly heading towards the twentieth edition of this particular odyssey which means you’ve sat through 190 television programmes that are either long-forgotten (or should be) or current hits.  A lot won’t be to everyone’s taste but isn’t that the joy in something like this?  It would be dull if we all enjoyed the same things.  If, by some chance, you have enjoyed this then please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.  Until the next time…

 

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“In my opinionation, the sun is gonna surely shine”

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Heroes: Victoria Wood

Comedian, actress, singer, songwriter, screenwriter and director.  Victoria Wood could do it all and was brilliant at it, too.  From a shy, piano-playing comic to national treasure, she broke the mould when it came to what being a woman and a comedian was.  Her untimely death in April 2016 shocked the nation and sparked an outpouring of grief and respect for a body of work that will stand the test of time for generations to come.

 

VICTORIA WOOD

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Victoria Wood began her career on the popular television talent show New Faces in 1974, which lead to her first break on the consumer affairs programme That’s Life.  Hosted by Esther Rantzen, That’s Life featured Wood as a regular musical guest singing her own self-penned songs.  In the early 1970s she met her long-time friend and collaborator, Julie Walters.  The pair would share the screen in an adaptation of Wood’s own stage play, Talent as well as a short-lived comedy sketch show for Granada Television in the early 80s.  Much of Wood’s writing style was formed on this show and, after leaving Granada for the BBC in 1984, it was defined in Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV.

Victoria Wood As Seen On TV

As Seen On TV would see some of Wood’s finest sketches, characters and songs come to life with the aid of Walters and fellow collaborators Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie, Susie Blake and Patricia Routledge.  The series also featured what is arguably one of Wood’s finest creations, the spoof soap opera Acorn Antiques.  Her signature song, The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let’s Do It), originated on this series, too and showcased her acute observations and stylish writing.

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In 1988 she took to the television stage in the popular series An Audience With.. which featured her stand-up and songs in front of a celebrity audience.  Throughout most of the 1990s Wood embarked on sell-out tours around the country, breaking box-office records and selling out The Royal Albert Hall.  A television film, Pat & Margaret, in which she also co-starred with Walters showed how nuanced her writing was, mixing pathos and humour to precision.  There were also Christmas specials of her sketch shows before she took yet another turn into the world of sitcom.

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Dinnerladies was set in the kitchen of a northern factory and featured all the types of characters that Wood had become known for.  Although she took the leading role, Wood often gave the best work to her co-stars Anne Reid, Thelma Barlow, Maxine Peake, Shobna Gulati and Julie Walters who, this time around, played Wood’s mother, Petunia.  In 2001 she began her last stand-up tour, At It Again, which ran for 62 dates and included another sell-out run at The Royal Albert Hall.  She changed pace again and began making documentaries as well as adapting Acorn Antiques into a smash-hit musical.

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In 2006 she wrote a one-off drama for ITV called Housewife 49, based on the diaries of Nella Last and set during the Second World War.  The drama won two BAFTAs for Wood – one for writing and the other for acting.  She returned to making documentaries in Victoria’s Empire as well as appearances on Desert Island Discs and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue for radio.  In 2011 she appeared in Eric and Ernie, a drama based on the early lives of the British comedy duo Morecambe & Wise, which she was also executive producer and co-creator.

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For the Manchester International Festival, Wood wrote and directed the musical That Day We Sang about a middle-aged couple who meet and fall in love after appearing on a television show celebrating the children’s choir they were both a part of.  She later adapted this stage musical for the small screen version that starred Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton.  As well as further appearances on radio on television, Wood took part in a celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off for Comic Relief in which she was crowned Star Baker.  Her last project, and final acting role, came in the three-part television adaptation of Fungus The Bogeyman for Sky where she starred alongside Timothy Spall.

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What stands out, though, is her diversity.  Stand-up shows one day to heart breaking dramas the next, Wood was a unique talent and rightly deserved her National Treasure status.  She made the ordinary appear completely hilarious and the world has been robbed of what could have been.  How many more classic moments of comedy and drama could there have been?  When she passed away after a very private battle with Cancer, she left behind not only her two children but a legacy of sheer joy that will last long after the rest of us have parted ways.

