More TV Memories – How Do They Do That.

How Do They Do That? (BBC1, 1994-1997)

This is a show that can fit into a few genres, and can be classed as a factual documentary entertainment show. The idea behind How Do They Do That was very simply to explain how various things were achieved, such as showing off some advancements in technology, and so on. There could be plenty of secrets that were about to be revealed.

I’m not sure if this is based on an American format, but when having a look online I did come across a very similar 90s show called How’d They Do That, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t an influence. Viewers were able to write in with questions, and there was a rather large response, showing that a lot people were definitely interested in this. How Do They Do That also received some publicity at the time of the launch because who one of the hosts was.

It was Des Lynam, and this was a rare move away from hosting sport coverage, there would be no football results here. The other main host was Jenny Hull, who had been a familiar face to viewers in the ITV TSW region for several years already. Every series would usually feature a spectacular stunt that would be performed in the studio, and then how it was all put together would be explained.

Did Des really jump out of a plane and land in the studio? Well, maybe not. A lot of viewers were initially convinced though. The highlight of the show for me though was when they took a look behind the scenes of things in TV like how adverts are put together. And of course when they had a look at how the BBC2 idents that were introduced in the early-90s were created, that was rather interesting. There were also a few amusing moments, such as comedians revealing how they design their routines.

This was all a ratings success, although being shown after EastEnders probably helped. However, Des left after a couple of series to return to the more familiar world of Match Of The Day and the like. He was replaced by Eamonn Holmes, who also had about 15 other TV shows on the go at the time, while Hull was replaced by Esther McVey. Who would’ve thought that a primetime show could be so educational, but it was.

Musical Memories – Top Of The Pops 40th Anniversary.

Top Of The Pops 40th Anniversary (2004)

In 2004, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Top Of The Pops on BBC1, a DVD was released, which featured various highlights. Now I do get frustrated when people claim that this show has become “toxic”, and I think that we should try to reclaim it, as this is a rather large part in documenting the history of British pop music, and that shouldn’t be left to go to waste.

Whenever a genre was at its peak, or a new pop group came on to the scene, this show was designed to cover it. One performance from every year of the four decades is featured, although of course a lot of material from the early days has regrettably long since been lost. So we begin with the black-and-white era of the 60s, which then moves into the colour of the 70s.

And then with the 80s, we have not only what is now supposedly The Greatest Era Of Pop Music, but also the greatest era of the show. And then things go on into the 90s and beyond. Everybody will have their own favourite moments, and there are a huge amount of memories that will be guaranteed to come back. I mean, how could anybody ever forget “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”? Er, right.

Performances can also be watched with facts appearing on the screen in a TOTP2 style, that are (not very) informative as always. There are also plenty of extras. There is a look back at the various dance troupes from the early days. There are also some photos from the archive, now the only evidence that the lost shows did happen. There are also some opening sequences, I’ve always been rather fond of “The Wizard”.

We can even look at some performances with the introductions from the hosts left in. And there is a quick look behind the scenes at the current version of TOTP with then-producer Andi Peters. And well, he may have hosted lots of popular CBBC shows including Live & Kicking, but he did more than most to push the regular weekly show to its end with his constant changes, but we wouldn’t have known that at the time during these celebrations.

Now I’ve never worked in TV, but actually featuring some songs that were on the chart might’ve been a good idea, as that was the actual reason that this show existed. But I mustn’t keep going on about that now, although the monthly magazine still continuing to this day does baffle me. And if you’re lucky, some Easter eggs can be found, offering even more insight into the show.

More TV Memories – Auntie’s Sporting Bloomers.

Auntie’s Sporting Bloomers (BBC1, 1995-1999)

One show that was popular in the 90s was Auntie’s Bloomers, which was essentially the BBC’s equivalent of It’ll Be Alright On The Night, featuring some highly amusing outtakes, which were always shown as one-offs, that did well in the ratings. After the success of Oddballs on ITV (that I reviewed recently), it was decided to squeeze a spin-off series out of the format, taking a look at some of the more unusual moments that were in the BBC sport archive.

Again, the host was Terry Wogan. For some reason, the look of this show seemed to be based around Grandstand, but at the time of the launch in the late-50s, using the original theme, and the studio featured clocks and old-fashioned cameras, I don’t know if the teleprinter was there though. We soon discovered that there was never a good time to score an own goal.

And well, the problem with sportspeople making mistakes is that after years of preparation, when the big moment finally comes, not only can it all go wrong, but there could be millions of people watching. Oh, very disappointing. Terry observed all of this with his usual style, realising that unfortunately we all have our bad days, and it can all go wrong when you least expect it.

