More TV Memories – Worzel Gummidge.

Worzel Gummidge (ITV, 1979-1981)/Worzel Gummidge Down Under (Channel 4, 1987-1989)

This is a children’s show featuring a popular character that has endured for decades. Worzel Gummidge was created by Barbara Euphan Todd in the 1930s, and he was a friendly but rather dozy scarecrow who featured in various stories. His first TV series was Worzel Gummidge Turns Detective as early as 1953, but this is the most famous one.

Worzel Gummidge returned to TV in 1979, with the stories now written by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall. Worzel was played by Jon Pertwee, who appeared in various shows over the years, including Doctor Who of course, and he became fondly known for this role too. Worzel is a scarecrow created by The Crowman who magically comes to life on Scatterbrook Farm and has all kinds of adventures. vlcsnap-00952

He also befriends John and Sue (a pre-Marmalade Atkins Charlotte Coleman). Worzel is rather dirty and smelly, and he also has the ability to change his head depending on his mood, some of these were unintentionally scary. His catchphrase was “a cup o’ tea and a slice o’ cake!”. Also featuring regularly was Aunt Sally, who was a doll, along with Saucy Nancy. Worzel would always fall over at the very end of the show. And in 1980 he even had a hit single! vlcsnap-00957

There were four series and a Christmas special of Worzel Gummidge, that were shown at the weekend rather than on CITV. These did rather well, leading to a stage show, and a repeat run on Channel 4 in the mid-80s, and UK Gold. The first place that I remember seeing this series though was when it was repeated on Carlton Kids, a channel in the early days of digital TV. Oh yes, I did watch that channel. But the story doesn’t end there. vlcsnap-00987

Because six years on from the final episode, Worzel returned to the screen, but now the stories took place in New Zealand. Apart from that, it was more of the same really. Worzel is still having adventures with Aunt Sally, running into trouble with The Crowman, and he befriends two more children, Mickey and Manu. There were two series of this, that were shown on Channel 4 on Sunday Mornings. vlcsnap-00984

There were 53 episodes altogether in both versions of Worzel Gummidge, and all six series were recently released on DVD in a nine-disc box set, watching them again was an enjoyable experience. And as recently as last year Worzel returned to the screen again for some new stories that aimed to win over a new generation of viewers.

The YouTube Files – Fairly Secret Army.

Fairly Secret Army (Channel 4, 1984-1986)

One of my favourite sitcoms from the 70s is The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin (although I must admit I haven’t seen a huge amount of comedy shows from that era). This one wasn’t a spin-off as such, but it was written by David Nobbs, and also starred Geoffrey Palmer as a character that was almost identical to the one he played in that show.

So I was pleased when I saw that all of the episodes of Fairly Secret Army on YouTube, because it’s always a pleasure seeing Palmer do his thing (and he really does have a terrific voice), and also because this is from the time when Channel 4 were still experimenting with their home-made comedy and were struggling to establish a successful format, something that they wouldn’t achieve for a while yet. vlcsnap-00928

Palmer played Henry Truscott, who is a retired army officer, but he still seems to think that he is a significant figure in the army and talks in a rather unusual and old-fashioned style, speaking in short sentences, ending them with “message received and understood”, and making memorable observations like “treacherous chaps, women”. vlcsnap-00929

Henry feels that he needs to find a purpose in life, so he becomes the self-appointed leader of a secret army, in case, as he puts it, “the balloon goes up”, something that he is convinced is about to happen. He’ll try and save Britain all by himself, or with a few recruits at least. Although they are rather hard to come by, not many people can be found who share his rather odd world view, apart from a few old army mates, including Sergeant Major Throttle. vlcsnap-00925

Henry does feel that he has got to grab the opportunity though, but he stumbles from one mishap to the next and is doomed to failure. Fairly Secret Army was made on location and features no laughter, but barely any critics or viewers took much notice of the show at the time, and the ones that did seemed to think that it was a bit of a cock-up on the comedy front. But then, they were always tricky blighters. vlcsnap-00951

That didn’t stop the show returning for a second series, but viewers continued to be rather unmoved which was disappointing, and there has been no DVD release. This was still a better variation on the idea than The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin though. Palmer would have further comedy success though in the long-running sitcom As Time Goes By, and would collaborate with Nobbs again for the enjoyable radio sitcom The Maltby Collection.

The YouTube Files – An afternoon with Channel 4 Racing.

