More TV Memories – Watson And Oliver.

Watson And Oliver (BBC2, 2012-2013)

As I am always on the lookout for new comedy shows, so I thought that I would give this one a try. This was a comedy sketch show that featured a female double-act, who I must admit I didn’t know much about at the time, but Lorna Watson and Ingrid Oliver (presumably no relation to J Edward) had already worked together for several years, including performing on stage together, and appearing in various comedy shows, when seemingly someone thought that they were worthy of a show of their own.

In the publicity before the launch of the first series, rather predictably there was some debate wondering if they were going to be “the new French and Saunders”. I felt this was rather frustrating for two reasons, firstly because it’s a rather lazy comparison to make, and secondly because it stops them from having a chance to develop their own style.

Watson And Oliver was a show where the sketches featured a small amount of recurring characters and there wasn’t an overreliance on catchphrases, but there were a few parodies of various things, such as TV shows, and there were also a few additional cast members to help them out, along with some guest appearances, adding to the general air of silliness. They were also among the writers.

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To give an example, one sketch that I particularly remember was when they played two women who worked in an office, but their fingernails were too long for them to be able to do anything properly. Looking back now, I noticed that one of them had bright yellow nails, just like that strange singer woman from 1986… no, I mustn’t start going on about her again…

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The response to the first series from critics was not that much of a surprise really, with some saying that although they clearly had some comedy talent, the quality of some of the sketches wasn’t that great really. Also, Watson And Oliver was first shown at 10pm, but then repeated not long after in an earlier timeslot, making it seem like BBC2 weren’t really sure of what type of audience they wanted to aim this at. The ratings dropped off too.

Despite all of this, there was a second and final series, which did feature more of the same. I don’t really recall seeing them on TV much after this though, and I don’t think that there ever was a DVD release, maybe they weren’t going to be the next big thing then. As far as female comedy talent goes, although they might remain behind French and Saunders, I would put them ahead of Catherine Tate, whose show contained some of the most irritating comedy characters that I have ever seen.

More TV Memories – Juke Box Jury.

Juke Box Jury (BBC2, 1989-1990)

This isn’t really a game show as such, but I thought that I would review this one because there is an interesting story. Juke Box Jury was a show that originally ran from 1959-1967, and was rather popular, especially with those fancy teenagers, who had only recently been invented. There was a revival in 1979, but this piece will concentrate on the second revival in 1989, which was aimed at the DEF II generation.

The host for this version was Jools Holland. Now although he has been a successful musician for many years, he has never come across as the most natural of TV hosts, going back to The Tube. I remember one critic saying that his hosting style on the long-running Later… was like he was “receiving alien transmissions in his ear”. And he did put in a typical performance for this, getting bands’ names wrong and looking like he didn’t know what he was doing half the time.

Juke Box Jury consisted of a panel of four (who had their full names in front of them as if they were on Countdown), and they were usually a rather unusual combination of musicians, comedians, and so on. A song that was going to be released soon would be played on a jukebox (although by this time the video would be shown instead). They would then debate (or argue) whether they thought the song was any good, and determine if it would be a “hit” or a “miss”, with the appropriate sound effects. In the event of a tie, some studio audience members voted too.

About seven or eight songs would be featured in every edition. One thing that was interesting about having musicians feature was that we could get to know what they really thought about various groups, and after having their work reviewed by so many critics, they were pleased to take the opportunity to have a go themselves. And they would also have to discuss songs in various genres that they might not be so familiar with.

And there would also be the “mystery guest”, where the panel would review a song and not know that the act were watching on backstage. They would then come on stage and surprise them, so if they had been determined to be a “miss”, this could get rather awkward. By the second series in 1990, there had been a set design change, with lots of books in the background.

And yes, one week the mystery guest was Danielle Dax, and yes, they thought that her single “Tomorrow Never Knows” would be a “miss” (which it was unfortunately), and yes, watching her bicker with the panellists including Jonathan Ross was rather bizarre and uncomfortable. Still, it got her on the TV again. After Juke Box Jury ended, there were similar ideas featured on CBBC’s Saturday Morning show Live & Kicking, including Trevor And Simon’s Video Garden, and Hit, Miss, Or Maybe.

