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 Comedy Vault – Never The Twain.

Never The Twain (ITV, 1981-1991)

ITV has always found it rather difficult to produce long-running sitcoms, when compared to the BBC, who have had several. But this is one of the few ITV sitcoms that did seem to come back year after year. Never The Twain centred on the rivalry between Simon Peel and Oliver Smallbridge. They used to work together in the antiques business, but then they went on to work individually.

But the reasons that they have to stay in contact with each other are firstly because they are next door neighbours, and in the first series, Simon’s son reveals his intentions of marrying Oliver’s daughter, and you can imagine how well that goes down (they later have a child together). They continue to run an antiques shop on their own, and naturally Simon thinks he offers far superior items to anything that Oliver’s has to offer.

But Oliver isn’t helped by the rather useless shop assistant Ringo, who partly seemed to be there so that customers could do a “you look different from when you were in The Beatles” joke in every other episode. This means that Simon and Oliver end up wanting to compete against each other in everything that they do, way beyond the world of antiques, and there were a huge amount of putdowns along the way.

But what really lifted Never The Twain into being a durable and watchable sitcom was that the lead roles were played by Donald Sinden and Windsor Davies, two celebrated actors who made performing in a comedy show look easy and fun (and it helped that they both had lovely voices too), and they were trusted enough to keep the idea going long into the “blimey, is that still going?” point with viewers.

There were 67 episodes of Never The Twain in 11 series, and so many variations on the rivalry were explored, that by the final series Simon and Oliver were competing with each other to get satellite TV first. All of the episodes have been released on DVD, and there have also been repeat runs on various channels including UK Gold and ITV3, which definitely brought back some memories.

More TV Memories – The Chart Show 1996 Special.

The Chart Show 1996 Special (ITV, 1996)

This is the end of year special of The Chart Show that was shown on 28 December 1996, taking a look back at the biggest hits of the year. This was the first special after the big relaunch in May, and I found some of the graphics and sounds (“music” might not be the right word in this case) rather eerie at times. This was also sponsored by Twix in some of the most blatant product placement that I have ever seen. I wonder how they got away with their name appearing so big in the opening and closing sequences?

I think that this was the final edition to be sponsored by Twix after about 3½ years too. The first of the awards is Best Solo Artist, which is won by Louise, who had left Eternal the previous year, and she would go on to have hits on her own for a while yet. Also featuring throughout is Star Choice, where various pop stars reveal their favourite videos of the year (as part of the 1996 relaunch, brief interviews would be featured).

Then we have the Top Ten of The Best Videos Of The Year (this had been done as a Top Ten since the 1993 special). This just seems to be calculated by a few votes by the production team in the office (a more thorough poll was taken for the 1997 special when viewers were invited to vote via email). Among those played are “Something For The Weekend” by The Divine Comedy, “Everything Must Go” by Manic Street Preachers, and “The Day We Caught The Train” by Ocean Colour Scene.

But the winner, and seemingly by some margin, is “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai. Next is Best Indie Video, although there are no equivalents for Rock and Dance curiously. The winner is “On A Rope” by Rocket From The Crypt. Then, there are more Star Choices. Next is Best New Act, which inevitably goes to Spice Girls. Even though they only came on to the scene in July, they dominated the pop music scene in 1996, even by this point they seemed to be everywhere.

After another Star Choice, it’s The Worst Video Of The Year, which goes to “I Am A Clown” by Peter Ebdon, the snooker player’s attempt at pop stardom. Then it’s The Biggest Singles Of 1996, which is a Top 20, instead of the usual Top Ten. I don’t know how this was calculated though, as the official chart wasn’t usually used. Played are “Fastlove” By George Michael, and “Cecelia” by Suggs, one of the more unlikely big successes of the year.

Then there are some more Star Choices, including the bloke from Dodgy, who chooses his own song, how great. And finally, Ant And Dec reveal their fondness for The Presidents Of The United States Of America. On we go into the Top Ten of the biggest singles, and played are “Three Lions” by The Lightning Seeds, “Mysterious Girl” by Peter Andre (eventually a chart-topper in 2004, it’s a long story), “Killing Me Softly” by The Fugees, and “Wannabe”, by Spice Girls.