Channel 4 Racing (Channel 4, 1984-2016)

One thing that I like to do on here is find a YouTube video that is rather long and contains lots of consecutive advert breaks to review. I haven’t done one of these pieces for a while, but recently I found something rather interesting. I am not really that huge a fan of horse racing, but I always remember when I was younger on Saturday afternoons my dad and his uncle used to watch the racing on TV, whether it be as part of Grandstand, or on Channel 4 (I’m not old enough to remember The ITV Seven though!).

This means that during the almost 33 years that racing coverage was on Channel 4, I became fairly familiar with some of the presenters including Brough Scott and John McCririck. Recently I found a channel that has been putting lots of full editions of Channel 4 Racing from the 90s on YouTube called “roderigodetriano” (who it seems is the son of one of the commentators). They have uploaded coverage of lots of Grand Nationals and other major races, so I thought that I would pick one out and review some of the adverts that it contained. vlcsnap-00352

Before I start though, I want to make a point about something else. They have also uploaded a few editions of The Morning Line, which was usually shown around 9am and would feature previews of races to be shown later on Channel 4 that day. This show always seemed to feature an advert for Ladbrokes where you could dial an 0898 number and get live horse racing commentary over the phone, which featured Peter O’Sullevan, who was the BBC’s horse racing commentator for many years. vlcsnap-00956

The edition of Channel 4 Racing that I have chosen to review was on shown on 8 June 1996 with the highlight being The Vodafone Derby (thank goodness sponsorship hasn’t begun to interfere with tradition) and plenty of people in top hats. Let’s pick out some of the highlights to determine what kind of adverts would be aimed at a viewer of this grand occasion. Well, first of all, even though this is Channel 4 in the afternoon, you definitely won’t be seeing any adverts for stairlifts during this one. vlcsnap-00970

The first advert in the first break (which is about 42 minutes in) is for Vodafone. An advert for Vodafone during The Vodafone Derby? How suspicious. One of these turns up in almost every break, and they are very similar in style to The X Files which was becoming a big deal around the time. The first one features Jon Pertwee, who had actually died a few weeks earlier. vlcsnap-00969

There is also a hint that the excitement of Euro ’96 is coming with an advert for The Daily Telegraph‘s coverage, which is going to be 10p on Monday. The advert also features a website address, which were beginning an increasingly familiar sight around this time. Later breaks feature adverts for The Times, and the now closed Sunday Business. They’re almost ready for the off now, and another thing that is notable is that there are several car adverts for various makes. vlcsnap-00957

A few other adverts that stood out for me include Apple Tango (continuing with their really bizarre adverts for the time), Jack Dee and his penguins for John Smith’s Bitter, and don’t forget about the Currys sale either. It’s now been almost four hours and we’ve just about reached the finishing line. If you want to know, Shaamit won at 12-1 and got a big trophy.

More TV Memories – Grim Tales.

Grim Tales (CITV, 1989, Channel 4, 1991)

The much-missed Rik Mayall appeared in a lot of memorable comedy shows over the years, but did you know that he also contributed to a lot of children’s TV, despite having a reputation for being rather anarchic. It was clear that he had a talent for storytelling after brightening up CBBC’s Jackanory with his enthusiastic take on George’s Marvellous Medicine, he featured in shows about poetry including Wham Bam Strawberry Jam, and also voiced several characters for cartoons including King Arthur’s Disasters.

His storytelling style was put to the best use though in this series, that was first shown on CITV. Grim Tales featured Rik in pyjamas and a dressing gown (that wasn’t on his eye), and he sat on a rather unusual chair that had paws and big ostrich legs, so it could run around, but it didn’t talk (there was another children’s show around this time that did feature a talking chair called Helping Henry, but I don’t remember that one). vlcsnap-00780

Rik told stories that were loosely based on works by the Brothers Grimm from the 19th century, often featuring animals, children, and all kinds of other strange things, among the most famous of these being Hansel And Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin. These stories were also accompanied by a wide variety of animation and puppetry which along with the theme music and silly noises definitely added to the rather weird vibe of the show. vlcsnap-00781

There were 22 editions of Grim Tales in two series, and they were all about ten minutes long. The first series on CITV did well enough for the second to be promoted to a Sunday evening slot on Channel 4, where it carried on in the usual style and of course it was always very entertaining, I can’t think of many other TV shows that have made a channel hop like that. vlcsnap-00784

There was also a VHS of Grim Tales released, along with some cassettes, so you could listen to Rik tell these stories to you all day if you wanted to. One other thing that is notable is that Rik returned to quirky storytelling with his contribution to Dave’s comedy parody Crackanory, this turned out to be just about the last TV work that he did, and it ended up being shown posthumously.

More TV Memories – Porkpie.