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VICTORIA WOOD 1953-2016

 

My Life In TV: Part Eighteen

The juggernaut that is my TV odyssey rolls on and we find ourselves faced with Part Eighteen.  A couple of entries in this edition brought back some nice memories as well as the usual bouts of nostalgia that something like this invokes.  So, without a further or a do, let’s get the road on the show…

 

BLANKETY BLANK (1979-2016)

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The beauty of the original series’ of Blankety Blank was the fact that it was so naff and appeared to be cheap.  This was highlighted by the hosts – Sir Terry Wogan, Les Dawson and Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady) – who constantly referred to the prizes as cheap tat.  The basic idea of the show is two members of the public answer a question with a word (or words) missing and a panel of six celebrities try to guess what the member of the public will say.  I have to say that I loved watching this, especially with Wogan and Dawson in charge, because of how naff it was.  It wasn’t supposed to tax the brain but it did effect the funny bone.  Memorable moments included Kenny Everett breaking Wogan’s microphone and Dawson’s apparent disdain for the show as a whole.  The Lily Savage revival was ok and it has been attempted again since but none compare to the mighty Wogan and Dawson for sheer brilliance.

WATCH IT FOR: Full episode in which Kenny Everett takes over!

 

BAYWATCH (1989-2001)

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This was one of the most successful and popular television shows in the world.  At its peak, it aired in over 148 countries, running for 11 series and over 200 episodes.  Focussing on the lives of a group of lifeguards on a busy resort beach, Baywatch starred David Hasselhoff as Mitch Buchanan, head lifeguard and the man in charge.  I could sit here and talk about plotlines and story but to be honest, nobody watched the show for that.  It was all about the beaches, bodies, babes and cheesy slow-motion running in and out of the water.  How it lasted as long as it did still baffles me but that didn’t stop me from watching every week.  A couple of spin-offs after it was cancelled did little to reignite the legend of the show, nor did a big screen remake.

WATCH IT FOR: Opening/Closing titles (includes slow-motion running!)

 

FINDERS KEEPERS (1991-1996)

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Based on the original American game show of the same name, Finders Keepers was a hit children’s game show fronted by Neil Buchanan.  In a giant set of a house, two teams of kids raid the rooms in search of hidden objects.  It was fast-paced and manic, full of everything kids TV was popular for in the 1990s, including silly string, streamers and confetti.  The show was revived in 2006 with Jeff Brazier but this, earlier and much better version is the one everyone remembers.

WATCH IT FOR: A full episode!

 

PARKINSON (1971-2007)

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When people think of the best chat show hosts here in the UK there is usually only one name that comes up – Michael Parkinson.  As a journalist, Parkinson was used to interviewing people for a living so when it came to having his own programme it was an obvious choice.  His guests ranged from the biggest names in Hollywood to the brightest stars of sport with writers, singers and comedians thrown into the mix, too.  The show came to an end in 1982, to be replaced by Wogan, only to return in 1998 with bigger names in the hot seat.  Parkinson featured some of the most infamous and notorious interviews in television history – Meg Ryan, anyone? –  but for all the awkward meetings there were countless others that brought joy to the viewers.  The format is much missed from our screens but the shows live on thanks to the internet and occasional repeats on the BBC.

WATCH IT FOR: Parky meets Rod Hull and Emu!

 

SEAQUEST DSV (1993-1996)

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Sometimes, sci-fi shows can be too ahead of their time.  SeaQuest DSV is one such programme.  Set in a future where mankind has colonized the oceans, Roy Scheider stars as Captain Nathan Bridger who is assigned to protect the oceans and explore the underwater frontier.  The show suffered poorly in the ratings and, when it returned for a second series, the format was drastically changed which angered Scheider as well as other cast members who were expected to relocate.  A third series (SeaQuest 2032) did little to change things and it was cancelled.  I think intentions were good, to make an ecological-friendly sci-fi series that would trigger people into thinking about world events, but the execution just didn’t work.  Not after the first series, at least.

WATCH IT FOR: Opening theme tune

 

LONG LOST FAMILY (2011-present)

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Here’s one to tug on the heartstrings.  Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall present stories of people looking for family members who have been lost through adoption.  When the trail runs cold, the Long Lost Family team take over and work through the red tape and difficult searches to reunite families.  In what could have quite easily been a sickly, schmaltzy ‘Surprise, Surprise’ style effort, it manages to bypass all that to focus entirely on the people conducting the search and the subject of their investigations.  It’s a truly uplifting programme, often inducing tears at the reunions, handled superbly by all involved.  Do yourself a favour.  Watch it and feel good about humanity.

