More TV Memories – The Savages.

The Savages (BBC1, 2001)

This is another sitcom that was a one-series wonder. The Savages was written by Simon Nye, who was also behind Men Behaving Badly (one of the most successful sitcoms of its era), along with My Wonderful Life, Is It Legal?, and Beast, so plenty of viewers wondered if this one would be up to standard. This one centred around a family, but they weren’t “savages”, they were “Savages”, because that was their surname. Er, yes.

Episodes were originally shown at 9pm, not long after the news was moved to 10pm, and it was still odd to see something else in that slot. And this was also in “digital widescreen” when that was something of a novelty. The Savages are a family, where life really is chaos. The father is the terrifically-named Adam (Marcus “Toffee Crisp” Brigstocke), who is a cartoonist for a national newspaper, but he often struggles for ideas.

The mother is Jessica (Victoria Hamilton, the woman off CITV sitcom Cone Zone who later played the Queen Mother in the early series of The Crown), and she is a travel agent. They have two young children, Nicola and Luke, who are always making trouble, both at school and home. Adam and Jessica are often bickering with each other too, but somehow they manage to get through life.

Adam’s father is Donald (Geoffrey Palmer). Now wouldn’t it have been great to have had Geoffrey as your father (or indeed your grandfather). He could offer you his wisdom with his lovely voice. But maybe not in this case. He has gone through a divorce, is now retired, and doesn’t really know where he is in his life, so most of his observations are either unhelpful or rambling.

Other characters include Adam’s brother Mark. There were only six episodes of The Savages (and the later ones were moved from 9pm to 9:30pm). And well, this isn’t one that you are likely to see repeated on Dave or some such channel nowadays, and there has been no DVD release. The reason this flopped seemed to be because the antics of the family just weren’t outrageous enough.

And this seemed to be a surprise when compared to some of the things that happened in Nye’s other sitcoms. This was not too far off simply being yet another one of those straightforward domestic “my crazy family” sitcoms. And with another BBC1 sitcom My Family taking most of the acclaim in that area of comedy at the time, there really wasn’t any need for this.

More TV Memories – Crime Traveller.

Crime Traveller (BBC1, 1997)

This is a show that is slightly out of the genres that I usually like to watch and review, but I found the DVD of this in an old box recently, and realised that I vaguely remembered this. I asked if this would be worth a watch, and I received a rather large response. The vast majority of people said that I should give this a go, so this is what it’s all about.

The first thing to note about Crime Traveller is that the creator was Anthony Horowitz, who went on to create further drama series including Foyle’s War. This one has something of a science-fiction twist, I don’t know if this was sold at the time as Goodnight Sweetheart meets The Bill, but this isn’t too far off the idea. This featured a crime-fighting duo, and it was hoped that they would become popular with viewers.

They were Jeff (Michael French, best-known for a successful stint in EastEnders) and Holly (Chloe Annett, who had recently appeared in the shark-jumping episodes of Red Dwarf). The twist is that Jeff and Holly can go back in time, thanks to a rather large and compilated time machine that was invented by her father. This means that they have the ability to witness crimes as they happen, or even take the chance to prevent them.

There are some rules though. They can only go so far back in time, about ten hours, and they can’t go into the future… because that hasn’t happened that. He mustn’t collide with himself either. And if they don’t make it back in time, they will be reduced to a pile of ash, and the baddies will get away! Unsurprisingly, Jeff is rather sceptical about all of this at first, but when he discovers that he is able to do this, he can’t believe the possibilities.

Their boss soon realises that something strange is going on, as Jeff suddenly has the ability to easily solve crimes, but no-one will ever realise why. And yes, there is an episode where he watches the lottery results, and then goes back in time to play so he can win big, although this doesn’t really go to plan. Holly must make him realise that the machine is not a toy.

Despite the rather unusual idea, Crime Traveller was shown in a Saturday Night slot, and didn’t do that badly, with many viewers being attracted to French’s performance. But there was only one series. It seems that the BBC weren’t interested in taking the idea any further, and I can’t recall there being many repeat runs on any channels in more recent years.