More TV Memories – Match Of The Day.

Match Of The Day (BBC2, 1964-1966, BBC1, 1966-present)

This is one of the longest-running sport shows on British TV. After seeing previews on Football Focus, and the results come in on a Saturday afternoon on Grandstand, you would then have the chance to actually see some of those goals in the evening on Match Of The Day. As this is a show that has been around for much longer than I have, I’ll begin this review at around the time I started to watch.

And it was at this point that Match Of The Day was at rather a low ebb. In the early-90s, live coverage of top-flight matches were on ITV, and the BBC had the rights to the FA Cup, meaning that the show only appeared to cover those matches, with a The Road To Wembley suffix added. It was also around this time that the famous theme that had been used since the early-70s was changed, and this definitely didn’t last long! vlcsnap-00447

In 1992 though, when the Premier League launched, Match Of The Day returned as a highlights show. The host was usually Des Lynam, who was considered to be one of the best around at the time, along with analysis from various pundits. There would also be features including the Goal Of The Month competition, where viewers were invited to pick their favourites. Some highlights from previous seasons were also released on VHS. vlcsnap-00452

By the late-90s, there was something of a relaunch, as things came from a new virtual studio, and there was attempt to rename the show MOTD. There was also a monthly magazine available, and I was a regular reader for a few years. As well as featuring columns from various commentators and pundits about the state of the game, there would also be interviews with star players, and lots of other quirky features. And all this only cost £1! vlcsnap-00453

There were also weekly football magazines available for many years including Match and Shoot, but I didn’t read those as much. Did I keep all of them though? No, I didn’t, how daft of me. By 2001, the Premier League highlights moved to ITV1, so once again, the MOTD name was only usually used for coverage of various cups, and the magazine had closed by this point. vlcsnap-00454

In 2004, the highlights returned to the BBC, and remain to this day, Gary Lineker has now been the main host for over two decades, and commentators include Jonathan Pearce, who was poached from Capital Gold. As most high-profile matches now take place on a Sunday, there is an additional MOTD2 to cover all those. The magazine has also been relaunched as a fortnightly, but it now seems to be aimed at five-year-olds.

The YouTube Files – Snooker opening sequences.

Sometimes when you go on YouTube, you fall down the rabbit hole as they say. You plan to watch one video about something, and then you end up watching another, and then another, and you then realise that a lot of time has passed when you had planned to be doing something else. A while ago I wondered if there were any old snooker matches online. I don’t know why really, I just thought that I’d have a look, and I was surprised by how much has been uploaded.

I’ve never been any good at the game (or is it a sport?), but snooker became very popular with viewers for a while in the 80s and 90s. This was because most of the leading players were British and charismatic, and also because matches could easily fill hours of airtime and get good ratings. And of course the launch of colour TV helped somewhat too, marvellous. Every sport on the BBC and ITV seemed be introduced by a famous piece of theme music, along with a veteran commentator who was considered to be “the voice”, and in snooker’s case this was “Whispering Ted” Lowe.

There were also some memorable presenters including David Vine on the BBC, and Dickie Davies on ITV. An account that has uploaded classic frames and matches to YouTube called “mjt_snooker” has complied various opening sequences from over the years from continuity clips, and as the sequences often changed throughout the 80s and 90s, I thought I’d pick out some of my highlights. vlcsnap-00019

The World Championship has been held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield since 1977, but several other tournaments have been televised too. I imagine that with a lot of these sequences, the designers thought “how can we make snooker look exciting?”. The BBC’s most famous theme “Drag Racer” was introduced in the late-70s. By the early-80s a sequence cleverly featured the BBC2 symbol appearing on a ball. vlcsnap-00020

I liked the sequence used in 1981. This was still before computer animation was really possible, but it did feature some nice airbrushed effects as the balls went into the pockets. Meanwhile, ITV in 1982 had the very impressively-named tournament The Yamaha Organs Trophy, accompanied by the theme “Sprocket Shuffle”. Around this time, the sequences changed almost once a year as the technology advanced. vlcsnap-00021