It seems rather unlikely that anybody could’ve outsold that one, but it seems that they did, and the winner, by a rather small margin, is “Return Of The Mack” by Mark Morrison. And we end with a Sneak Preview of a video that’s sure to be a hit in 1997, and it’s by East 17. This turned out to be their final hit single with this line-up, as although they didn’t know it yet they were rather spectacularly about to split, but that’s a story for another year…

More TV Memories – True Love.

True Love (ITV, 1996)

A while ago I looked back at the ITV 90s sitcom My Wonderful Life, which has gone on to be one of the most-viewed pieces on this blog, and it is interesting to know what shows people want to find out more about to bring back memories. But this actually started out as a one-off hour-long comedy-drama called True Love, so I thought that I might as well review this too.

The writer was Simon Nye (best-known for creating Men Behaving Badly), and the producer was Brian Park, who went on to ruin Coronation Street (only kidding?!). This was rather different to what would become My Wonderful Life. The main characters Donna (Emma Wray) and Phil (Philip Glenister), did feature, but none of the other regular cast members did.

This meant that we were yet to meet some of Donna’s colleagues including Lawrie, Roger, and Bridget, or the neighbours Marina and Alan. The episode starts with Donna and Phil as they were going through a divorce. We then see how they are coping after going their separate ways. Donna is a nurse at a run-down hospital, while Phil has some work as a cab driver.

This has all been rather tough on Donna, and the two children, and she realises that she has the opportunity to try something different. She then meets Chris, and considers moving to a different part of the country with him. But of course, she soon discovers that despite his uselessness, she does still have some feelings for Phil, and she makes a surprise last-minute decision to stay with him.

It was realised that this idea did have some potential to be explored further, which turned out to be a good move, and just over a year later, the first series of My Wonderful Life launched. This was one of only two major TV roles for Emma Wray (the other being sitcom Watching), and she just about left the business after this ended in 1999 which was a shame because she was great.

More TV Memories – An Audience With…

An Audience With… (ITV/Channel 4, 1980-present)

This is possibly the ultimate LWT light entertainment studio audience laughter turned up too loud show, being unashamedly showbiz, and this unsurprisingly ended up being very popular with viewers. An Audience With… is an occasional series, usually consisting of editions that are an hour long, that originally only featured comedians.

They would perform some of their most famous material to a specially invited audiences of friends and celebrities. There was also the opportunity for some of them to ask questions, although these exchanges were usually scripted in advance. This also results in there being too many shots of audience members, usually conveniently caught in hysterics.

There are some significant moments in this show’s history. In 1980, there was the first edition with Dame Edna Everage. And in 1988, Dame Edna became the first and to date only personality to have had three shows. In 1993, Les Dawson died shortly before he was due to feature. Curiously, about two decades later, this show actually went ahead as The An Audience With That Never Was.

Relatives and friends reflected on his career, and then they attended a show featuring archive footage of Dawson’s jokes. In 1994, Bob Monkhouse featured, and this gave his career something of a boost, as he reminded viewers of his skills as a comedian. In 1995, shows starring musicians featured for the first time. And in 1996, Carlton launched the almost identical An Evening With… which ran for just two editions.

As the years went by though, the celebrity audiences seemed to mostly consist of only Coronation Street and Emmerdale cast members, along with the contestants from the most recent series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, and An Audience With Coronation Street wasn’t a highpoint really, but this was where ITV happened to be at this time.

There have also been best-ofs and documentaries that looked back at some of the highlights, at least one edition has been shown live, and several have also been frequently repeated. There have now been over 50 editions of An Audience With… and although there has only been about one in the past decade, I’m fairly sure that this is still an active show, so there could be more chances to almost burst with laughter one day.

More TV Memories – The ITV Chart Show 1989 Special.