The only reason I remember this at all is because this was released on DVD by the same company as The Tribe, and this features on the “also available” page inside. And oddly, this is packaged as being two series of four episodes, even though there was actually one series of eight. Extras include an interview with Horowitz, along with some trailers and biographies.

Game Show Memories – The Weakest Link the revival.

The Weakest Link (BBC1, 2021-present)

The long-running The Weakest Link caused a rather big stir with viewers, because this was just about the first TV game show where the performances of the contestants were openly criticised by the host, and they were also encouraged to announce who they thought were letting the team down. Anne Robinson and her style were definitely something rather different.

This finally came to end after over a decade and almost 1,700 editions. About five years on, there was a one-off special for Children In Need, but it had come clear by this point that Annie’s batteries had finally leaked beyond repair. But a few more years on, a decision was made for there to be a revival, with a new host. Who could offer a fresh take on this tired format?

This turned out to be Romesh Ranganathan. He wasn’t as harsh on the contestants as Anne was (but then who could be), and he doesn’t get that much of a chance to show off his comedy skills, but he was decent enough (voiceover is now provided by Julie Hesmondhalgh). The rules are just about the same, although eight contestants now take part, and these all seem to have been celebrity specials, usually shown once a week in a BBC1 primetime slot (being on every single day again might be too much).

I don’t think that the questions have ever been been designed to deliberately catch the contestants out, but the way that some of them are phased can be awkward sometimes, and watching people dithering after being asked things like “in mathematics, what is two plus two?” isn’t good. But you are surprised at what they get wrong, although you know what they say, they’re only easy if you know them.

Also, contestants write down who they want to vote off on a screen, instead of a piece of card. I have noticed that a lot of contestants also write “sorry”, accompanied by a “:(“-style face. But the contestants aren’t supposed to be sorry, they are supposed to want to eliminate people to win, maybe this is an area where things have become a little softer (and this could become rather confusing in the admittedly unlikely event of there being a contestant called Sorry).

But eventually, the dunces are dumped, the money chains are made, and the penalty shootout-style final to determine the winner is played. There is up to £50,000 on offer for charity for who wins, although they are usually rather lucky if they have got to around £5,000. This revival of The Weakest Link seems to have been fairly well received, and there is at least one more series planned.

More TV Memories – Challenge Anneka.

Challenge Anneka (BBC1, 1989-1995, ITV1, 2006-2007, Channel 5, 2023)

Treasure Hunt is a game show that became popular with viewers in the mid-80s, mostly thanks to Anneka Rice, who had to run around whilst trying to solve the clues against the clock. Then her next series took the idea of trying to achieve something whilst under time pressure to the extreme. Challenge Anneka started as a one-off as part of Children In Need in 1987, before being given a full series in 1989.

Anneka and her trusty team would travel around the country in their truck. There was also the memorable opening sequence, that seemed to claim that Anneka possessed some “coming to the rescue”-style superpowers, and there was also the indication that wherever the truck went, and however little time they had, they would always make sure to do their best to avoid hedgehogs in the road.

A clue would be discovered which would reveal that they had to create something rather bold and ambitious, such as “build a school in five days” or “write a play in three days” (and those aren’t too much of an exaggeration). So a lot of people would have to get involved, and move rather quickly. The latest technology would be used to help this happen.

As the series progressed, Anneka seemed to earn a reputation where the large corporations and businesses would instantly say “yes” to her demands if they were contacted and happily take part. There would also be constant updates on how much time was remaining (“45 hours to go!”), but somehow, everything usually got completed just about in time.

There were also a few specials, where there were some challenges in various countries around the world. Challenge Anneka did well enough to be a regular in a Saturday Night slot for about six years. But then, over a decade on from the end of the original series, this show was revived for two specials on ITV1. And then, after an even longer gap, this was revived again, this time on Channel 5, making this one of a small amount of shows to have been on three channels.

Plenty of people commented that Anneka hadn’t lost any of her enthusiasm (or her truck), or her ability to make things happen quickly, but you wonder why this was revived. But then, in a move that was incompetent by their own standards, despite the publicity and good reviews, Channel 5 decided that they couldn’t be bothered to show the rest of the series. Maybe once that coveted Thursday at 4am slot becomes available, they might be shown there.

Game Show Memories – As Seen On TV.