By 1984 ITV were bringing us The Lada Classic, the one they all wanted to win I’m sure, and a lot of triangles. By 1986, ITV’s opening did feature some computer-generated elements, but this was in the days where the balls looked more like cubes. Also around this time the BBC briefly changed their theme music to “To The Unknown Man”, although that probably wasn’t a popular move. vlcsnap-00028

In 1987 ITV finally had a fully computer-generated opening sequence, with a mildly scary robot man who had things like “access risk” flash in front of his eyes, which was a memorable way to introduce The Mercantile Classic. By the late-80s the music had been changed, and snooker coverage was beginning to fall out of favour on ITV. By the early-90s, the openings became ever more elaborate. On the BBC, a cue on the camera effect was used. vlcsnap-00024

Around 1991 was when the first sequences that I remember were introduced, including on the BBC an unusual camera under the table effect, along with scoreboards flashing and a referee moving the balls around. This was then changed to a nice kaleidoscope effect, and by the late-90s there were people made out of balls and the music had been remixed. vlcsnap-00027

By the late-90s, the evolution to fully computer-generated openings was complete, and coverage could now be moved to the additional BBC and ITV channels, along with coverage on satellite channels including Sky Sports. This meant that ITV were back in the game, with an rather surreal opening sequence where the balls were floating around someone’s head as if they were planets while they pondered their next move, accompanied by “All That Glitters”.

More TV Memories – Working Lunch.

Working Lunch (BBC2, 1994-2010)

This is a piece about another news show that I remember. These shows aren’t incredibly interesting to write about really, but I thought that I might as well do this one because I think that there are a few things worth pointing out. Working Lunch was usually shown live on weekday afternoons on BBC2, and it was all about the world of business.

Now this isn’t really something that I have a huge interest in, but Working Lunch turned out to be much quirkier than most news shows, and managed to stand out, which is why I would occasionally have a look whilst channel hopping. Firstly, there was the opening sequence, which featured a goldfish being chased by a shark in a tank, and the goldfish seemed to become the show’s mascot. The show also came from a high-tech (for the time) virtual studio. vlcsnap-00008

And then there was the show’s main host, Adrian Chiles. Now although most of the information that he was passing on went over my head, I definitely did enjoy his hosting style. There were a few other features on the show, including Shaw’s Shares, where co-host Adam Shaw gave us the latest updates about what was happening on the stock markets, and where the FTSE was currently trading, which is very important to a lot of people. vlcsnap-00007

There were also reports from a trusted team, along with guests in the studio, and features included some amusing cartoon representations of various things, along with always trying to champion the consumer. As the years went by, Chiles seemed to increase in profile, which I was pleased about, and he was soon appearing on other shows. Chiles left the show in 2007 and went on to host The One Show (which I never been the interested in that much myself, but Chiles seemed to do well). vlcsnap-00010

His next step was interesting, as shortly after he was poached by ITV to become the main host of their football coverage (Chiles is a famous West Bromwich Albion fan). This meant that he was suddenly travelling around the world to host Champions League and World Cup matches. He handled it as well as some of his predecessors did, including Elton Welsby, Des Lynam, and, er, Matthew Lorenzo, but he has now left, and nowadays you are most likely to come across him on the radio. vlcsnap-00004

As for Working Lunch, Shaw left not long after Chiles in 2008, and the show did relaunch and try and carry on with a new hosting team, but it was decided to end it all in 2010. I suppose I remember the show for being an unlikely source of humour as far as news shows go, even if I know nothing about finance it all definitely caught my attention.

The Comedy Vault – Filthy, Rich And Catflap.

Filthy, Rich And Catflap (BBC2, 1987)

This is another sitcom from the 80s that I don’t really remember from the time, but it is worth featuring. After the end of The Young Ones, three-quarters of the main cast reunited to try out something a little different. Filthy, Rich And Catflap was written by Ben Elton and was a parody of celebrity and showbusiness, proving that being famous isn’t sometimes all it seems.

