The YouTube Files – The Comedy Store.

The Comedy Store (ITV, 1989-1990)

I am always on the lookout for comedy shows that I might not remember from the time, along with the ones that I do remember, so when I come across something interesting on YouTube, it’s always good. The Comedy Store in Leicester Square, London was a venue where a huge amount of comedy talent performed, many of them taking the first steps to becoming rather famous.

Although stand-up isn’t really my favourite style of comedy, this caught my interest because of the way that this was put together, along with the scheduling. The first edition was a special shown shortly before Christmas 1989 in a late-night slot, possibly only in the Thames/LWT region. The host was Chris Tarrant, who introduced the various acts in his usual quirky style.

He wasn’t at the actual club though, just in some empty void. Would we be ready for what these people were about to offer us. And then, there were ten more editions, that were only ten minutes long, and turned up rather erratically in the schedule, giving us only a quick insight into the scene. Well it was something to do whilst waiting for the usual America’s Top Ten and the like.

Among those who featured were double-act Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis, along with grumpy Arthur Smith (or Arfur Smif as he now seems to be known). I’m sure that people were soon rolling around! I’ve no idea how well this all went down with viewers, but any possible TV exposure in this era would come in useful. And this was also a Mike Mansfield production, which is always of course a guarantee of quality…

Many years later, there was an unrelated show that took another look at the happenings in The Comedy Store. This was a part of Channel 5’s launch schedule in a late-night slot (indeed, the first edition was shown on the first night on air in 1997). As well as performers from across the country, and across the world taking part, Arfur Smif (er, yes) returned to interview various comedians who performed at the club’s early days including Ben Elton, Bob “MeDinner” Mills, Alexei Sayle, and Frank Skinner.

There were also special editions given over to one performer, including Richard Morton, Phill Jupitus, Rich Hall, and Peter Kay (this was in 1999, and was repeated about 50 times following his subsequent fame). There were 70 editions in six series, ending in 2001, which is a decent amount preserved for the archive, and I think that they were eventually repeated on the Paramount Comedy Channel.

The Comedy Vault – Friends.

Friends (NBC, 1994-2004)

This is an American sitcom that needs little explanation from me really, which is just as well, because I couldn’t give an explanation because I must confess that I don’t think that I have ever even seen an episode in full over the years. But because this is such a well-known show, I thought that I might as well finally review this, because there are a few thoughts and memories that I do have.

Friends of course featured the lives of six rather young and successful people who lived in New York, and enjoyed spending time together. This came to Channel 4 in 1995, and it was also in this year that the theme song “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts was a Top Ten hit single in this country (cue lots of people asking “what does ‘your love life’s DOA‘ mean?”). After a while, the popularity grew, as was proved by the amount of high-profile guest stars who were eager to appear. It didn’t take long for Channel 4 to realise that they had a guaranteed hit as part of their Friday night schedule, suddenly everybody wanted a “Rachel”.

I also remember that The Adam And Joe Show did a very amusing parody, reimagining the cast as toys, and there was also a special episode that was made in England. As the success continued, and the lives of the characters became increasingly entangled, in 1997 “I’ll Be There For You” became a Top Ten hit for a second time, joining a small list of songs to have achieved this. Episodes also did well when they were shown on Sky One, and along with the regular repeats, plus the new episodes, this was very often on the screen. I even remember articles in Inside Soap magazine, which didn’t usually give coverage to sitcoms.

When Channel 4’s companion channel E4 launched in 2001, they took the rights from Sky One, and again, episodes old and new played a big part in the schedule. Friends managed to run for a decade, and when the tenth and final series came to a close, some dedicated viewers found it all rather hard to take. “It’s like losing a limb”, apparently. There had also been lots of special interviews and documentaries reflecting on the success, and all of the episodes have been released on DVD. But the story hadn’t ended just yet.

The character of Joey went into a spin-off sitcom. This was shown in this country by Five, who in an ambitious move, decided that it was time to have some high-profile imported comedy. This did indeed deliver some of this channel’s highest-ever ratings at first, but some critics felt that this was all rather inferior to what had gone before, and this ended all rather quietly by comparison. Channel 5 then bought the rights to Friends off Channel 4 and E4, leading to hundreds more repeats on their companion channel Comedy Central to this day, as if they hadn’t been shown enough.