As Seen On TV (BBC1, 2009)

You should know by now that I like game shows, and I also like TV, but there is no need for there to be a fight to determine which one of these is better, because when the two combine they will definitely always create something that will get my attention. I had actually planned to review A Question Of TV, which used the same format as A Question Of Sport, but as there currently seems to be no trace of that online, I shall review this similar show instead.

There had already been some game shows based around the history of TV, including Telly Addicts and Tellystack, and As Seen On TV wasn’t a comedy panel game as such, but this was still a chance for people who regularly appear on TV to show what they actually know about TV. The host was Steve Jones (not the one off The Pyramid Game, the other one).

Every week two teams of three took part, and the regular team captains were Fern Britton and Jason Manford. There were five rounds. First was What’s On TV. There were the names of various shows listed as if they were on an EPG, that were actually a clue to what the question was about. Six of these were chosen, so this meant that every panellist had to have one go each.

Second was TV Years, where various shows were featured, and the very simple question was: what was the year? Third was Thingy Off The Telly. Someone came on stage, and the teams had to determine both who they were, and what show they were famous for appearing in. They were able to ask questions, but there were only so many clues that could be given away.

Fourth is TV Gold, a rather simple round where a clip from a TV show had to be observed, as some questions would be asked afterwards. And finally there is Name That Show. This is where shows have to be identified from a picture, but this is a buzzer round against the clock, so points could be lost as well as won. At the end, the winning team is announced, although there are no prizes as such.

As Seen On TV ended up running for only one series, and a notable thing is that the production company that made Telly Addicts were in the credits as some of the rounds by accident or design were rather similar to that show. Maybe this didn’t sparkle too much, and the archive wasn’t raided to the extent where a lot of long-forgotten shows were featured, but it’s always interesting seeing this type of idea being given a go.

More TV Memories – Clive Anderson Talks Back.

Clive Anderson Talks Back (Channel 4, 1990-1996)/Clive Anderson All Talk (BBC1, 1996-1999)

This is one of those shows that was on Friday nights rather frequently. Clive Anderson first appeared on TV in the mid-70s as a member of the Cambridge Footlights (alongside the likes of Griff Rhys Jones and Douglas Adams). He remained in comedy, although as a writer instead of an actor, contributing to sketch shows including Not The Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith And Jones.

By the late-80s, he was given a chat show of his own on Channel 4, where he was already familiar as the chairman of improvised comedy panel game Whose Line Is It Anyway? The first notable thing about Clive Anderson Talks Back was the opening sequence, which was rather unusual, but appropriately accompanied by the song “Yakety Yak”.

Clive would become known for his interviewing style, where he wasn’t rude as such, but he would ask the questions that the average host wouldn’t dare to. On the scale, he was closer to Jonathan Ross than Terry Wogan. There would be about two or three celebrity guests in every edition who would be up for this though. Between guests, Clive would often make a comment on what was happening in the news, and if these didn’t always hit the target, he would try and make up for it by talking as fast as is humanly possible.

One of the more memorable editions was a special when comedian Peter Cook appeared as three different characters, which was well received. By the mid-90s, the format hadn’t become that stale, but maybe it was time for a new challenge. So the whole kit and caboodle right down to the last pipe cleaner moved over to BBC1, and was renamed Clive Anderson All Talk.

This was a big enough deal to earn a Radio Times cover, and there was speculation about whether his style would be suitable for this new slot. Again, there was a decent level of famous guests, but fortunately, this is only really remembered now for the interview that went wrong, which is harsh, as there were hundreds by comparison that went off without incident and were rather amusing.

Many years later, Clive went to BBC Radio 2 to host Clive Anderson’s Chat Room, which was more of a debate about the news with various panellists. My mum was in the audience once, and when she saw him arrive, he had a surprised look on his face as if to say “what are all these people doing here?”, and I just thought, yes, I bet he does that every time. He has also hosted a few game shows, including Brainbox Challenge.

More TV Memories – Film…

Film… (BBC1, 1971-2018)

As you might know, I am not really a huge fan of films, and I have never considered myself to be that much of a cinemagoer. So I am not a film buff (I don’t know why the word “buff” is always used to describe people who are knowledgeable about films though). But I thought that I would review this, because this is the long-running show that was considered to be the authority on what was currently happening in the film business (and yes I know about the famous theme music too). And there were hundreds of editions, hundreds and hundreds of them!