WATCH IT FOR: The most recent episode (02/08/2017)

 

MAD ABOUT YOU (1992-1999)

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I always had a soft spot for this American sitcom.  I think, for me, it was the chemistry between the two stars, Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt.  They sparkled together, riffing off each other and making you believe they were a newly married couple.  The writing, as you’d expect from these types of shows, is razor sharp and brilliantly funny and all the performances are just note-perfect.  This is one of the best of US sitcoms that needs to be repeated, if only to be reminded of how good it was.

WATCH IT FOR: Opening credits

 

THE RUTH RENDELL MYSTERIES (1987-2000)

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Here’s another one of those programmes that I used to watch with Mum.  She was always a huge fan of murder mysteries and crime dramas and watched all of them.  This one, which I always assumed was called The Inspector Wexford Mysteries, was particularly good.  The drama, based on the writings of Ruth Rendell, follow Chief Inspector Wexford (George Baker) and Inspector Burden (Christopher Ravenscroft) as they investigate the seedy underworld of rural England using traditional methods of police work.  At times it can seem quite slow in pace but that’s the beauty of it (something I didn’t really appreciate when I first watched it).  There’s no need for high-speed car chases or gruesome murder scenes.  Everything you need to know is in the story.  It’s one of the most perfect of crime dramas ever made.

WATCH IT FOR: The gloriously British theme tune

 

WATT ON EARTH (1991-1992)

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Another long-forgotten children’s sci-fi show from the 90s, Watt On Earth was written by Doctor Who alumni Pip and Jane Baker and featured an alien, Watt (Garth Napier Jones) hiding out on Earth in the home of Sean (Tom Brodie).  Watt can transform into objects, usually getting the transformation slightly wrong, during a process known as transanimateobjectifcation.  It was a great show (from what I remember, at least) and I think it deserves at least another showing somewhere, or a DVD release.  Until then, there are episodes available online.

WATCH IT FOR: The first episode!

 

8:15 FROM MANCHESTER (1990-1992)

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A Saturday morning children’s programme shown when Going Live! was on holiday, The 8:15 From Manchester was presented by Ross King and Charlotte Hindle, later joined by Dianne Oxberry in the second series.  It was the usual mix of imported cartoons, games and guests that had been done by the other shows but this one came from the BBC studios in Manchester.  A game show, The Wetter The Better, was filmed in Blackpool and the show’s theme tune came from top indie band Inspiral Carpets.  After two series it was replaced by the far inferior Parallel 9.

WATCH IT FOR: Inspiral Carpets theme tune!

 

There goes another collection of long-forgotten television gems, some better than others but all of them hold a distinct place in my memories.  Whether they take me back to my childhood or they keep me watching now, these programmes are special.  I hope you’ve enjoyed strolling down memory lane with me and that you continue to do so – there are plenty more where these came from!  I’d love to hear from you – you can get in touch in the usual way, on here or via Twitter.  Until the next time…

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“For 50 blanks we have…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Life In TV: Part Seventeen

And, just like another series of Celebrity Big Brother, I’m back with another edition of My Life In TV… whether you want it or not!  I think there have been some wonderful programmes featured so far, and some that really should have been forgotten.  It is still fun reminiscing about all these shows that take me back to my youth when everything was still so innocent and the rose-tinted glasses I viewed the world through weren’t as cracked as they are now!  Anyway, enough of that…we’ve got work to do!

 

NOT GOING OUT (2006-present)

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I thought long and hard about putting this sitcom on my list as, for the past couple of series, I haven’t been watching it as much as the earlier ones.  For me, the show lost some of it’s charm and magic when Tim Vine left, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  The show centres around eternal slacker, Lee (played by series creator Lee Mack), his best friend Tim (Tim Vine) and Lucy (Sally Bretton), Tim’s sister and Lee’s landlady.  The writing is as sharp as a knife and the jokes come thick and fast and, following the departure of original landlady Kate (Megan Dodds) after the first series, the show really picked up a pace after surviving cancellation.  I understand that the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Lee and Lucy needed to progress but I feel that once the couple got married the series should have been laid to rest.  It returned but had jumped forward in time a few years where the couple were out of their flat and living together in a house with three children.  I had stopped watching by this time, only catching the odd episode here and there and not really enjoying as I used to.  But I decided to keep it on the list purely for the fact that, in it’s heyday, Not Going Out was a brilliantly written and fast-paced comedy that I could watch over and over again.