There were also some studio guests, who were mainly sportspeople like footballers and cricketers, along with commentators, who looked back at some of the moments that they’d rather forget. And as we all knew by this point, Terry was one of those people who could interview anybody really, and he would let them tell their anecdotes. I suppose you had to be there.

There were also a lot of comedians and impressionists who were keen to offer the view on things. This did remind you of all of those crazy “there’s nothing wrong with the car, except it’s on fire” moments. Somehow they managed to get several series out of Auntie’s Sporting Bloomers (and several repeat runs too), you wouldn’t think that there would be so many athletes who had fallen over the hurdles in the big races.

Game Show Memories – Gibberish.

Gibberish (BBC1, 1992)

This is another game show that I only vaguely remember, but as this month is the 30th anniversary of the launch of this one, and someone else somewhere must’ve watched this, I felt this should have a review. Gibberish was shown in a daytime slot on BBC1, so I presume that I only could’ve really seen this during the school holidays (I definitely never bunked off, honest).

This was hosted by Kenny Everett, following on from Brainstorm. Although his own TV comedy show had ended by this point, he could still be seen on various game shows and chat shows, where he was very entertaining and would always guarantee a giggle. Two teams of three celebrities took part, and they had to play improvised word games.

Some people felt that this came across as a cross between I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and Whose Line Is It Anyway, with the combination of all of the silly rounds. All of the information I have found makes it seem that the same six celebrities took part in every edition (and there were 40, the equivalent of eight weeks). Maybe they were rather cheap to get hold of.

They were Danny Baker, Barry Cryer, Steve Punt, Jessica Martin, Jan Ravens, and Carol Vorderman. Let’s hope that they were ready to be put through their paces. The rounds included Opening Letter, where the team were given a letter each and have to form a sentence. And there was Reveal Your Identity, where there was a phone conversation and they had to guess who the other person is supposed to be.

This would explain why the panellists all had telephones in front of them. I also noticed that Kenny had a bell, presumably it was rang when he’d had enough and the round ended (or maybe wanted his dinner). There were probably some points awarded, but once again, this was a show where creating the biggest laughs was the priority. Although this wasn’t groundbreaking, it was definitely amusing.

Also notable about Gibberish is that this was produced by Celador, which went on to produce the very successful Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, making everyone at the company themselves millionaires (probably). There was only one series which was just about Kenny’s final TV work. After this, he continued on radio station Capital Gold for a while, and died in 1995, ending the career of a true original.

The Comedy Vault – Going Straight.

Going Straight (BBC1, 1978)

Recently I reviewed Porridge, which is widely regarded as one of the best British sitcoms of the 70s. This is partly because of the performance of Ronnie Barker as Fletcher (although I always preferred Open All Hours myself, I do have to concede that this is definitely very good too). And this one is still familiar, having been much celebrated, and repeated for years afterwards.

But there was also a sequel series to Porridge, which had a hard act to follow, and isn’t remembered so much now by comparison, because it was considered to be something of a disappointment. This has been released on DVD, so I thought that I would take a look for myself. Fletcher has now left prison, and insists that this time it’s for good. Yes, really.

This is a situation that he has been in before though, although he is finally going to keep himself out of trouble, and adjust to life in the outside world, still seeing himself as a smart-talker, but one who has changed for the better. So in Going Straight, we see him at home and with his family, for what is the first time in about three years. Has the old place changed much?

He’s got to prove to everyone that he has turned over a new leaf, as much to himself. His wife has long since gone and walked out on him, but we do see his children. They are his daughter Ingrid, and teenage son Raymond, who was played by Nicholas Lyndhurst in some of this earliest TV appearances, and this was a similar character to Rodney Trotter over three years before Only Fools And Horses launched.

Fletcher does eventually get himself a job at a hotel, and he does end up seeing some strange things. He just can’t do right for doing wrong. And we see his old cellmate Lennie, who has also been released, and is now a truck driver. He is planning to marry Ingrid, which leads to a lot of “so what, us two will now be related? Oh my gawd”-type humour. He turns down one last dodgy deal to attend the big day.

Although Going Straight did go on to win a Bafta, maybe this did stretch the idea a little too far, and there would only be one series, which has been little-seen on TV since (maybe it was because Barker sang the theme song himself, but probably not), whilst Porridge is still on Gold endlessly. The DVD release contains the six episodes, but no extras however.

More TV Memories – Tim Vine Travels In Time.

Tim Vine Travels In Time (BBC1, 2017)

Tim Vine is someone who has been on the stand-up comedy circuit for about three decades now, and I have been a fan of his since the mid-90s, as he combined his amusing range of quickfire jokes and puns with hosting game shows, along with various other TV appearances. He has performed on several successful tours, and he was also a regular in sitcom Not Going Out for a while.