The main cast had long-since gone on to work on other projects, but a year or two ago, the sextet reunited for the first time (not for a new episode though, but a special looking back at some highlights). There seemed to be a huge amount of news articles afterwards informing us that “Matt LeBlanc looked like your uncle at the Friends reunion”. Although I don’t think that he looked very much like my uncle, although that’s because I don’t actually have any… but I’m sure that he’s thrilled about that being the legacy of what he brought to this show.

More TV Memories – The death of the Queen.

It is always a sombre moment for this country when we lose our monarch and head of state, but somehow, this one seemed to hurt more than most. This is a look at of some of the TV and radio coverage of the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022, which will be remembered for years to come. There has always been an unusual thing that has hung over British TV. The moment when the picture would fade away for the important news report that announces the death of a monarch. Could it happen during a primetime sitcom? Could it happen during a daytime game show? Could it even happen at about 3am when barely anyone is watching?

As it turned out, this sort-of happened before the actual death. On BBC1, at about 12:40pm, Bargain Hunt faded away, and viewers joined the News channel, after Buckingham Palace had taken the unprecedented step of announcing that doctors had become concerned for Her Majesty’s wellbeing. She had most recently been seen just two days earlier, welcoming the 15th Prime Minister of her reign. It was a reminder of last year when the Palace constantly insisted that Prince Philip was “in good spirits” when he was actually on his deathbed, meaning that the announcement of his death was more of a shock than it should’ve been, and you got the feeling that the public weren’t going to be fooled again.

The coverage remained on BBC1 for the rest of the afternoon, by which point Huw Edwards had taken over as host. There was a constant eye on happenings at Balmoral, where Her Majesty was residing, and family members were spotted making their arrivals, to say their goodbyes as it turned out. And just as it looked like all of the speculation about what exactly was happening had been exhausted, and the coverage was going to end, it was noticed that the flag on the top of Buckingham Palace was being lowered to half-mast. And then, at just after 6:30pm, and many hours after shows were initially interrupted, the moment that so many had dreaded had come.

As far as the BBC was concerned, this moment was always going to be delivered by Edwards. He had been a reporter since the late-80s, and he slowly worked his way up, becoming their main host by the early-2000s, and he was often seen on The 10 O’Clock News. Unlike what happened with Diana in 1997, it was fairly obvious that this moment had long since been prepared for and much rehearsed. Edwards began his announcement, but then there was a brief pause as BBC2 viewers joined. And then, the national anthem was played, and it was at this point that TV essentially went into sombre mode for the days to come.

Alongside Edwards in the studio was royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell (my mum once had a dream that he had died…), who seems to be a much derided figure for some reason. Edwards had to achieve the difficult task of hosting whilst being poignant and respectful, but without crossing the line into being “a bower and a scraper” (an accusation that has been thrown at Witchell). It was clear that both of them had been moved by the occasion, and they both spoke well as they reflected on the end of the longest reign in British history. It was a relief to many that this was all well received by viewers, and seemed to strike the right tone.

I very much doubt that Edwards was angling for a honour by doing all this, but other hosts including Alistair Burnet and Trevor McDonald have been recognised for their news work, so it could be possible. It also reminds you of the famous time when news host Walter Cronkite had to announce the assassination of President Kennedy, and he pretty much became one of the most revered and trusted figures in American broadcasting for years. His handling of this event should only strengthen the idea that Edwards is the leading host on the BBC.

As for the other channels, ITV started a news special at 5pm, meaning that viewers had to go without The Chase (and I imagine that they were NOT happy), but tough luck. Mary Nightingale was the host, although the announcement wasn’t as slick as on the BBC, mostly because Nightingale didn’t seem to know where her glasses were, but again, overall this was well handled. Channel 4 pulled the episode of Hollyoaks that had started only a minute or two earlier to go to Cathy Newman, while Channel 5 extended their news, and Dan Walker (who had recently been poached from the BBC) announced for them. There was also the unusual situation of there being no advert breaks on ITV, Channel 4, or Channel 5 for the next day or two.