WATCH IT FOR: Lee and Tim

 

WOGAN (1982-1992)

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Originally seen as a replacement for the BBC’s own Parkinson chat show, Wogan took on a life of it’s own thanks to ever genial host, the late, great Sir Terry Wogan.  Starting out on a Saturday night, Wogan attracted big name guests but, when BBC1 relaunched in 1985 Wogan was moved to thrice-weekly to coincide with the new soap opera, EastEnders.  There always seemed to be a more relaxed atmosphere than on Parkinson’s show, a lot of that due to Terry Wogan’s charm and ability to put guests at ease.  Some guests, though, were less than co-operative.  Infamously, Anne Bancroft gave a very monosyllabic interview while George Best appeared whilst drunk.  The show was cancelled in 1992 and replaced with the short-lived soap, Eldorado, but the memories of Wogan and his guests live on.

WATCH IT FOR: Wogan and Mel Brooks

 

MASTERCHEF (2005-present)

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As much as I enjoyed the original series of Masterchef back in the 1990s, it seems very tame compared to this rebooted version.  Originally called MasterChef Goes Large, the show became less about finding a gourmet, dinner party chef and more about finding the next big thing in the culinary world.  The competition, hosted by John Torode and Gregg Wallace, sees amateur chefs battle it out over various rounds of invention and skill to become champion.  Past winners of this show have gone on to forge very successful careers of their own, opening restaurants and writing cook books.  But the joy of the show, as well as seeing the ordinary person on the street cooking their hearts out, is the almost chalk-and-cheese presenting style of the two hosts.  It has become unmissable television and has spawned MasterChef: The Professionals and Celebrity MasterChef versions, both of which achieve massive audiences.  It’s a far cry from Loyd Grossman‘s gentle style.

WATCH IT FOR: No clip would do the show justice so, instead, here’s another opportunity to post this wonderful megamix from Swede Mason – MasterChef Synesthesia

 

8 SIMPLE RULES (2002-2005)

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Sadly, this very funny sitcom, will probably be mostly remembered for being the final project of it’s star John Ritter who passed away while filming the second series.  But there is more to this show than the sadness.  Paul and Cate Hennessey (Ritter and Katey Sagal) are parents to three teenage children – Bridget (Kaley Cuoco), Kerry (Amy Davidson) and Rory (Martin Spanjers).  The show follows the family as they make their way through life, love and dating!  The chemistry between the five family members is something really special and you could believe that they were a real family.  Following Ritter’s untimely death, the show continued and included the family’s grief over the loss of the patriarch.  Introducing James Garner as Cate’s father and David Spade as her nephew meant the show could still live on but the spark was lost and, after the third series, it was cancelled.  It stands, though, as a fine legacy for Ritter along with the dozens of other hit shows he starred in.

WATCH IT FOR: Series 1 bloopers showing the cast chemistry!

 

EVENING SHADE (1990-1994)

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At one time, Burt Reynolds was the biggest box-office draw in the world.  Following a few films that failed to make an impact he returned to the medium from where he began his career, television.  Evening Shade sees Reynolds as Wood Newton, a former professional American Football player who, following his retirement, returns to his hometown of Evening Shade to coach the high school team.  I seem to remember this being one of the more gentle comedies of the nineties, probably the last of it’s kind before the fast-paced global behemoths took over.  Marilu Henner, Charles Durning, Hal Holbrook, Michael Jeter and Ossie Davis co-star in this largely forgotten US sitcom.

WATCH IT FOR: A full episode!

 

THAT’S SHOWBUSINESS (1989-1996)

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British television did panel shows pretty well during the nineties and this one, that started in 1989, was one of the better ones.  That’s Showbusiness, hosted by Mike Smith,  was essentially a quiz show with celebrity contestants answering questions about showbiz and celebrity!  For the first few series the teams had captains, Gloria Hunniford and Kenny Everett but in the later series the captains were dropped in favour of just having the celebrities.  It was pretty much an entertainment version of A Question of Sport but, in my opinion, much better.  Sadly, though, the series ended in 1996 and Saturday nights were never the same again!