Porkpie (Channel 4, 1995-1996)

Desmond’s, which went on to be one of Channel 4’s most successful home-made sitcoms, came to a sombre end in 1994 following the death of Norman Beaton who played the lead role. But viewers still wanted more, so one of the popular regular characters was promoted to the main one as we returned to Peckham for this spin-off series that was created and written by the same team as its predecessor.

Ram John Holder returned one year on in 1995 with his hat to play Porkpie again (his actual name was Augustus, but everybody knew him by his nickname). In the first episode, we discover that Porkpie is now living a rather mundane existence as a lollipop man, living on his own, feeling rather down on his luck, and still missing his good friend Desmond. vlcsnap-01049

One remarkable thing about the mid-90s looking back is just how many references there were to the newly-launched National Lottery. Not just in adverts that featured the famous catchphrase, but also in TV shows with endless jokes, it really was a cultural success, suddenly people could win huge amounts of money like never before, only the pools had ever come close. vlcsnap-01051

How all this ties in to this show is because one day Porkpie needs a change in fortune and decides to buy a lottery ticket, even though he’s certain that it’s an impossible dream. But he has a go, and he even endures watching The National Lottery Live to discover his fate. And would you believe it, as Porkpie only goes and wins £10 million, blimey, that’s even more than Del Boy and Rodney made! vlcsnap-01048

Naturally, Porkpie’s life is transformed, but will it be for the better? The rest of the series concentrates on Porkpie in his unexpected new situation. Now the biggest decision he has to make in his life is deciding whether to buy a car or go on a cruise. One thing that Porkpie decides to do is open a youth centre which is named after his old friend. A few old characters also appear, including Desmond’s son Michael. vlcsnap-01053

Among the new characters was Benji, who befriends Porkpie, and any show that decides to add Derek Griffiths to the cast must have something going for it. There were 12 episodes of Porkpie in two series, although it did come off as second best when compared to Desmond’s which was rather disappointing, it seemed that the idea had been exhausted a little by this point. Also, there has been no repeat run or DVD release, but it retained the feelgood factor that attracted so many to Desmond’s.

The Comedy Vault – New Girl.

New Girl (Fox, 2011-2018)

This is another American sitcom that caught my attention. I am not that hugely interested in films, but I have enjoyed some of the work of Zooey Deschanel, who has put in some amusing and quirky performances in various films including (500) Days Of Summer and Yes Man. So when I discovered that Zooey was going to feature in a TV sitcom I was definitely interested.

Three young men anticipate the arrival of a new flatmate, presuming that it will be somebody else who is rather like them, but it turns out that it’s a woman?! Well, it’s fair to say that they definitely weren’t expecting this and it turns their macho world upside-down. New Girl (avoiding the obvious thought “how can they still be a new girl after the first episode?”) starred Deschanel as Jessica, a teacher, and words used to describe her were often around the area of bubbly, offbeat, and quirky. vlcsnap-00905

The men were Nick, Winston, and Schmidt (keeping up a sitcom tradition of a character who is only known by their surname), who have had various jobs, including being a basketball player for a short while, and also featuring is Jessica’s childhood friend Cece. What an ensemble they are. Of course, as the episodes progress, their love lives have plenty of changes, and there were breakups, weddings, and everything inbetween. vlcsnap-00926

New Girl could be considered to be a little too cute and rather heavy on the hugging when compared to the average UK sitcom, but there was still plenty to enjoy, and Deschanel definitely adapted herself well and gained lots of laughs. There were also plenty of guest stars, and there was much surprise when Prince, who never usually did that kind of thing, made a special appearance. Let’s hope that he spoke up. vlcsnap-00910

Trying to get into New Girl was rather difficult because of the way it was scheduled in the UK. It originally started in a primetime slot on Channel 4, which I was pleased about because I felt that it deserved that level of exposure, but unsurprisingly it was moved rather quickly to E4, before it was seemingly increasingly neglected, featuring in various daytime slots, before it vanished altogether. vlcsnap-00936

There were 146 episodes of New Girl in seven series, but the final three series haven’t been released on DVD in this country, unlike America where they have all been released, which is rather frustrating too. I don’t know why they stopped, but the ones that are available feature a decent amount of extras including deleted scenes. Overall it was an enjoyable sitcom, and I look forward to seeing more of Deschanel soon.

The Comedy Vault – Desmond’s.

Desmond’s (Channel 4, 1989-1994)

This is a sitcom that launched in the late-80s, and it was set in Peckham in London. Now it wasn’t the first sitcom to be set there of course, as there was Only Fools And Horses as well, but this was something a little different. Although this one had a mostly black cast, it went on to become popular with people from various backgrounds because of its feelgood nature and enjoyable characters.