Rik Mayall played Rich, an actor who lives in a rotten flat and has been in the business for a decade but was resting all the time. He thinks that he is a huge talent that should be on TV, but the most high-profile work he has had to date is being a continuity announcer on TVS (well he couldn’t have been any worse than Brian Nissen). One thing that Rich aimed for was to be showbiz pals with Brucie and Tarby. That’s what it seems he thought fame consisted of, and he had their pictures on his wall. vlcsnap-01026

Adrian Edmondson played Catflap, a friend of Rich, although he was completely useless, and gave him little encouragement in his fame quest. And Nigel Planer was Filthy, a sleazy agent who tried hard but constantly failed to find Rich any decent work. Throughout the episodes, Rich does finally get some TV work, including appearing on a game show very similar to Blankety Blank, and TV-am. vlcsnap-01011

Rich does spend most of his time though being rather frustrated, and this leads to random bouts of violence against Catflap, and several unfortunate milkmen. Rich also spends a lot of time down the pub causing a scene. By the end, Rich decides to become a journalist and ruin the careers of everyone who is famous with outrageous stories, meaning that he is the only one whose reputation isn’t damaged, and he really does now have all the TV shows to himself. Made it! vlcsnap-01027

Other elements of the show included characters looking into the camera, discussion of how good the jokes were (or weren’t), and saying “oo-er!” at what was mildly rude, which was just about everything. There were also some guest appearances from various comedy names, including Fry and Laurie, Hale and Pace, Chris Barrie, Harry Enfield, and Mel Smith. vlcsnap-01025

There was only one series of Filthy, Rich And Catflap, and it didn’t get that great a response from viewers and critics. Mayall and Edmondson would do much better though with their next sitcom Bottom, which was similarly anarchic. I think there was also a repeat run on Dave a while ago. The show has been released on DVD, and then there was a shinier re-release for the 25th anniversary.

The Comedy Vault – Cradle To Grave.

Cradle To Grave (BBC2, 2015)

I don’t know if I should admit this, but I have enjoyed the work of Danny Baker over the years. Danny started out in the mid-70s as a writer for various music magazines including NME, and by the early-80s he had got into TV presenting, usually on LWT. By the 90s he hosted various game shows, admitting that some of them weren’t so great, along with tapes featuring football gaffs. It’s best not to think about the Daz Doorstep Challenge for now.

He has also worked for various radio stations, and the shows he hosted alongside Danny Kelly are some of the funniest things that I’ve heard (“any more pie?” and all that). Danny was definitely able to spin a good story, and alongside Kelly he wrote a very entertaining book about football, including the time that he and his dad (both lifelong Lions fans) went to the FA Cup Final.

He then went on to release the first part of his autobiography Going To Sea In A Sieve, which was very enjoyable too. It was decided to turn some of the stories in this book into a TV sitcom. Danny was the co-writer and co-executive producer, who would he want on board to play him and his family? Who would play Danny’s old man Fred (or “Spud” as everyone knew him). Well what about Peter Kay? vlcsnap-00991

Now he is a popular comedian, but being from Bolton meant that he wasn’t the first person you’d expect to play someone who lived in Bermondsey in south London. But it seems that Danny is a big fan of Peter’s work and wanted to collaborate with him at any price, so he’d better get practising that accent. His mum Bet was played by Lucy Speed, previously best-known for playing Natalie in EastEnders and marrying some fat bloke. There were also some newcomers to play the three children. vlcsnap-01024

Cradle To Grave was based on Danny’s teenage years and set around 1973 (the year that my brother was born). Alongside Danny was his brother Michael (I remember Danny being frustrated that around the same time the BBC1 sitcom Count Arthur Strong coincidentally also featured a character called Michael Baker), and his sister Sharon. The young Danny narrated the story. The opening theme was provided by Squeeze, and most scenes were soundtracked by the big hits from the era. vlcsnap-01027