WATCH IT FOR: Christmas Special from 1989!!

 

NO. 73 (1982-1988)

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Saturday morning television had long been a tradition for British children until the advent of multi-channel output brought about it’s demise.  In it’s heyday, though, there were few prime-time shows that could compete with the pure joy and popularity of said shows.  No. 73 was just one in a long line of anarchic, sometimes chaotic, Saturday morning shows that kept us kids amused for a couple of hours.  It featured actors in character as hosts of the show, mostly improvising around the guests and features, almost becoming a soap opera for kids.  Honestly, I remember very little apart from the big red door, the sandwich quiz and the fact it featured on the cover of Look-In quite a lot!  Sandi Toksvig, Neil Buchanan and Oscar-winner Andrea Arnold were just some of the pre-fame names to play host in the craziest house in Britain!

WATCH IT FOR: The Sandwich Quiz featuring Les Dennis & Dustin Gee!

 

FAMILY GUY (1999-present)

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If you want anarchic, sick and twisted humour then look no further than Seth Macfarlane‘s Family Guy.  The Griffin family, based in a town in Rhode Island, are the most dysfunctional set of characters you could possibly meet.  Peter, Lois, Chris, Meg and Stewie, along with humanised-dog Brian, make their way through life facing the most surreal events known to man.  It’s bizarre, offbeat and all those other words you use to describe something that you really have to see to believe!  Family Guy was thought to be a poor man’s Simpsons, but it has since become it’s own beast.  Making pop culture references as often as referencing vomit or crudeness, it’s an odd mix of comedy, musical and social satire.  The fact that shows like this can keep coming up with the goods after so many years shows the quality of writing.

WATCH IT FOR: Peter sings along to Indiana Jones!

 

POLICE SQUAD! (1982)

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The hardest thing to get my head around with Police Squad! is that there were only 6 episodes! SIX!  I always assumed there were at least twelve, maybe more.  Police Squad! is what The Naked Gun would later become.  Starring Leslie Neilsen who, up until his appearance in Airplane! had been a proper, dramatic actor, it is full of sight gags, witty writing and straight performances which lead you to believe the characters aren’t aware they are in a comedy show!  If you love The Naked Gun and Airplane! and you haven’t seen this, then do yourself a favour and seek it out because it is genuinely one of the funniest television programmes ever made!

WATCH IT FOR: A classic piece of confusion

 

VICTORIA WOOD: AS SEEN ON TV (1985-1987)

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Back in the 1980s, women in comedy were few and far between.  Then along came Victoria Wood who managed to change the landscape forever with her brilliant BBC sketch show, As Seen On TV.  Including stand-up, sketches and musical numbers, it has gone down in history as one of Britain’s finest outputs.  Along with Julie Walters, Duncan Preston, Celia Imrie and Susie Blake, it famously brought us the classic Acorn Antiques – the spoof of rickety soap opera, Crossroads.  Expertly written, performed and loved by millions, it stands as a brilliant legacy to Victoria Wood who sadly left us far too soon last year.

WATCH IT FOR: Acorn AntiquesTwo SoupsAt The Chippy

 

And, just like the scenery in Acorn Antiques, another edition of My Life In TV… falls apart at the seams.  Well, you know what I mean.  Anyway, part seventeen of this epic odyssey and I’m already working on the next one (a couple of programmes popped into my head while I was writing this edition!).  If you’ve enjoyed it please let me know, I’d love to hear from you.  If you haven’t enjoyed it…well, I can’t help you.  Until the next time…

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“I’d like to apologise to viewers in the North.  It must be awful for them”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Heard 1945-2017

For a generation of film fans, John Heard will always be known as Macaulay Culkin‘s father in the smash-hit comedy Home Alone.  His career, though, is much more than that.  From theatre to the big screen via television, John Heard appeared in over 100 movies and TV projects so it is sad that today we heard of his sudden death at the age of 72.

 

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If there’s one thing you can say about John Heard it’s that he worked.  A lot.  Establishing himself in the late 70s and early 80s, he quickly found himself taking the lead role in Cutter’s Way in which he co-starred with Jeff Bridges.

