More TV Memories – Look And Read.

Look And Read (BBC2, 1967-2004)

Look And Read is one of those long-running shows that was watched by a lot of children, but it was never shown as part of CBBC, this is because it was a schools TV show which was designed to help improve reading skills with various stories and songs. I remember watching the show in my first and second year at junior school (1990-1992).

And yes, we really did all go and sit in a small room which had a TV in it to watch Look And Read live on BBC2 (although we did have a video recorder too, honest). The novelty of being able to watch TV at 10am even though I was actually at school! There were four ten-part stories that I remember watching, although some of them were repeats, and the year that they were first shown on BBC2 will be in brackets, along with a brief analysis of what I can remember about the story. vlcsnap-00065

Badger Girl. (1984) This is the first one that I remember watching. It featured some children who visited a farm and noticed that something was happening with the badgers and ponies. vlcsnap-00067

Geordie Racer. (1988) This was a story about a boy who liked to race pigeons and had to solve a mystery, while the rest of his family were in training to take part in the Great North Run. vlcsnap-00069

Sky Hunter II. (1992) A sequel to an earlier story from 1978, this one featured a lot about bird-watching and peregrine falcons and I found it rather dull compared to the other stories. vlcsnap-00070

Through The Dragon’s Eye. (1989) Now this was definitely my favourite one, I remember really enjoying this. This was a story which begins when three children paint a mural at their school which features a dragon that suddenly comes to life! They then go on an adventure in a magical land with a very odd range of characters, there were orange people and everything! I still remember this one fondly all these years later. vlcsnap-00072

Also along the way were helped by our old friend Wordy and there were also lots of memorable animations and songs (which all seemed to be sung by Derek Griffiths which is great). Look And Read eventually ran for almost four decades, and some classic stories were also repeated in the early days of the CBBC Channel. This really is one of those shows that is fondly remembered by generations of children, and I’m sure that just about everyone who went to school throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s will remember watching at least one of the 20 stories that were produced throughout that time and were encouraged to build a word. vlcsnap-00066

The Comedy Vault – Count Arthur Strong.

Count Arthur Strong (BBC2, 2013, BBC1, 2015-2017)

A variety entertainer from the old school who talks nonsense and thinks that he is still a showbiz star even though he is clearly past his best? No, it’s not Peter Simon… it’s Count Arthur Strong! Arthur is a character who was created by Steve Delaney who is someone who bumbles through life and doesn’t realise that chaos that he is causing for everyone else around him.

Count Arthur Strong launched on BBC Radio 4 in 2005, and although I didn’t hear the earliest editions, I heard some repeats on Radio 4 Extra and found them rather enjoyable as Arthur manages to irritate everyone he meets with his odd outlook on life and bizarre turns of phrase, and in 2013 the show transferred to TV on BBC2, although there were a few differences to the format. vlcsnap-00013

The TV version was co-written and directed by Graham Linehan, who has worked on some very impressive comedy shows over the years including The Day Today, Father Ted, Big Train, and The IT Crowd. The TV version begins when Michael, the son of Arthur’s old comedy double-act partner, tracks him down to interview him for a biography that he is writing about his dad, and he soon realises that he is unable to get any meaningful anecdotes out of him. vlcsnap-00016

Michael meets Arthur in the cafe, which is run by the rather short-tempered Bulent and his sister Sinem. The only other regular customers seem to be Arthur’s old mates, and although there were some interesting characters some people felt that maybe having one eccentric in the show was enough. However, Michael soon befriends Arthur and meets him regularly, although he doesn’t seem to realise what he is letting himself in for, and often gets caught up in his plans. Also after a while Michael started to date Sinem. vlcsnap-00020

The second and third series were moved to BBC1. Just to pick a couple of examples of my favourite moments in the show. I liked the one where Arthur auditioned to appear in a TV advert for toffees and was completely useless and kept falling off his chair. I just enjoy the idea that Arthur still thinks that he is a useful talent but this is the only work that he can get. There was also another good one where Arthur’s old mate John Shuttleworth turned up. Arthur has also been performed in a stage show and recently he published his memoir Through It All I’ve Always Laughed which is lovely. vlcsnap-00012

Count Arthur Strong wasn’t a huge success on the TV, and you either find the character very enjoyable or immensely irritating. but there were some really good moments, however it was recently announced that there isn’t going to be a fourth series. This is rather a shame, but all three series have been released on DVD, and hopefully Arthur won’t leave us altogether and he will soon be back on the radio. To hear him again really will be mucus to my ears.