Desmond’s was set in a hairdressers, and the regular characters were family, along with various customers. Desmond Ambrose was in charge, and his regular customers (who had also become friends) included Matthew and Porkpie, who got his nickname because he wore that style of hat all the time. We don’t spend all the time at the hairdresser’s though, we also see Desmond in his family life, including his wife Shirley, along with his three children Michael, Sean, and Gloria. vlcsnap-01041

There’s no doubt that a lot of people thought fondly of Desmond’s, knowing that they were always going to have a good time watching, and it eventually ran to six series and 71 episodes, more than any other home-made Channel 4 sitcom. It’s definitely among the best Channel 4 sitcoms, if only they would take such risks with comedy nowadays. And nobody even seemed to mind that the hairdressers only had about three regular customers. vlcsnap-01036

Desmond’s also featured a rather odd coincidence. Just like Father Ted, one of Channel 4’s other big comedy successes, what was already planned to be the final episode (which in this case was an hour-long Christmas special), ended up being shown after the actor who played the main character had died, in this case Norman Beaton, who had appeared in various TV shows going back to the 70s. vlcsnap-01042

Also, only the first two series of Desmond’s have been released on DVD, and there seems to be no plans to release any more which is rather disappointing, I’m not sure what happened, as I imagine it wouldn’t be too difficult to get fans of the show to buy them. In more recent years though, some episodes have been repeated on various channels including London Live (well they’ve got to fill the hours with something haven’t they), and it was good seeing them again. Viewers still wanted more though, so in the mid-90s Porkpie went on to given a spin-off sitcom, and I’ll review that soon too.

More TV Memories – Renford Rejects.

Renford Rejects (Nickelodeon, 1998-2001)

As you’ll know by now, a rather long time ago (and it is beginning to feel like it), I used to watch Nickelodeon in the early days of digital TV. This is one of the shows that I remember watching, and one of the few on that channel at the time that was British-made. It is a just-about sitcom that centred around football, which I never been hugely interested in, but I thought that I’d give this one a go.

Renford Rejects was a just about-sitcom that launched in the late-90s, and I am fairly familiar with the big football players and teams from the time because I used to listen to various matches on Capital Gold, and this was also around the time that the Premier League was established as one of the biggest leagues in Europe, and an increasing amount of imports were joining English teams and making a big impact. vlcsnap-00973

Renford Rejects shouldn’t be confused with Dream Team, another football-themed show that launched around the same time (and that wasn’t a sitcom, although it could be argued that came across as one sometimes). This one featured a rather useless teenage five-a-side team. They decide to get together after being turned down by their school, and we meet various characters, including the players, along with their coaches and teachers. vlcsnap-00976

The team captain is Jason, and also featuring are Bruno, and Ben the rather wimpy bespectacled goalkeeper. They all probably dreamed of one day playing in the likes of the Premier League or Serie A, but in their cases it would definitely remain a dream. When they aren’t being beaten in various matches, the players were often to be found down the Graceland cafe, which was run by Eddie, who was a big Elvis fan. vlcsnap-00977

The opening theme to Renford Rejects was “Australia” by Manic Street Preachers, and most of the football action was soundtracked by various songs, mostly by The Lightning Seeds. The show did well enough to attract some impressive figures for guest appearances, including various footballers, and the TV presenters Jim Rosenthal and Bob Wilson. Comedians including Alexei Sayle and Tony Slattery also appeared, along with a young James Corden in one episode. vlcsnap-00979

There were 52 episodes of Renford Rejects in four series, and they were repeated rather often on Nickelodeon. Not long after this, they also turned up on Channel 4 as part of the T4 strand, and I do think that the show was deserving of some exposure to a bigger audience in a more high-profile slot. I don’t think that any episodes have been released on DVD though.

More TV Memories – TV Offal.

TV Offal (Channel 4, 1997-1998)

For many years, Victor Lewis-Smith was the TV critic for the Evening Standard. He became somewhat known for often making rather bizarre and bad taste jokes, and for reviewing various soaps, dramas, and game shows, and not particularly being fond of any of them. He wouldn’t be afraid to criticise the production team as much as who he thought were the inept hosts in front of the camera. What a strange chap.