And on Sky News, Dermot Murnaghan (who also announced the news about Diana when he worked for ITN) was stood outside Buckingham Palace, and he seemed to be rather dazed and lost for words about the whole experience. Various non-news channels pulled their shows and their advert breaks for a short while too. National and local radio stations also carried the announcement, and they went into sombre mode for a while. But they didn’t play any downbeat classical music, as they might’ve done not so long ago, instead they played a few pop songs, and ended up sounding like Smooth FM in a bad mood.

I think that this was all rather different to what happened with Diana 25 years ago. That news came out of nowhere, and channels had very little planned. There also seemed to be an undertone of anger from the public. While they mourned, a “this shouldn’t have happened” feeling was never far from the surface of the sadness. But that wasn’t the case this time. And as for myself, I was surprised because I was moved more than I thought I would be. And, like many other people, I took a moment to think about some of my much-missed relatives. These included a great-granddad who lived to 96 years old, the same age that Her Majesty did, although he had long since been stricken. It is remarkable to think that she reigned for so long, and was able to fulfil her duty to just about the very end.

And it was weird to think that this had finally happened, and for the first time in seven decades, there was a King on the throne. There had always been reports in Private Eye magazine that Charles was increasingly bored and frustrated with being heir, being one step away from his destiny for so long, giving the impression that he desperately craved being monarch, although I don’t think that was ever the case. There were also various documentaries and obituaries in the days leading up to the state funeral, which was an occasion where barely a foot was put wrong (and the BBC should be grateful that the biggest stir in coverage with viewers was caused on ITV by This Morning). I get the feeling that things will never be the same again…

The YouTube Files – You Again?

You Again? (NBC, 1986-1987)

This is the American version of the British sitcom Home To Roost, which is definitely one of the better ITV sitcoms of its era, and I was pleased to find some clips of this on YouTube. You Again? starred Jack Klugman (best remembered by viewers in Quincy) as Henry Willows (in the British version he was called, er, Henry Willows, and played by John Thaw).

John Stamos was Matthew (Reece Dinsdale was Matthew in the British version), who about a year or two after this would go on to appear in the more successful American sitcom Full House, which I do remember was shown on Sky One for a while, and he had a terrific mullet too. And rather curiously, Enid was played by Elizabeth Bennett, who also played Enid in the British version.

This seems to be the only occasion when someone has played the same character in both British and American versions of a sitcom. The premise was the same though. Henry is a businessman who gets a divorce, and does enjoy the single life without the rest of his family. But then his son returns home unexpectedly, and this is of course where the comedy comes in.

Some British episodes were recycled. The very first one in America was “All You Need Is Love”, a remake of the one that I was particularly amused by as this featured the 80s punk-type character who only ever seemed to appear in sitcoms, and it was interesting to see the American equivalent of this (although I could only find a trail online for now). They clearly peaked too soon.

There were also some episodes that were specially written for this version, including one where The Beach Boys (or what passed for them by that point) turned up for no particular reason. And as for the episode with uncle Randy? Hey… that guy! You Again? did just well enough with viewers to earn a second series, but this was also the last, and there were 26 episodes (compared with 29 for the British version).

Viewers did find it hard to believe that Klugman and Stamos were father and son, when the age gap between them was over 40 years (more than twice the age gap between Thaw and Dinsdale), but there were still some good moments. Every episode of You Again? has been shown in this country, on Channel 5 in the late-90s at about 5am, presumably when they had run out of episodes of Throb.

More TV Memories – Turnstyle.

Turnstyle (Channel 5, 1997-1998)

This is yet another piece about the early days of Channel 5, because having looked back at various things like their original commitment to comedy, news, and so on, I thought that I would now take a look at their sport coverage. At the launch, there was a live show on Saturday mornings called Turnstyle, which was often hosted by Dominik Diamond (who wasn’t far short of the end of his time on Channel 4’s GamesMaster by this point), alongside Gail McKenna.

In this, the weekend’s sporting action would be previewed, there would also be guests in the studio, and viewers could phone in to take part in competitions. And there would be a late Sunday edition looking back at the weekend’s highlights. But it would be rather good if they actually had some live sport to show too. Most of this would feature in Live And Dangerous, which filled the majority of the twilight hours most nights (and Channel 4 attempted a similar late-night sport compendium around the same time called Under The Moon).