Fred was something of a wheeler-dealer in the Del Boy style, and he had a mouth on him like a docker, most probably because, er, he was a docker. There was always a deal in the back of his van, even if it wasn’t always double legal. Danny also goes through some embarrassing moments at school including having a big crush on his teacher, along with playing pranks with his mates, and going through several girlfriends, while Sharon plans to get married. And Michael nearly lost an eye, which meant they would’ve had to call him Mchael. vlcsnap-01026

Danny’s life at home consisted of plenty of boredom whilst Fred was always trying to trick people out of a bob or two, and then he’d go down the pub and get well alight! This really was a poignant look back to those days, and all three of Danny’s children appeared in the final episode. There have been eight episodes of Cradle To Grave so far, and they have all been released on DVD, although they contain no extras. vlcsnap-01025

There were some plans for a second series, but this hasn’t happened yet for various reasons (including Danny having long-since burned his bridges with the BBC). I hope that the story will continue one day though into the 90s where we get to the point that we find out what really happened behind the scenes of Win, Lose Or Draw. Until then, all we’ll get from Danny is his award-winning podcast that he does in his garden shed.

The Comedy Vault – Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus (BBC1, 1969-1973)/Monty Python (BBC2, 1974)

This is just about the most documented and celebrated comedy show in British TV history, so it’s rather hard to decide what angle to take on it, but I thought that I might as well add my thoughts. The basis for Monty Python’s Flying Circus (or Owl-Stretching Time or whatever you want to call it) was in the mid-60s when the cast appeared in various acclaimed comedy shows including At Last The 1948 Show, Do Not Adjust Your Set, and The Frost Report.

As well as the future Pythons, these shows also featured most of the other major players in TV comedy over the next few decades, including Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, David Jason, Bill Oddie, and so on. By 1969 the sextet who would star were established, and they would also write the sketches. Although the show was ground-breaking in its style, there had been some surreal comedy on TV before, usually provided by Spike Milligan, whose Q series had already launched by this point. vlcsnap-00423

The show played around with the idea of comedy on TV like barely any other show has before or since, with the opening sequence and credits being shown at the wrong time and sketches ending randomly being the start of it. There were plenty of original ideas, along with parodies of things including game shows, which will always go down well with me. There were also the famous animated sequences between sketches, along with the classic moments and catchphrases, you’ll know them all. There were 45 episodes of Monty Python that always pushed the boundaries. And this is where the story really starts. vlcsnap-00486

By 1974, the show was starting to be shown on TV channels in America, where it arguably caused even more of a stir with viewers than it did in the UK, seemingly making them ask “is this what passes for comedy in England?” as it was rather different to anything that American comedy was offering at the time. By this point there had been some merchandise including books and albums, and the cast had moved on to other comedy shows that would be a big success, including Fawlty Towers, Ripping Yarns, Rutland Weekend Television, and more. vlcsnap-00504

There were also some hugely successful films, so they decided to tour America, acquired a huge amount of famous fans, and were now comedy superstars around the world. The first time that I remember seeing the show was during a repeat run in the early-90s, I definitely found it all rather entertaining. Also around this time “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” was released as a single and wasn’t too far off being an unexpected chart-topper. vlcsnap-00501

After this, in 1999 BBC2 dedicated a night to celebrating their career for the 30th anniversary. And along with a musical, a few years ago there was a stage show at the O2 Arena where our heroes went through the big sketches one last time which was much celebrated. Knighthoods is the very least that we can offer them. The show and films have also been released on DVD, and they seem to be constantly repackaged, so look out soon for the Limited Edition Blu-Ray Remastered 3D Glow-In-The-Dark Special, priced at a very reasonable £495.

More TV Memories – Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (WB, 1997-2001, UPN, 2001-2003)

I have never been that interested in the drama genre, but having enjoyed the likes of Alias and Dark Angel, I thought that I should give this one a go too. This is a show that is well documented online, but as I became a fan I thought I might as well add my piece. Buffy The Vampire Slayer started out as a film in 1992 that starred Kristy Swanson and had more of a comedic style. Then in 1997 it was decided to return to the idea, but this time as a fantasy TV drama series, and with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role.