Game Show Memories – Just A Minute.

Just A Minute (ITV, 1994-1995, BBC1, 1999, BBC2, 2012)

Just A Minute is the comedy panel game that has been running on BBC Radio 4 for a remarkable 50 years, but my introduction to the show was through the first attempt at a version that was shown on TV. There have been three attempts to bring this show to TV (all on different channels), and just like the radio version they have all been hosted by Nicholas Parsons.

Just A Minute is a great example of a game that is easy to play but difficult to master. Four contestants take part. They are given a category that they must talk on for one minute without breaking one of the three main rules, hesitation, repetition, or deviation. If one of their rivals believes that they have broken one of these rules, they can buzz in and challenge, and if their challenge is correct, they take over the category and must try to talk for the remaining time. vlcsnap-01307

This continues until the minute is up, with bonus points on offer for speaking when time is up, and also for going the whole minute without being correctly challenged. Although there is a winner declared at the end Parsons always insists that the most important thing is the contribution that the panellists make to the show, not necessarily how many points they score. vlcsnap-01309

So if you can think of enough creative categories, and find enough witty people to talk about them, you’ve got an idea can be stretched almost infinitely. The first version of Just A Minute came to the screen in the mid-90s. I’m fairly sure that the first series was only shown on ITV in the Carlton region in a late-night slot (and was also sponsored by the Evening Standard). The four panellists in this version were usually drawn from the alternative comedy scene, and some of the categories reflected London life. vlcsnap-01310

To help the show be a little more visual, there were some changes to the rules. Firstly, there would be a round where a mysterious object would appear, and the panellists had to talk about what they thought it was. There was also a round where the studio audience could suggest the category (a little like what happened on Whose Line Is It Anyway?). Also in this version there was never actually a clock on-screen indicating how much time was remaining in the round! vlcsnap-01304

There were some changes for the second and final series. I think that this series was also shown in the Central region (a sign of the forthcoming Carltonisation of that region) and there were two regular panellists. They were Tony Slattery and Dale Winton (who I don’t think has ever taken part on the radio version which is a surprise as he was good value). After this TV version ended, from about the late-90s I began to listen to the radio version and really got into it. vlcsnap-01308

The second TV version of Just A Minute was shown on BBC1 in 1999. This was in a daytime slot and I don’t really remember watching it, but it seems that this version lacked the edge of the ITV one, with fewer alternative comedians taking part and no regulars. The third and final attempt at bringing Just A Minute to TV was on BBC2 in an evening slot in 2012. Again, this was for only a short run, and it featured some veterans such as Paul Merton mixed in with a few newcomers proving that all these years later lots of people want to have a go. vlcsnap-01311

None of the three TV versions of Just A Minute were really a huge hit with viewers, but it remains consistently popular on the radio after half a century. My sister was in the studio audience for an edition of the ITV version, and a while later my mum went to the recording of a couple of editions of the radio version, and they both very much enjoyed the experience. minute0001

The Comedy Vault – The Day Today.

The Day Today (BBC2, 1994)

This is a 90s comedy show that needs no introduction really. When I started my blog I planned to write about this show, but I left it because I felt that there really wasn’t anything more that I could add, so many people think that The Day Today is a classic and are familiar with the highlights, with every element of TV from travel reporters to music channel presenters expertly parodied, so I decided instead that rather than focusing on the six main editions, I’ll look at what the DVD extras contain and explain a little about what the show means to me.