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It was thought that he would land bigger roles throughout his career but he ended up in more supporting roles which he said, when asked in 2008, that he had no regrets:

“I think I could have done more with my career than I did, and I sort of got sidetracked. But that’s OK, that’s all right, that’s the way it is. No sour grapes. I mean, I don’t have any regrets. Except that I could have played some bigger parts”

I first came across his work when I saw Home Alone for the first time on VHS.  It’s one of my favourite films of all time and a firm favourite to watch at Christmas (and sometimes out of season, too!).  I began to follow the careers of some of the stars of the film, including Heard, Catherine O’Hara and Joe Pesci and soon found Deceived, a thriller in which he co-starred with Goldie Hawn.  I have a special place in my heart for this film and I can remember watching it with my mum.  There’s a scene towards the end of the film in which Heard, as Jack Saunders, husband to Goldie Hawn, crashed through a window at a very tense moment.  Mum spilt her drink all over herself at the shock and I don’t think she ever forgave him for that!

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Heard’s career saw him appear in dozens of movies over the years, starring alongside established names and future stars.  In Big, he played an arrogant businessman who took a disliking to Tom Hanks‘ character and showed just how much he despised him during a famous squash game.  He also co-starred with Bette Midler in the drama Beaches; Awakenings with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams and The Pelican Brief with Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts.

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But, ultimately, it will be as Peter McCallister in the first two Home Alone movies that he will be most fondly remembered.  Playing the father who inadvertently leaves his young son at home during a Christmas holiday showed Heard in a lighter, more comedic role next to Catherine O’Hara who played his wife, Kate.  I suppose, if you’re going to be remembered for just one thing, Home Alone isn’t such a bad movie for that.

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I was only watching one of his supporting performances the other night.  It was a blink-and-you-miss-it part in In The Line Of Fire with Clint Eastwood that, although small, was a vital part of the bigger picture.  And that is how I like to think of John Heard’s work, it wasn’t always big and up-front but it was important and worthwhile and he will be sadly missed.

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JOHN HEARD 1945-2017

 

 

My Life In TV: Part Sixteen

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 (1984-1986)

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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)

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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

 

BLOCKBUSTERS (1983-1993)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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 StoneJames 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)

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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)

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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 2005Keeley 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)

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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)

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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…

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“Can I have a ‘P’ please, Bob?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Heroes: Tony Hart

Another in the occasional blog posts celebrating my heroes of television.  Those people who have, in one way or another, made an outstanding contribution to the medium.  This time around it’s the turn of everyone’s favourite artist…

 

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TONY HART

For over fifty years he inspired generations of children to become artists and even inspired novices like me to attempt a sketch or two.  After serving in the 1st Gurkha Rifles during World War II, Hart joined a course at Maidstone College of Art.  He graduated in 1950 and soon became a freelance artist.

It was a chance meeting in 1952 with BBC TV producer and a quick demonstration of his art skills on a napkin that secured his on-screen career.  He became the resident artist on Saturday Special before other shows came along.  Playbox (1954-1959), Tich and Quackers, Vision On (1964-1976), Take Hart (1977-1983) and Hartbeat (1984-1993).  From the 1970s, Hart was joined on screen by his infamous, plasticine co-star Morph who soon became a firm favourite among fans.

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A regular feature of Hart’s programmes was The Gallery, a slot during which viewers’ artwork was displayed accompanied by one of the most famous pieces of easy-listening music ever recorded – “Left Bank Two” composed by Wayne Hill and performed by The Noveltones.  Hart also created the original design for the Blue Peter badge which was used as the show’s logo.

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Over the course of his career he received two BAFTA awards.  One for Best Children’s Educational Programme for Take Hart in 1984.  His second was a Lifetime Achievement award which he accepted in 1998.  Hart retired from his regular television work in 2001.

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Following a number of strokes he lost the use of his hands which he commented was “the greatest cross I have to bear”.  He passed away peacefully in January 2009 at the age of 83.

His soft-spoken presentation and engaging style showed that television presenters didn’t have to be loud and brash to get children to listen and learn.  He was, quite simply, one of the best presenters ever to grace our television screens.

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TONY HART  1925-2009