I do enjoy seeing him on TV, and I also hope that he is given a show of his own, so when he had a sitcom that was part of a series of comedy pilots, of course I just had to watch this. Tim Vine Travels In Time (or Tim Vine Travels Through Time as this has also been credited) actually started out as a one-off on BBC Radio 4 (he also had a radio comedy chat show at this time), before transferring to BBC1 later in the year.

This was an opportunity to be rather silly, whilst twisting the genre a little. The idea is that Tim works in an antiques shop, and various people turn up. Then, thanks to a magic grandfather clock, he then travels back in time, this can be as far as several centuries, and he bumps into various historical figures. Look, there’s Robin Hood! Look, there’s that woman off that thing!

There was also a scene where a game of archery was played. Now Tim is really into his darts, meaning that this almost turned into an edition of Bullseye at one point, which really was marvellous. Will he make it back home in time for his dinner? This didn’t receive a full series, which was a disappointment (being shown in a post-news slot didn’t help), but surprisingly, there was one further episode, which was a Christmas special.

This did again contain the mix of celebrities and silly jokes (and he might even burst into song if you’re lucky), but I do feel that a lot of the potential of this idea has remained untapped, I would’ve been pleased to see more. I do still follow Tim’s career, and I hope that he will get more TV comedy work for a while yet (even I don’t know what his “Plastic Elvis” routine is all about though).

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One of his most recent TV appearances was in Dictionary Corner on Countdown, which is usually a lot of fun. But unfortunately this time round he struggled, partly because he had no studio audience to bounce off as usual, but also because host Anne Robinson didn’t seem to find his style amusing, although this is mostly because Anne is seemingly unaware of the basic human emotion of laughter.

More TV Memories – Children In Need.

Children In Need (BBC1, 1980-present)

This is of course the fundraising special, and I have decided to review this because when I was younger it all seemed to be a big deal, a show that would only happen once a year, and be on for hours, usually until about 2am. The idea behind Children In Need had actually been around since 1927, but this didn’t become a TV show until the early-80s, and became a live star-studded special around the mid-80s.

It was also around this time that the famous Pudsey bear mascot was introduced, although this was rather threadbare-looking at first, but eventually became much smarter after a few redesigns. What attracted a lot of viewers to Children In Need was Terry Wogan as host (assisted by various others), as he tried to hold together things as only he could. Rehearsals, autocues, earpieces? Not for this man!

Various special segments would be introduced, and we’d often be promised that the stars would perform as we’d never seen them before. You’ll never believe what EastEnders cast members or news hosts can sing and dance… or not as it turns out. And if we were really (un)lucky, Terry might just be tempted to sing himself. Do you need any more persuasion to get on the phone than that?

And by the late-80s, the similar Comic Relief and ITV Telethon had launched too. Another memorable feature would be the regional opt-outs, as people from across the country would get up to some rather bizarre things to raise money. And the hosts of Newsroom South East (or whatever regional news show it was depending on where you were in the UK) would all report it rather excitedly.

As the evening progressed, there would be a change in style, usually featuring variety acts and songs from musicals. However, Terry would be rather cream-crackered by this point, and started to become a little befuddled. It would all be worth it though, for the big reveal at the end of the long show of what they had raised, which was usually around £10m, hooray!

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As the years went by, this ended up being just about the only TV gig remaining for Terry at the BBC, which seemed to be something of a waste really. Children In Need is still going, but recently this doesn’t seem to be as big a deal now, maybe it’s just another of those “I got older” things, but things really haven’t been the same since Terry’s departure. But this is a show that has brought us several unusual TV moments.

More TV Memories – Stay Tooned.

Stay Tooned (BBC1, 1990-1996)

Now one thing that I really do like to watch on TV are cartoons, as I’m sure you’ve realised by now. I’m fairly sure that this show wasn’t ever shown as part of CBBC, as it was usually on weekend afternoons, but it definitely contained plenty that was enjoyable for younger viewers. Stay Tooned was a show that was all about the history of cartoons from all over the world.

There would be a look back at various characters, along with the stories about how they were created, and the people who worked behind the scenes to do this. The host was Tony Robinson, who had just finished the final series of Blackadder, and he was becoming known to CBBC viewers for his great sitcom Maid Marian And Her Merry Men.

A lot of cartoons from the archive would be shown, and these included what was produced by Warner Brothers, who were behind a huge amount of very successful and enduring characters, Bugs Bunny being one of them. The world of animation has definitely changed a lot over the years, and there was a look at the early days, right up to the present of computer-generated films.

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And of course the people who provided the voices of the characters were profiled, as they played an important part in the whole process as well. There was also a look at less famous characters, trying to work out why some simply failed. But whether it was Woody Woodpecker, or Betty Boop, or anyone like that, there was a interesting story behind all of them.

