More TV Memories – Adrian Mole The Cappuccino Years.

Adrian Mole The Cappuccino Years (BBC1, 2001)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Comedy Vault – The Goodies.

The Goodies (BBC2, 1970-1980, ITV, 1981-1982)

This is one of the longest-running TV sitcoms of its era, and there really has almost been nothing else like it since. The trio that make up The Goodies had previously worked on other comedy shows going back to the mid-60s, including Broaden Your Mind. But it was decided that they should stay together and try doing a new show of their own.

These super chaps three would became affectionately known to viewers as Timmy, Billy, and, er, Graemey. When they weren’t falling off their bike, they were at their HQ and made themselves available to help anyone at any time, whatever the challenge was. It really is difficult to describe most of what happened in the episodes, but this must be the closest that a sitcom has ever come to resembling a cartoon, and you really didn’t know what was going to happen next.

Eventually, this did well enough for there to be an impressive amount of high-profile celebrities who wanted to take part, however embarrassed they might end up looking, and the guest list became something that even Morecambe and Wise would’ve been proud of. This led to the trio doing other things together outside of this sitcom, including books and comics being released, and they also went on to have five hit singles.

Episodes also featured plenty of spoof adverts, which is a thing that always gets my approval. They also continued to work on other projects, including Bill’s CITV show Saturday Banana (did I ever tell you about the Saturday Banana indecent? Maybe I should do that one day). After about a decade of this, it seems that they were eager for a new challenge, so like many other talents before them, they jumped to ITV.

But by this point the idea had started to run out of energy somewhat, and the first series on ITV (and ninth in total) was also the last. Since then they have gone on to work on more projects, who remembers Superted and Beat The Nation now? There were 76 episodes of The Goodies, and about a decade after the end, there was a repeat run on satellite channel UK Gold, although some episodes had been lost in the archive by the point, while some that remained were rather tatty.

There was some frustration at the lack of repeats on BBC2 though, a whole generation had now never seen this. Why don’t those old fuddy-duddy pompous executives give the people what they want? Eventually a few episodes were shown, and a much-heralded DVD release followed. The Goodies is a show that has been documented and celebrated more than most, and holds a unique place in British comedy history.

The YouTube Files – Up Your Arts.

Up Your Arts (Channel 4, 1989?)

Following “Ted Heath” (as he probably would’ve put it himself) of Victor Lewis-Smith late last year, I thought that I would take a look at another of his shows that I found online. He was best-known for being a TV critic in the London Evening Standard on weekdays for many years, and for a short while he had a column in the national Daily Mirror at the weekend too (I often read both of these).

He became known for making rather bad taste jokes, and barely liking any of the shows that he reviewed, often despairing at the state of the industry. I would quote some more of his famous jokes, but you know what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of being an unoriginal thieving bastard (oh no, I’ve done it again!). He also once managed to get on to the cover of Radio Times.

And it could be said that there were some people who didn’t consider the style of humour in his TV and radio comedy shows (including Ads Infinitum and TV Offal) to be the funniest of its era, although even they would have to concede that they were some of the weirdest. This was a one-off that was a spin-off from Club X, a late-night Channel 4 culture show that was so badly received even The Word looked classy by comparison (if you can believe such a thing).

I’m not even sure when this was shown though (possibly around 1989?), maybe in typical VLS style this just randomly turned up in the schedule one night where an episode of Cheers or some such show was expected to be. Now, despite working in the business for so long, he clearly made a very basic mistake. This show was called Up Your Arts, which sounds a lot like “up your arse”, do you think that nobody noticed, how embarrassing!

This was a parody of arts shows, that looked at various subjects, including, opera, the BBC, showbiz, and foreign films. This led to all kinds of unusual moments, including out-of-context interviews with various industry figures, revealing the difference between Bruce Forsyth and Ben Elton, and the idea that Ceefax took a very long time to reach the page that you wanted to look at.

I also noticed that among the cast taking part in the sketches was Denise Black, who would later go on to find fame as Denise Osbourne in Coronation Street, which is a rather big career swerve. I don’t know if Up Your Arts managed to break the barriers of television as was the possible intention, and this was probably watched by about nine people at the time, but it is proof of how VLS really was a one-off.

The Review Of 2022.

I thought that I would do a piece taking a brief look back at what has been achieved on this blog this year. Thankfully, 2022 has been a little less traumatic than the previous two years, and maybe things are almost how they used to be not so long ago. Being able to keep thinking about new ideas for pieces and then compiling them has definitely helped me get through this time.