Among the hosts of the early editions was Tommy Boyd, although, as seems to happen a lot in his career, he vanished not long after in fairly mysterious circumstances. Among the sport featured was Major League Baseball, which attracted a decent following, and continued to be covered for many years, until Channel 5 decided that they wanted to fill the slot with endless Channel Quizzy Quiz.

But the moment where Turnstyle was really going to come into its own was when Channel 5 had the rights to show a live World Cup Qualifier featuring England. This took place at the end of May, and was promoted roughly every ten minutes since the launch of a couple of months earlier. Their aim was, like with other genres, to provide something fresh and different, not like the stuffy old BBC! Coverage began at 4:30, 2½ hours before kick-off, and they wanted an experienced host for this.

Curiously, they went for Brough Scott, best known as the host of Channel 4 Racing (I also remember Hawksbee And Jacobs commenting that he hosted the Breakfast Show on TalkSport for about one week, and all of his guests seemed to be Irish jockeys on the phone). Various people were asked about England’s prospects as the time had to be filled. And for a commentator, they chose Jonathan Pearce.

He was known for his coverage on radio station Capital Gold, and his profile increased following Euro ’96. The idea was that seemingly if there was going to be a goal, he would simply shout “England have scored!!” as loud as he could, just like the fans watching. As it turned out, in Katowice, England took an early lead through Alan Shearer, and Teddy Sheringham scored a second late on for a 2-0 win. And you wouldn’t have seen those goals on TV anywhere else. Unbelievable!

After this, Channel 5 decided to do deals to cover the English teams taking part in the European competitions the UEFA Cup, and the new defunct Cup Winners’ Cup. Pearce was kept on as commentator, but their coverage was now much more straightforward and perfectly adequate, even if it was never going to compete ratings-wise with the likes of the Champions League on ITV. Turnstyle carried on for about a year, and then Diamond went on to host Sportscall on BBC Radio 5 Live, an amusing show featuring questions about the week’s sport.

The YouTube Files – Throb.

Throb (1986-1988)

I am not usually that interested in American sitcoms, but when I read the description of this one, I decided that I must find out more, because this is a syndicated sitcom that was made in the mid-80s about the music industry. So I thought that there might a chance that Throb could feature a lot of big-haired pop stars, and after I went on YouTube, I discovered that to some extent this was right.

The main character in Throb is Sandy Beatty (Diana Canova, who was also in sitcom Soap). Sandy is a 33-year-old divorcee from New York who gets a job at an independent New Wave record label. As the music of her childhood was from the 60s, seeing all the trendy people from a younger generation hanging around the office makes her feel older than she is and out of touch.

It was rather odd seeing all these pop stars come and go and also perform their songs in the office while the staff tried to work (and there were no computers!). Maybe with some work they could end up on the cover of Billboard or Cash Box. Sandy’s boss is Zachary Armstrong, and his look and mannerisms were based on Michael J Fox, who was increasing in popularity at the time.

Other characters include Sandy’s colleague Phil, along with her friend and neighbour Meredith, and her son Jeremy (Paul Walker, who would become better known for appearing in the Fast And Furious film franchise). Among the real pop stars making guest appearances were Donny Osmond and Frankie Valli, and a young George Clooney played an aspiring singer in an early episode.

But what really interested me about Throb was that there was a character called Blue, but it turns out that she didn’t have blue hair though. Her real name was Prudence, she was rather mouthy and trendy, and she was played by the English-born Jane Leeves. Now it is always rather strange to hear London accents turn up in American shows. There is something of a personality clash between her and the more reserved Sandy.

Blue did have some rather spectacular 80s hair though, and her dress sense was remarkable too. I would bet that even the cast of Jem wouldn’t want to wear half of the costumes that she did. Blue later moves in with Sandy. Leeves would eventually become a big name when she was in sitcom Frasier in the 90s, and in this she would have a Manchester accent instead of a London one, but Leeves is actually from East Sussex.

There were 48 episodes of Throb in two series. Some early episodes were shown in some ITV regions in a late-night slot in the late-80s. And all of the episodes were shown on Channel 5 in the late-90s, in the not very coveted timeslot of 4:40am, seemingly when they had run out of editions of Move On Up to repeat. But I was pleased to have seen this, what times they were.

The YouTube Files – The Morwenna Banks Show.