He also had a go at making a few TV and radio comedy shows himself in the 90s. These included BBC2’s Inside Victor Lewis-Smith, although I haven’t seen much of that one, so I’ll look back at this one instead for now. TV Offal was shown rather late at night on Channel 4, and was a typically outrageous look at some of the dodgier moments in British TV history. Would viewers be prepared for all of this? vlcsnap-00607

Victor wasn’t seen in-vision, but he co-wrote the show and also voiced his views. There were some regular features. These included Honest Obituary, where Victor looked back at the career of a TV personality that he wasn’t particularly fond of. I remember that the one for Noel Edmonds just seemed to consist of the same clip of Noel running around on Noel’s House Party played over and over again. vlcsnap-00650

There was also Kamikaze Karaoke, featuring a rather bad version of a pop song, Fantasy Programme Of The Week, imagining a weird variation on an existing show, The Pilots That Crashed, terrible one-off shows that didn’t even make it to the screen, Weirdo Bags, taking a look at the luggage of the famous, and The Gay Daleks, featuring the further adventures of the Doctor Who villains. vlcsnap-00611

There was also a look at bad TV adverts (this was expanded on in the BBC2 series Ads Infinitum, and I’ll review that one soon too), and idents (I’m fairly sure this was the first time that I saw the original black-and-white Harlech ident from the 60s and I couldn’t believe my rather sore eyes, I honestly didn’t believe that it was real). Most of the clips seemed to be sourced from Christmas tapes, containing rather rude episodes of TV shows made especially to amuse the production team at their end-of-year party. vlcsnap-00613

These included the “twangers” episode of Rainbow, falsely claiming that it was the unaired pilot, and a chaotic edition of Bullseye. Most editions also ended with a rather cruel prank phone call. There was only one series of TV Offal, and some of the highlights were later shown as a special called TV Offal: Prime Cuts. And well, needless to say I’ve barely seen anything like it on TV before or since.

More TV Memories – Rory Bremner… Who Else.

Rory Bremner… Who Else (Channel 4, 1993-1998)

The impressionist and satirist Rory Bremner first came to fame on TV in the mid-80s when he appeared on various shows including Wogan. A big fan of cricket, in 1985 he released the single “N-N-Nineteen Not Out” as The Commentators, a parody of Paul Hardcastle’s chart-topping “19”, which was an amusing comment on the then England team’s rather faltering performances.

In 1986 he joined the cast of the BBC2 comedy sketch Now – Something Else, although despite becoming known for his impressions around this time I’m fairly sure that he never contributed to Spitting Image. In 1988 he got a show of his own which now had his name in the title, and this ran until 1992, although I don’t ever remember watching this one myself. 

In 1993, Rory was poached by Channel 4 and he launched the new show Rory Bremner… Who Else. He was now a big name and his channel move was much promoted at the time. Editions were usually 40 minutes long, and the show was recorded rather close to transmission, because there was always a political scandal or three to reflect on, wasn’t there. Shows would begin with Rory on stage doing various voices, and he always had a pair of glasses on standby in case he ever wanted to lapse into doing the Prime Minister John Major. vlcsnap-00899

Rory would also have his mouth put over footage of real politicians, and sometimes even performed the voices for computer-generated versions of people. As well as politicians, Rory would take part in sketches where he did impressions of other personalities. Among the regulars were Des Lynam, Newsnight‘s Jeremy Paxman, Bob Monkhouse, News At Ten‘s Trevor McDonald, chef Keith Floyd, and a very bizarre take on weather presenter Ian McCaskill. vlcsnap-00898

Another regular feature was when veteran double-act John Bird and John Fortune interviewed each other in an improvised sketch which often went off in some unusual areas, and this did well enough to be extended into a separate series in the mid-90s called The Long Johns. There would also be time for a comedy monologue that was usually performed by a female special guest. vlcsnap-00905

Rory also showed off his fondness for cricket again by often dropping in impressions of various commentators and players, and he briefly jumped back to BBC2 in 1997 to host a few documentaries on the game. Rory Bremner… Who Else was shown a little past my bedtime, but as I was always interested in discovering comedy, I set the video for some editions. Some of the political content went over my head at that age, with the constant references to quangos and the like, but there was little doubt that Rory was a very skilled talent. vlcsnap-00901

After a few specials, in 1999 the show was reformatted with the Two Johns now being given equal billing in the newly titled Bremner, Bird And Fortune, which was extended to an hour. From now on, the show was entirely political, and although there were still plenty of sketches it started to become more and more serious in its tone, and the Tony Blair impression that Rory had perfected by this point was put to much use. vlcsnap-00927

Although there were many more series, Channel 4 did seem to lose interest in the show a little, and when it finally ended in 2010, not many people seemed to notice. Although all the variations of the show won several awards, I don’t think that any of them have had a DVD release. After this, Rory decided to try something a little different, and hosted the daytime game show Face The Clock, but this was something of a flop.