There isn’t a huge amount left for me to share with you now. I have just about shared all of my memories of various game shows, sitcoms, and the like, making all that time watching TV when I was younger come in useful I hope. And I am currently having a look through some old UK and Australian singles charts to determine if they contain any more stories worth telling.

This blog is not far short of having 500,000 views either, which is great. More pieces will be coming soon, so look out for those. What I want to say as well is wherever you are, thank you for taking the time to look at this blog. I hope that I have brought back some memories for you, and that my enthusiasm for what I write about comes through in the pieces.

And there’s an extra thank you to anybody who has taken the time to reply to pieces, if you want to share your memories or have any additional information, it’ll be great to hear from you. As well as “I remember that show”-type comments, I have even had one or two “I worked on that show” or “I was a contestant on that show”-type comments too, which always pleases me.

I suppose that I would like to conclude for now by saying thanks for your continued support (and thanks for anybody who has looked at what I have contributed to Twitter and YouTube too). It really is great to know that you are out there and take an interest, and that there are now rather a lot of the things that have had an influence on me online for everyone.

I hope that you will have a Happy New Year, and I will be back with more nostalgic memories soon.

The Comedy Vault – Sorry!

Sorry! (BBC1, 1981-1988)

The Two Ronnies was a hugely successful comedy sketch show, but Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett were rather different to the average comedy double-act, because they also worked on a lot of shows individually. Corbett starred in various sitcoms going back to the late-60s, but this is the one that was the most memorable of them.

All of the episodes of Sorry! were written by Ian Davidson and Peter Vincent, who contributed to a huge amount of comedy shows over the years, and I think I’m right in saying that they also wrote some of the “Ronnie in the chair” monologues on The Two Ronnies. Corbett played Timothy Lumsden, who at the start of the first series was 41 (even though he was actually a decade older than this).

He was a librarian who tried to remain cheery, but he became somewhat downtrodden because he still lived with his parents. Unlike his sister Muriel, he is still somewhat dominated by his mother, and he does have the urge to make changes in his life. There were some episodes that followed the usual fare where he tried to get a girlfriend, and he did indeed date a few women, although they turned out to be somewhat sappy.

And then there were some episodes that took some rather unusual twists. Well you would never believe what kind of things that Timothy could mix up, and how much chaos all of this could cause, embarrassment seemed to follow him around. By what turned out to be the final series, Timothy (now 48) met Pippa, who was the one he finally left home with.

And of course, the opening sequence always has to be referenced when looking back at this show, as there was some rather groovy music, accompanied by a bright pink version of Timothy’s head. Well it’s definitely one way to get the attention of viewers. There were 42 episodes of Sorry! in seven series, and all of them have been released on DVD.

I didn’t see too many of the episodes first time around, but I do remember that some of them eventually turned up on Granada Plus in a repeat run many years later. If this does have to be compared with Barker’s work, then maybe this didn’t touch the heights of Porridge and the like, but this was still a more than decent sitcom that was a regular fixture in the schedule throughout the 80s.

The YouTube Files – Sledge Hammer!

Sledge Hammer! (ABC, 1986-1988)

A while ago I was watching some clips online of various ITV regions in the late-80s when they had something that could pass for a proper night-time schedule. I noticed a show that seemed to turn up rather frequently was the American sitcom Sledge Hammer! I decided that I should try and find out more about this, and after tracking down a few episodes to watch, I was rather impressed.

Inspector Sledge Hammer was a rather incompetent policeman, who thought that he was rather macho, and he would shoot first, and ask questions later. Indeed, he was so fond of his gun that he treated it as if it was his best friend. He often spoke to his gun, and it even took pride of place on a pillow in his bed. And when he isn’t suspended, he is challenged to deal with various crimes.

But things often end in chaos, with his “trust me, I know what I’m doing” (yes, that was his catchphrase) not managing to reassure anybody. The other main characters are Dori Doreau, his sidekick who often goes on assignments with him, and her more sensible attitude often comes to the rescue. And there was also Captain Trunk, who couldn’t believe what Hammer got up to, and would often inform him of this.

The first series ended with Hammer having to diffuse a bomb and failing miserably, which was a rather unsettling climax. But when it was decided that there would be a second series, it was announced that this was set five years before the first which concluded with the oblivion of the majority of the USA. This concept was adhered to for about five minutes, but then they just carried on, with many more tense situations for Hammer to show off in.