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Thinking about Stay Tooned again reminded me of when there would be some rather old cartoons shown on the TV, usually in the afternoon, to fill a small gap in the schedule. This almost always seemed to be Tom And Jerry, and they must’ve all be shown eventually, right into the 90s. I also remember Popeye being shown a lot, along with many others.

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It really does go to show you what you can do with some pens, a few tins of paint, and your imagination. Stay Tooned ran for about six years, I’m not sure why this came to an end, maybe it was time for Tony to go off and rehearse for My Wonderful Life, but his enthusiasm for these cartoons was clear. There was also a repeat run in a morning slot on BBC2 in 1997.

More TV Memories – The Paul Daniels Magic Show.

The Paul Daniels Magic Show (BBC1, 1979-1994)

Although as you should know by now I have always preferred the game show work of Paul Daniels, I thought that I might as well review his magic show too, because this formed a major part of BBC1’s entertainment line-up for an impressive 15 years, and I did watch occasionally. This was the show where Paul would perform various spectacular tricks.

It was no surprise that viewers were soon calling him “the terrific trickster” or “the super sorcerer” (or maybe not). They definitely did call him “the man who excels” though. Some tricks were rather basic and traditional, and some were rather daring and ambitious, and really did make viewers think “how did he do that!”. Well it was magic.

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He couldn’t do it all by himself though, and people from around the world also featured to perform their act, including jugglers, mimes, ventriloquists, and much more, anything from the straightforward to bizarre. Now they really have got talent. And of course we mustn’t forget his terrific assistant (and eventually wife) Debbie McGee.

One of the most famous moments was on a live Halloween special where he did a trick that appeared to go rather badly wrong, and he had to assure worried viewers by returning later in the evening to prove that he was still all in one piece. Along with this, there were also Paul-endorsed magic kits released where people could attempt a few things at home.

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The long-running Saturday Night show was also accompanied by various Christmas specials and compilations of highlights. However, after such a long run, the format began to be a little tired, and TV was changing, meaning that after several other old-school variety shows had already ended, this one had become outdated too and was just about hanging on.

The Paul Daniels Magic Show finally came to an end in 1994, but a year later, he was given another chance with Secrets, a similar show combining magic and variety in a more modern nightclub setting, but this ended after only one series, and as his third and final game show Wipeout ended around the same time, he wasn’t seen on TV that much after this.

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The only time that he was really on the screen in the years after this was mildly embarrassing himself on sub-Big Brother-type shows which was disappointing, although he clearly knew his stuff about the history of magic, and he continued to tour the country and perform his show, producing coins from behind people’s ears and the like I’m sure. At least it wasn’t Wizbit!

The Comedy Vault – Porridge.

Porridge (BBC2, 1973, BBC1, 1974-1977)

As I have said before, I have never really been a huge fan of 70s sitcoms, mostly because I wasn’t there to watch them at the time, although I am definitely familiar with this one because it is one of the successful sitcoms that this country has produced, and it is also one of the few from this era that is still in the repeats loop, and is probably on Gold right now.

Porridge started out as a pilot episode called Prisoner And Escort. The writers had hoped to develop this into a series, but when the BBC were unsure, they took the idea to ITV, which became the sitcom Thick As Thieves. But this only lasted for one series, by which time the BBC had finally decided to give this one a full series, which turned out to be a very good idea.

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The thing that really made Porridge stand out for many was that this was set in a prison, which didn’t seem like it was a suitable place for a sitcom at first. But mostly, it’s because the main character was played by Ronnie Barker. Now I personally have always preferred Open All Hours, as this is a sitcom with a much harder edge than that one.

But it really is remarkable to think that the smart-talking Fletcher and stingy shopkeeper Arkwright were played by the same person (or indeed the same person who was in The Two Ronnies), and that really is a tribute to Barker’s ability to portray his characters. Fletcher is a criminal who is in prison once again, although he insists that this will be the final time.

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Over the years, he has certainly learned how to hold his own and deal with things, always hoping to talk his way out of situations and get one up on his fellow inmates and wardens. But then he is joined by the younger Godber, who is in prison for the first time, and Fletcher soon realises that he has to somewhat steer him through this difficult period.

There were also lots of other memorable characters, including an appearance by David Jason as an elderly prisoner, it turned out that there were indeed plenty of laughs to be had, and a Bafta for best comedy was deservedly won. There were three series of Porridge, including two specials, and all of the episodes have been released on DVD.

There was then the spin-off series Going Straight, where Fletcher adjusted to life after prison, although this was less successful with viewers, and I plan to review that one soon too. After this there was a film, and then for some reason, in more recent years the format of Porridge was revived, and it clearly runs in the family as this time Fletcher’s grandson was in prison, but this was a one-series wonder.