The Day Today launched on the radio in 1991 as On The Hour, I didn’t hear it first time round, but I have enjoyed the repeat runs in more recent years on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra. I’m not sure when I first saw The Day Today, probably in the mid-90s, but I remember seeing a trail when the show launched in 1994 which featured the opening sequence with the spinning worlds graphics which change again and again and the pompous music that goes on too long which I did find rather odd and definitely caught my attention. I also think that the show was repeated a few times on BBC2, and it also turned up on the great digital channel UK Play. vlcsnap-01032

So when a two-disc DVD set was released for the 10th anniversary of The Day Today I had no hesitation in buying it. As well as containing all six editions, the second disc featured lots of extras, including about 40 minutes worth of an unaired TV pilot from 1993. I really looked forward to this, just when I thought that I had seen everything, it was great to discover something new. One of my favourite moments has to be “Debate 2000”, where five people are in a room discussing every cultural event of the past millennium and its significance. vlcsnap-01035

I also enjoyed the Mini News, six segments about three minutes long that were shown as extended trails on BBC2 and are definitely up to standard. There are also extended versions of the documentaries The Pool and The Office. What’s good about these is that they sent up “docusoaps” where a camera was simply pointed at a group of people and they would all go on to be big stars and achieve huge ratings, about three years before the genre actually existed and dominated TV schedules. vlcsnap-01033

Although it is described on the menu as “Po-Faced Analysis”, one of the most interesting features is an Open University documentary from 1995 about “the language of news”, contained on the disc because it includes a behind the scenes look at The Day Today, including an interview with cast member Rebecca Front talking about how various accents and looks were chosen for the characters, such as her American reporter Barbara Wintergreen, and look at how some of the graphics were made for the show. What’s also interesting is a look at BBC News, this is good partly because at one point you can see Going For Gold on the TV behind them, and also because it gives an explanation of how words are used in news to communicate information with people (which The Day Today took to the extreme), and how the initial newsgathering process works. vlcsnap-01046

There are also some bonus features on the DVD, such as a newly-recorded interview with Chris Morris and Alan Partridge, which you have to press lots of various buttons to be able to access, and I also noticed on one edition that if you press a button there is some in-vision audio description which is provided by Andy Hodgson. Now he was a presenter on Bid-Up, a channel which I watched very regularly at the time as I thought he was a great presenter, and seeing him suddenly appear on the disc unexpectedly made me think that he was vaguely beginning to haunt me and gave me a huge fright (in a good way). And don’t forget the most important thing that we all learned from watching The Day Today: “Buttress is a significant word”. vlcsnap-01045

The Comedy Vault – Coogan’s Run.

Coogan’s Run (BBC2, 1995)

After the success of characters such as Paul Calf and Alan Partridge Steve Coogan was a hot comedy talent whose career was on the up, and in the mid-90s he was given his own six-part series which featured a new group of characters who all lived in a small town called Ottle who starred in their own one-off sitcom. Coogan was among the writers and there were also appearances from his old The Day Today and Knowing Me Knowing You buddies Rebecca Front and Patrick Marber as various characters, and pleasingly Coogan’s Run was up to standard. vlcsnap-00785

The first edition featured the established characters Paul and Pauline Calf who have just witnessed an armed robbery. The second edition featured the slick computer hardware businessman Gareth Cheeseman who has a right old disaster trying to pitch a new product at a sales conference. It was also reported that Cheeseman was going to be given his own spin-off sitcom but it never materialised. vlcsnap-00787

The third edition was set in the early-60s and featured the handyman Ernest Moss who was trying to stop a new property development in his small village. The fourth edition featured the faded club entertainer Mike Crystal who hatched a plot to try and revive his career by inventing an alter-ego called Clint who demands that the club’s manager gives Mike a better deal. vlcsnap-00788

The fifth edition featured the trivia-obsessed Crump brothers. After they lost on the game show Top Of The Class, 20 years later they try to gain revenge by playing the game again and hoping to win, even going so far as to track down the show’s host Jeremy Monkhead. The sixth edition featured the thoroughly boring Tim Fleck who is the curator at a failing museum which he is trying to stop from being closed and turned into a steakhouse. vlcsnap-00789

Coogan’s Run was another great piece of comedy featuring a wide variety of strange characters which I laughed a lot at and it’s a shame that apart from the Calfs none of them were seen again. I would have to say that my favourite episode was the one featuring Guy Crump, mostly because it was based around game shows, with the Cheeseman and Crystal episodes not far behind. The show also had a great opening sequence and there was another good touch where the other characters would make cameo appearances in one another’s episode. vlcsnap-00790

About a year after this Coogan would launch another new character who was Tony Ferrino but you really don’t need to know about him, and then he would go back to Alan Partridge for further success, before doing another unusual six-part comedy series called Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible which I will review soon. Coogan’s Run has been released on DVD as is definitely worth a look.