I was pleased that Sledge Hammer! turned out to fit my type of humour. Whilst probably not hitting the heights of Police Squad!, this is another cop parody sitcom that was very good. It won’t surprise you to learn that one of my favourite episodes featured the game show parody The Million Dollar Question, hosted by Peter Marshall (not to be confused with the Peter Marshall who was a continuity announcer on Thames, and hosted a few game shows himself), where Hammer went undercover to investigate the mysterious death of a successful contestant.

There were 41 episodes of Sledge Hammer! in two series, but none of them have been released on DVD in this country. When this was shown in every ITV region varied, and some episodes were being shown on LWT as late as 1996, a decade on from the first series, but this was always definitely worth staying up late for, and deserves another repeat run.

The Comedy Vault – Drop The Dead Donkey.

Drop The Dead Donkey (Channel 4, 1990-1998)

This is one of the most successful home-made sitcoms in Channel 4’s history, which ran for almost a decade. Drop The Dead Donkey was a satirical sitcom that was created by Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton, who wrote the majority of the episodes, and have worked on various other comedies and dramas that have focussed on politics over the years.

The main setting is the TV company Globelink News (prop. Sir R Merchant), and the people who work there, who are always hoping that they can deliver only the biggest and best news to viewers, eagerly awaiting the telex machine to rattle out the latest updates, or whatever they did in those days. But if it was chaos behind the scenes, then it was certainly no better in front of the camera.

The hosts were as incompetent as anybody else was, often looking into the wrong camera, being virtually inaudible, or somewhat unprofessional, thank goodness news channels aren’t as error-riddled these days?! I can only imagine that the management were tearing their hair out at this chaos, if they had any (management that is, not hair).

As this was a sitcom that was about the world of news and politics, where the various happenings seemingly never ceased to surprise people, scripts were written rather close to transmission, to make sure that they could be as topical as possible (it is probably no surprise that the same production company was also behind Have I Got News For You).

This meant that when there were repeat runs, they were proceeded with short additional introductions that featured newspaper headlines to remind viewers of what exactly was on the agenda that week, as things can’t always be topical, and there was the possibility that we were another two or three Prime Ministers down the line by this point.

And episodes would also end with cast members speaking over the credits about the news too. CITV’s Press Gang also did this, but I’m not sure who came up with the idea first. Drop The Dead Donkey did well with viewers, and a film version was planned in the mid-90s, but didn’t get too far, although there was a novel which contained a further exploration of the new familiar characters. And a Bafta award was won as well.

There were 65 episodes of Drop The Dead Donkey in six series (including a couple of short specials for Children In Need in the mid-90s), and they all been released on DVD. I don’t recall there being too many repeat runs on any channels in more recent years, although it has to be remembered that some of the episodes are now over three decades old.

The Comedy Vault – As Time Goes By.

As Time Goes By (BBC1, 1992-2002, 2005)

This is a sitcom that ended up running for over a decade, usually being shown in the Sunday evening slot, and always seemingly being followed by Antiques Roadshow (I suppose that even now when I hear the theme music I think this will be shown next, or that it’s time for a bath), but this definitely found a durable formula with viewers.

The idea is that Lionel is someone who has returned to England after working in Kenya for many years, and he now wishes to write his memoirs. Whilst trying to organise this, he decides to hire a secretary, and he soon discovers that he is already familiar with her mother Jean. They had been rather fond of each other many years ago, but hadn’t been in contact for 38 years by this point.

When a name from the distant past unexpectedly walks back into your life, can you take a second chance, with the benefit of being older and wiser? It is fair to say that the on-off romance between Jean and Lionel continued to the point where viewers were very keen to follow the situation, and hoped that they would come to the right decision and eventually marry.

Other regular characters included Lionel’s literary agent Alistair, who he always had trouble with, and various other family members and friends who had complicated love lives too. But what really made As Time Goes By stand out were the main cast members. Even though they were having successful award-winning film careers by this point, they always managed to add a touch of class to the sitcom genre.

Jean was played by Judi Dench, and Lionel by Geoffrey Palmer. And well, I always felt that Palmer was worth watching because he had a terrific voice, and by this point he had long-since perfected his curmudgeonly but charming style. Whether it was in other sitcoms like Butterflies or Fairly Secret Army, you couldn’t go wrong him really (let’s not think about those “Slam In The Lamb” adverts for now though).