Film… (for some reason, like with the Holiday… series, the year was always attached to the title) had various hosts at first, before about a year or two in settling on Barry Norman. He had already been successful as a writer, and he became known for his straight-talking and opinionated views on films and how they were made. Yet he always managed to retain a relaxed and informative style (and Terry Wogan very kindly let him borrow his hair for the evening).

His views became respected, even though he was aware that ultimately they carried no more or less value than anybody else’s. Most editions would feature reviews of the latest films that were going to set the box office alight most probably, plus a look behind the scenes, and if we were lucky, even an interview or two with an actor or director. There would also be special editions that speculated on who might triumph at the Academy Awards, and the annual review that selected the films of the year.

As time went by, Norman also worked on several other projects, including writing a column for Radio Times, hosting documentaries and panel games, and even being part of the team of Channel 4’s coverage of the 1988 Olympic Games. And by now he was also in the rather awkward position of never actually having said what was considered to be his catchphrase. But things began to change.

Following the introduction of satellite channels in the 80s, viewers could see film premieres long before they would be on terrestrial television, and Channel 4’s Moviewatch was offering a fresher take on the business. Then Sky came along and dangled a cheque with a nice big number on it under Norman’s nose. So after over 25 years in the chair, he decided to defect. This caused rather a stir at the time, being the equivalent of one of those “Des Lynam joins ITV” moments.

They carried on though, with a new host taking over. Jonathan Ross might’ve had a more “in your face” style than Norman, but he clearly knew his stuff. It was just a shame that this was now being shown too late at night, and repeated too early in the afternoon. After his departure, Claudia Winkleman took over. And then after she left, the whole thing descended into guest hosts and irrelevance, and that was the end after almost five decades.

More TV Memories – Gagtag.

Gagtag (BBC1, 1994-1996)

This is another one of those game shows which is closer to being a comedy panel game, where there might be some points scored, but in this case that’s not the most important thing. The idea behind Gagtag was simply an opportunity to tell as many jokes as possible in the time. The host (for the first series) was Jonathan Ross, who wasn’t exactly at the peak of his career at this point.

Two teams of two took part, and the twist was that one of them featured veteran comedians, while the other featured younger ones, to try and determine which generation was the funniest (a similar idea featured in the later radio comedy game Act Your Age). There were also the regular team captains. In the first series they were Bob Monkhouse (whose career was going back on the up) and Frank Skinner.

All of this was apparently “a fast and furious game of wit and wisdom”, which meant that there were plenty of rounds to tell jokes. I don’t know if any of this would’ve been scripted in advance, or if the majority of the material really was off the cuff. But they were rather lucky to have Monkhouse on board, who really did have a joke for every occasion, and he might as well use them. The studio was also a rather nasty clash of oranges and blues.

Was all of this a great way to start the weekend? Well I imagine it’s possible. After a year or two, there was a second series, and this featured some changes. Ross had departed, and Monkhouse moved from being captain to host. The new team captains were Phill Jupitus (not long before the launch of Never Mind The Buzzcocks) and Eddie Large (about five years after Little And Large had ended, and they had fallen out of favour, but I am sure that Syd was pleased for him).

And also, the show’s title changed very slightly from Gagtag to Gag Tag (they had a nicer looking studio too). There were even more comedians who were keen to take part, and these included Jim “marvellous” Bowen, and even Ted “3-2-1” Rogers. Also appearing once was Tim Vine, so this wasn’t a complete waste of time. Ha-ha-ha, it’s the way he tells them!

About the only memorable thing in this series though was the edition that was interrupted for a news report, and that definitely wasn’t amusing. And that was the end of Gagtag. Although you were always guaranteed a laugh or two when he was around, it is probably fair to say that this didn’t go on to feature that prominently on Monkhouse’s rather long CV.

More TV Memories – Adrian Mole The Cappuccino Years.