The Comedy Vault – Bang Bang It’s Reeves And Mortimer.

Bang Bang It’s Reeves And Mortimer (BBC2, 1999)

This show is virtually a third series of The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer, but because it has a different title and slightly different format, I have decided to review it separately. Vic and Bob returned with yet another new bunch of rather strange characters and sketches alongside a few familiar faces. Also helping out were Charlie Higson, David Walliams, Matt Lucas and Morwenna Banks. vlcsnap-00774

Every show would begin with a song, and regular characters included the return of Mulligan and O’Hare and their terrific new album, plus also Tom Fun and his friend. There was also a documentary which went behind the scenes of a nightclub in Hull which guest starred Les Dennis, the parody Police Camera Accident with Neil Sedaka, and there were an awful lot of sketches where Vic and Bob had increasingly bizarre fights which mostly consisted of them thumping one another with frying pans or putting their head in a tumble dryer. vlcsnap-00778

Each edition ended with the Stott brothers interviewing a celebrity guest, and it could be argued that they weren’t entirely sure what they had let themselves in for. There was one memorable moment where Vic laughed for about five minutes whilst trying to ask Michael Winner a question because it contained the word “parsnip”. When they were done, they would walk off and leave their rather bemused guest just sat there as the credits began. vlcsnap-00773

After this, Vic and Bob went on to do some more shows, this time on BBC1, including the flop Saturday night game show Families At War, and the revival of the drama series Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) which was much more successful, although I didn’t watch either of these shows much, before they went on to make more series of Shooting Stars and in more recent years the sitcoms Catterick and House Of Fools which were more my thing. vlcsnap-00776

This series didn’t seem to make as a big an impact with viewers as their previous ones, but there were still some wonderfully weird moments, such as the sketch where Vic and Bob have some difficulty opening their car doors in various unusual places which leads to things exploding and people vanishing, and it has been released on DVD, although it contains no extras. Vic and Bob began the 90s on TV as virtual unknowns, but by the end of that decade they had become comedy heroes.

The Comedy Vault – The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer.

The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer (BBC2, 1993-1995)

After achieving success in the early-90s with Vic Reeves Big Night Out and becoming high-profile names on the comedy scene, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer returned for another comedy show for which they now had equal billing, this time on BBC2. However, they dropped most of their established features for The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer, and created a whole new bunch of wonderfully weird characters who would take part in various sketches and their catchphrases would go on to become equally as popular with viewers, and an awful lot was packed into 12 editions. vlcsnap-00707

Some of the most memorable characters included The Bra Men, who would often say to people unprovoked “are you looking at my bra?”, musical duo Mulligan and O’Hare who performed some lovely songs, a look at what rock group Slade got up to at home, soul singers Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye who gave useless advice, two bickering councillors, and two French gentlemen who seemed to be suffering rather badly from flatulence. vlcsnap-00697

There were also other features on the show, such as spoof adverts, interviews with various people such as TV star Lovejoy, and each edition closed with a song where we would be informed of what Vic and Bob loved the smell of. One of the best parts of the show were the parodies of various popular TV shows, including Food And Drink, Countryfile, The South Bank Show, Antiques Roadshow, Stars In Their Eyes, and Masterchef, which is the best remembered mostly because of Reeves’ remarkable impression of host Loyd Grossman. vlcsnap-00704

But they couldn’t do it all on their own, they were assisted by Uncle Peter, and they were also joined by some A-list comedy talent to help out in the sketches, including Charlie Higson, Paul Whitehouse, Rebecca Front, Martin Clunes, Steve Coogan and Matt Lucas. The car salesman character Swiss Toni made his debut in this show before moving to The Fast Showvlcsnap-00706

The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer ran for two series, both of which are available on DVD, but before this I remember watching them on BBC2, and also enjoying a repeat run on digital channel UK Play a few years later, and it’s easily as great as their Channel 4 work. After this, Vic and Bob went off to concentrate on other things for a few years including Shooting Stars, but they would return with one more strange sketch show in 1999 which will be reviewed here soon.