And all of the episodes were written by Bob Larbey, who by this point was something of a comedy veteran. There were 67 episodes of As Time Goes By in nine series, they have all been released on DVD and are still repeated fairly frequently. There were also three series on BBC Radio 2 in the late-90s that continued the story. After the end in 2002, a few years later there some reunion specials in the Only Fools And Horses-style where things were finished off for good.

The Comedy Vault – Malcolm In The Middle.

Malcolm In The Middle (Fox, 2000-2006)

This is another American sitcom that I must admit I haven’t watched a huge amount over the years, but I am definitely aware that this is considered to be one of the most popular (and indeed funniest) of its era. The main character is Malcolm (not to be confused with that weird puppet thing on that game show that I reviewed recently).

He is “in the middle” because he lives with his parents Hal and Lois, and two of his brothers, Reece is older than him, and Dewey is younger (his other older brother Francis is away). Malcolm is a rather bright boy, with an IQ that is well above-average, but he doesn’t always find school to be an easy experience. His only real friend is Stevie, who helps him along the way.

But despite is supposed cleverness, when he is at home, he squabbles with his brothers just as much as any other family does. His parents often have trouble keeping everything under control, including his short-tempered mother who works at a department store. Malcolm sometimes can’t help but wonder what life is all about, and reflects on his situations in pieces straight to camera.

As the series progressed, more attention is made to the aging of the children than there is in most sitcoms. Malcolm entered his teenage years, Francis got married, and Lois eventually gave birth once again, bringing a fifth son into the family. Malcolm didn’t consider his parents to be fairly odd though, because that was another show. This was definitely a step above the “everybody in my family is crazy”-type sitcoms that there have been so many of.

There were 151 episodes of Malcolm In The Middle in seven series, and they have all been released on DVD. This was first shown in this country on Sky One, but really took off when episodes were shown on BBC2, often shown after The Simpsons, to create a rather satisfying double-bill. In more recent years, there have been repeat runs on various other channels.

The theme music “Boss Of Me” was provided by They Might Be Giants, and this also became a hit single, making this the first time that they had been on the UK chart for over a decade. There was also a memorable parody in Family Guy, even accounting for the fact that they have now parodied just about every other show on TV, this one still managed to stand out. I’m talking to you!

The Comedy Vault – Brush Strokes.

Brush Strokes (BBC1, 1986-1991)

This is another sitcom that was rather popular with viewers throughout the late-80s, and going into the early-90s. All of the episodes of Brush Strokes were written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, who had already proven their comedy credentials by being behind such successes as Please Sir!, The Good Life, and Ever Decreasing Circles.

The main character was Jacko, who was played by Karl “you shouldn’t be scrubbing at your age, auntie!” Howman (who had previously appeared in the Esmonde and Larbey sitcom Get Some In!). Jacko was a painter and decorator who lived in London, and he managed to take being a “cheeky chappy” to new levels. He liked to flirt with the women whose houses he was working in, often to the point that he would start to date them, or ever consider marrying them.

His boss Lionel was rather grumpy, and along with his wife Veronica, they didn’t seem to realise that he was rather fond of their daughter Lesley, and secretary Sandra as well. Life at home consists of living with his sister Jean, and her husband Eric, who was his friend and work colleague as well as his brother-in-law (Eric was played by Mike Walling, who wrote episodes of various sitcoms himself including Birds Of A Feather, The Brittas Empire, and the mighty Not With A Bang).

The other main character is Elmo (not the one from Sesame Street), a rather dense individual who runs the pub that Jacko often visits (Elmo was played by Howard Lew Lewis, who also appeared in Maid Marian And Her Merry Men, and occasionally as a bumpkin-type on Noel’s House Party). By the later series, Jacko has made himself a few pounds, and launches his own business called Splosh. This meant that he would often answer the phone with a cheery “good morning, Splosh!”.

Elmo went up in the world too, and he turned his pub into a rather horrid bright pink wine bar, but Jacko remained a valued customer. Most episodes ended with Jacko finishing off painting a wall accompanied by the theme music “Because Of You” by Dexys Midnight Runners (which was also their final UK Top 40 hit single), and somehow was always rather relaxing to watch.

There were 40 episodes of Brush Strokes in five series, and they have all been released on DVD. There have been some repeats in recent years too. A year after this ended, Howman went on to star in yet another Esmonde and Larbey sitcom, which was Mulberry. I must admit that I have no memory of watching this though. I do remember watching in him Babes In The Wood though…