The Morwenna Banks Show (Channel 5, 1998-1999)

This is another comedy show from the 90s that I don’t remember watching at the time, but once again, thanks to YouTube, I have finally seen some of this, and here’s why I was interested in this one. When Channel 5 launched in 1997, as you should know by now, I was attracted to their supposedly lively and fresh new schedule, like nothing on UK TV before.

Among the highlights was The Jack Docherty Show. Now I know that have reflected on this in several pieces now, but he was going to be the five-nights-a-week star of their late-night schedule. Why they chose him out of everyone, I’m still not sure. But I wonder how many people know that Jack wasn’t the only cast member of Absolutely to get his own show on Channel 5.

Morwenna Banks is someone who had worked on various TV radio and comedy shows, before becoming best-known for featuring in Channel 4’s Absolutely. After this ended, in 1994, she became one of a small group of British-born people to be a cast member of American show Saturday Night Live. I presume that she did her rambling schoolgirl character, which is her best-known routine.

I can only imagine what American audiences thought of it all though. And in 1995, she was in the cast of American sitcom Dream On. After this, she returned to the UK, and was given a show of her own, and many felt that this was well deserved. In The Morwenna Banks Show, various characters featured, along with the schoolgirl again, because if you find a winning formula, you might was well use it.

There was also a small supporting cast including Absolutely‘s Gordon Kennedy. And as several of the writers and producers were also among the cast of that sketch show, this was almost like a bonus fifth series of Absolutely, although a fairly low-key one shown in a late-night slot. At least Channel 5 had some commitment to home-made comedy at this point though.

There’s no doubt that Banks had the talent to play a wide variety of characters, and get the laughs out of them. This was also repeated on Paramount Comedy Channel, although I don’t remember ever seeing this on there during the time that I had access to that channel (thanks to the mighty ITV Digital), and as far as I know, there has been no DVD release.

After the first and only series ended, a year later, there were two one-off specials, shown as part of themed weekends. The first was all about famous blondes, and the second was about science-fiction. Banks has continued to work on various comedy shows, continuing to collaborate with various Absolutely cast members, and also appeared in the first series of Harry And Paul.

More TV Memories – Danger! 50,000 Volts/Danger! Incoming Attack.

Danger! 50,000 Volts (Channel 5, 2002)/Danger! Incoming Attack (Five, 2003)

This is yet another show that had a rather quirky idea. Danger! 50,000 Volts was a half-comedy half-documentary, and it was up to viewers to determine how seriously they should take everything that was featured. This was something of a parody of those outdoor survival series, where slicing your own arm off, or eating some maggots, may be the only thing that you can do if you end up in some trouble.

The host was Nick Frost, who was best-known at the time for being among the cast of sitcom Spaced. Nick seemed to be rather fearless, throwing himself into several sticky situations, and revealing how to get out of them. If you were ever going to fall into some icy water, be struck by lightning, or pierce your foot on a spike, then advice was available, including “if you suffer a direct lightning hit, expect to suffer external burns, hair loss, memory loss, loss of libido, and death”.

There were also several survival experts who appeared to help Nick, who were introduced with some odd facts. Along with their occupation, we would also discover other things about them, like their favourite singer. Words also randomly appeared on the screen to emphasise ideas, and features were usually concluded with an amusing animated sequence (similar to those in scary Public Information Films) that went over the basic points again.

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It seems that Danger! 50,000 Volts actually was released on DVD, accompanied by a bonus edition that wasn’t shown on TV called Danger! 50,000 Zombies, where Nick, along with his old mate Simon “bid again, Simon” Pegg revealed what you should do in the event of a zombie apocalypse (this seems to be somewhat similar to their Shaun Of The Dead film). Put it this way, it probably wasn’t to duck and cover.

There was much praise for this show from critics, which was one of the more ambitious comedy shows that was around at the time, and it was felt that some awards were deserved. A hit show for Channel 5! A year later, Nick returned for a second series, which was retitled Danger! Incoming Attack, and carried on in a similar style. After watching this, you really will be ready for anything that comes your way.

More TV Memories – WCW Worldwide.

WCW Worldwide (ITV, 1991-1995, Channel 5, 1999-2001)

Wrestling is a sport that has received a lot of TV coverage over the years (of course there is the whole “is wrestling actually a sport” debate, but we’ll leave that for another time). For many years, British wrestling used to be shown on Saturday afternoons, and a lot of the people who took part soon became popular with the public. I don’t really remember this though, I am more familiar with American wrestling, from both the WWF (later WWE) and WCW.