Buffy Summers attends a school at Sunnydale, but there is no getting away from her destiny. If there are ever any vampires, werewolves, zombies, or any of those kind of things around, and there are a rather surprising amount of them it seems, Buffy has to come to the rescue. Can Buffy save the world and still get her project in on time? Well hopefully. vlcsnap-00420

There were plenty of other characters that we meet in the show of course, including Angel, Cordelia, Spike, and Buffy’s shock secret younger sister Dawn who turned up in the later episodes. So those zombies better watch out. Also playing a major part was the school librarian Rupert Giles, who was played by the English-born Anthony Head. vlcsnap-00297

Now to some he will always be best-known as Giles, and to some he will always be best-known as that bloke in the Gold Blend advert. But my parents were once in the studio audience for the BBC Radio 4 sitcom Bleak Expectations that Head starred in, so to them he will always be best-known as Mr Gently-Benevolent (and we mustn’t forget his role as terrifically-voiced Captain Hercules Shipwright in Cabin Pressure either). But either way, he always put in a great performance. vlcsnap-00298

The show was also full of pop-culture references, and Buffy soon became a reference in itself after gaining a decent-sized fanbase, and was referenced in Spaced among other shows. A few creative ideas were tried out too, including a musical special. There were 144 episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in seven series, they have all been released on DVD uncut, and extras include outtakes and scripts. vlcsnap-00299

The show has been on several channels in the UK, including BBC2 and Sky One, but they were usually shown in an evening slot, meaning that most of the slaying was edited out. Other merchandise included computer games and a monthly magazine that contained a comic strip and posters, I did have a few of these, but I do wish that I managed to have more. vlcsnap-00300

There have also been three books released called The Watcher’s Guide, that contain everything that you could ever want to know about the show, including episode guides, a look behind the scenes, and interviews with the cast and crew. Along with the main show, the Angel character went on to have a long-running spin-off series that was well-received too.

The Comedy Vault – Colin’s Sandwich.

Colin’s Sandwich (BBC2, 1988-1990)

This is another sitcom that I don’t remember from the time, but here’s why I was interested in finding out more about this one. Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones appeared in a lot of comedy shows together over the years, but like most double acts, they also worked on a few shows separately, and this is a thoughtful and downbeat sitcom that was designed to for Smith to star in on his own. The first series even received a Radio Times cover.

Smith was Colin, who has possibly the most humdrum existence of any sitcom character in this era. Colin works in the complaints department of British Rail, and often has to deal with endless complaints on the phone. It’s consistent work but it’s the same routine day in day out, he couldn’t be more bored if he tried, and his colleagues are hugely unsympathetic. Needless to say, he doesn’t look forward to Monday mornings. vlcsnap-01025

The only way that Colin can get through this is because he is always aiming for something a little more. He would like to become a successful writer, especially in the horror genre. He often spends his time at home at the typewriter with huge amounts of paper everywhere trying to think of ideas. If only he had a stroke of luck he could soon be outselling Stephen King. vlcsnap-01026

We also hear his inner thoughts as he tries to deal with various people, and the other main characters are Colin’s girlfriend Jenny and friend Des, who do their best to encourage Colin to keep trying, and he constantly hopes that the telephone will ring with some good news. But he seems to be one of those people who constantly ends up making things more difficult for himself, leading to some bizarre mishaps and endless bad luck. vlcsnap-01028

And yet, despite the overall fairly glum tone of the show, Colin does actually take the first steps into success and being a published writer, and he really tries to grab the opportunity. They won’t laugh at him in the office now! Colin finally begins to cheer up, realising that his aim maybe isn’t such a daft idea, and he’ll soon be hobnobbing with all the big cheeses or something. I’m not sure where the sandwich comes into it though. vlcsnap-01027

There were 12 episodes of Colin’s Sandwich in two series, and they were definitely enhanced by Smith’s performance, as he was someone who was often praised for his naturalistic style of acting. There was also a repeat run of the second series on BBC2 in 1992. The show has been released on DVD, but it’s rather hard to track down, it does seem to be worth it though.