Adrian Mole The Cappuccino Years (BBC1, 2001)

A while ago, I looked back at the two TV series that featured the famous (but fictional) teenage diarist Adrian Mole. The books by Sue Townsend were adapted for the screen in the mid-80s, and there were two series on ITV, which were rather well received. In the years since, there were more books, as Adrian reflected on how he was leaving his teenage years, but he still seemed to be baffled by the world around him.

His friends and family didn’t seem to help him really. But it was decided to turn another of these books into a TV sitcom, meaning that almost 15 years on from the last series, Adrian returned to the screen, this time on BBC1. He was now played by Stephen Mangan, who would go on to further success in several other shows, and became known for his catchphrase “oh, in off the red!”.

Despite being shown in 2001, The Cappuccino Years was actually set in 1997, and things have started to change in British politics somewhat. And a lot has changed in his life too. He is now about 30 years old, and works as a chef at a restaurant in London. He has been married, but he is now divorced, and he has a five-year-old son who lives with his parents who still bicker a lot.

He can’t help but notice though that Pandora, the girl who he was much in love with and gave him a lot of the first of his “funny feelings” that boys have at that age, has gone on to be rather successful by comparison, winning a seat in the recent election. He hopes that he can still play something a part in her life (what he hasn’t noticed though is that she has appeared to have turned into the woman who was in Friends and Cold Feet).

Although he may not be very spotty any more, it soon becomes clear that being an adult is a very difficult thing to do, and those teenage years suddenly seem so much better. There was a lot of excitement about the return of Adrian Mole to TV, with many keen to discover where he was in his life now (although the later books will have given a clue of course).

Mangan even got on to the cover of Radio Times, but ultimately some felt that although there were plenty of smart observations, this managed to lack the sparkle of the original series. One episode featured a guest appearance from Jeremy Paxman as host of Newsnight. Was there a DVD release? If there was, this passed me by, but an episode was repeated on BBC4 about a decade later.

More TV Memories – 2000 Today.

2000 Today (BBC1, 1999-2000)

As we recently welcomed yet another year, I was surprised when I realised how long ago the ultimate in these celebrations was. This of course the time when we went into the year 2000, and everything was described as “the millennium”. I remember one critic at the time saying that every other TV show seemed to be a special made for “the millennium”, and made up an example called Celebrity Hair Swap (at least I think it was made up).

It really did seem to be an exciting moment though, and the most was going to be made of all this. The main channels did various things. On BBC2 there was Nineties Night, featuring a TOTP2 special, a Gimme Gimme Gimme repeat, and the 90-minute Goodbye To The Nineties. ITV had Countdown 2000, a two-hour live special from ITN hosted by Trevor McDonald among others.

Channel 4 had Eurotrash’s Big Bang, a live special with Graham Norton, and The Biggest Breakfast Ever, lasting a huge nine hours. Channel 5 had several specials of Night Fever, that each focused on a decade of pop music. But BBC1 really decided to go to the extreme, with 2000 Today, an epic live show that began at 9:15am on New Year’s Eve, and ended around 1:30pm on New Year’s Day.

This was going to be 28 non-stop hours of action, and was one of the most ambitious shows in the BBC’s history. It seems that they decided to have just about every TV host at the BBC at the time take part, so there would be the likes of David Dimbleby and Gaby Roslin taking a look at the scenes around the world, before it was time for a news update with Michael Buerk and Phillipa Forrester.

There would be various reports and features, as the new millennium was eagerly awaited, and as the clock ticked down, the anticipation increased. And just when viewers thought that things couldn’t get any more exciting, there were two episodes of EastEnders as well. The climax took place in London at the Dome, a much derided location, which later had more success after becoming the O2 Arena.

Nobody seems to know where the promised “wall of fire” went though. But everybody was now in the mood for a party, and the longer this show went on, the stranger things started to get. I didn’t see it myself, but apparently by 4am things had started to fall apart somewhat, everybody in the studio was somewhat giddy and “tired”, and Jamie Theakston or some such person just ended up shouting at everyone.

There was also an update on the Millennium Bug from Peter Snow, which was supposedly going to corrupt computers everywhere, when it turned out that barely anything happened at all, but this was because things had been properly prepared for, not because this never existed. It really was an experience that you’ll never forget. Now here’s the weather with Michael Parkinson and Katy Hill.