The WWF has been shown on Sky since the 80s, and although there weren’t a huge amount of viewers at the time, this did manage to gain some interest. But going into the 90s, I remember watching the WCW, as this was on ITV (maybe this was only shown in the LWT region?) in WCW Worldwide. There were various timeslots, including being a part of Sunday afternoon show Sharp’s Funday. And then there was a move to Saturday afternoons.

I clearly must’ve had something of an interest in all of this, even though I didn’t take it that seriously, as I did record at least one edition. Although it seems that the WCW was second to the WWF in popularity in America, I can still recall a lot of the names that were on the roster at this time, including Sting and Rick Rude, along with lots of other charismatic goodies and baddies who liked showing off their moves that kept the crowd and commentators entertained.

You might also remember in my review of Ten Sharp when I told of the story of when a boy who was in my class at school appeared in a feature alongside a WCW wrestler. Well I am fairly sure that it was someone called Johnny B Badd. I couldn’t believe it really, I had seen him on the TV, and there he was actually with him, I don’t know how all of that happened. I remember as well that some people I knew who did have Sky at this time were into the WWF, also having the magazine.

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There was a sign of the popularity in this country when a song by some WWF wrestlers made the Top Ten in 1992, in an attempt to make the Christmas Number One. WCW Worldwide had left ITV by the mid-90s though. By the late-90s, I finally had access to Sky myself, I did often watch the WWF on weekend afternoons, and I also had some of the computer games that were good fun to play.

It was something of a surprise to me then when after a long gap, WCW Worldwide returned to British TV on Channel 5, this time in a Friday evening slot. Although some of the roster had changed in the years since, the basic idea of people having a grapple in an attempt to win various championships was still the same. I feel that I have mostly outgrown all of this kind of thing now, but for a brief moment when I was younger I found it all rather exciting.

More TV Memories – Sunset Beach.

Sunset Beach (NBC, 1997-1999)

Let’s take yet another look back at the early days of Channel 5. Another genre that they had to have as part of their launch schedule in 1997, was a soap. Now they had their own Family Affairs in primetime, but they wanted one in a daytime slot too. Up to this point, most of the soaps imported to the UK had been either Australian, or American primetime. But they decided to introduce us to the rather unusual world of the American daytime soap.

Sunset Beach was set in California, where the sun always seemed to shine whatever time of day it was, and featured the lives of a young and rather attractive cast. Every episode was about an hour long, but the stories were rather far-fetched and ridiculous. Not much had been seen like it on British TV before, and most critics were initially baffled. Even Night And Day was modest compared to this. This was a place where people coming back to life was almost an everyday occurrence really. vlcsnap-00463

There were a wide range of characters, along with some guest appearances by celebrities including Jerry Springer, and to put it politely, the standard of the acting was rather varied most of the time. I must admit that I didn’t see that many episodes of Sunset Beach at the time, what I remember most about the show is the rather long credit sequence, where the continuity announcer would try to make sense of what happened in the episode. vlcsnap-00464

I also remember that they seemed to comment a lot on a character called Meg, who was one of the protagonists. Don’t forget Annie, either, who was great. This was then expanded to feature comments from viewers as well, plus interviews with cast members, and it was rather unusual to hear an announcer being so sarcastic and mocking about a show that had just featured on their channel. None of this was taken rather seriously. vlcsnap-00465

And there was also a fanpage on Channel 5’s Teletext service which featured further information about stories, and comments from viewers. Don’t forget the omnibus on Saturday afternoon either, that was about three hours long. There were 755 episodes of Sunset Beach packed into barely three years, so plenty happened. And all this attracted a cult following, who were very sorry when this came to an end.vlcsnap-00466

Channel 5 then imported Days Of Our Lives which was another American daytime soap for a short while, but this didn’t do as well, so viewers had to do with only Family Affairs, until it was decided to poach Home And Away and Neighbours. There was then a brief repeat run on ITV2 in 2000, followed by another short run on Five (as it was by then) in 2004. I’m sure that most viewers who saw this still wonder if it was all a dream.