The ITV Chart Show 1989 Special (ITV, 1989)

At the end of every year (with the exception of 1994 curiously), there was a special edition of The Chart Show, where they would take a look back at some of the biggest hits and videos of the year. These were also interesting because there were some features and graphics and didn’t appear in the regular weekly editions. This is the special that was shown on 30 December 1989

Part 1 will include the grooviest Dance singles, and the Indie chart too. First though is the Best New Act, which is introduced by some spinning top graphics that I don’t remember seeing before or since. The winners are The Beautiful South, who were just ahead of Shakespears Sister (!) and Gun, who would go on to have a Top Ten hit after five years later.

Now it’s the Dance chart. Soul II Soul feature rather a lot and “Back To Life” is played, but Number One is “Voodoo Ray” by A Guy Called Gerard. We are told that before his fame he used to work in McDonald’s on Saturday, and he probably went back there afterwards, ha-ha. Then there’s a Sneak Preview of some of the videos that will be shown in full at the start of 1990, including And Why Not.

Next is the Indie chart, which is rather full of singles by The Stone Roses. But top though is “Joe” by Inspiral Carpets. Then there’s Best Foreign Video, won by Malcolm McLaren (how is he foreign?). It’s really great. Now on to part 2… The top rockers are coming, but first it’s The Funniest Video Of The Year, which is the Comic Relief cover of “Help”, incorrectly credited to “Bananarama/French & Saunders”. This also reminds me that when Siobhan left, she was replaced by Kathy Burke.

Next is the Rock chart, which is my least favourite of the three regulars, but the chart-topper is “One” by Metallica. Next is Best Solo Artist, who is Lisa Stansfield. Lisa had already been on the music scene for years, but she finally hit the big time in ’89. Then there are some more Sneak Previews, I imagine that “Sinead O’Conner” could be on to a winner with her new song.

Then it’s time for The Worst Video Of The Year, still using the same graphic from the first special in 1986 oddly (but with the year changed of course). The winner is Edelweiss with “I Can’t Get No”. This wasn’t a hit, and this is indeed rather terrible. They beat off some impressive competition to win as well, including The Village People, and Jack And Vera Duckworth. Now here’s part 3…

It’s the Top Ten of the year. Who’ll win? Is it Jason Donovan? Is it Milli Vanilli? Is it Jive Bunny? They all came close, but the Number One is “Ride On Time” by Black Box. And finally, it’s The Best Video Of The Year, which is “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals, and was first shown in full on the first edition of the year. I’m fairly sure that the director was also behind “True Faith” by New Order, who won this award in 1987. Runners-up were “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” and “Like A Prayer”. What a year!

The YouTube Files – The Smiths.

The Smiths (ITV, 1995)

This is another very short-lived ITV sitcom that I noticed was on YouTube recently (credit goes to the uploader “Appropriated Subdiffusion”). In 1993, ITV launched a series called Comedy Playhouse, where eight sitcom pilot episodes were tried out (The 10%ers and Brighton Belles went to a full series that weren’t hugely acclaimed, but Once In A Lifetime, one of the highlights for me, went no further).

Then two years later in 1995, ITV launched a similar series called Comedy Firsts, featuring six more pilot episodes, five being sitcoms, and one a sketch show (Barbara went to a full series and ran for almost eight years, being fairly successful, although Sometime, Never ran for only one series). But this one got no further than its pilot.

This is a sitcom that featured some of that Merseyside humour. The Smiths (nothing to do with the 80s band of course) featured a family consisting of parents Clive and Carol, and their teenage children Wayne and Debbie. The episode began with them in their car and their rather tuneless performance of “Swords Of A Thousand Men” by Tenpole Tudor.

Along with the main cast members, who were played by Kevin McNally and Rebecca Lacey, there were a few other familiar names in the cast. One was Geoffrey Hughes, who appeared in lots of other shows including Coronation Street, Keeping Up Appearances, and The Royle Family. I also remember being told about an odd moment from when he was a on a celebrity special of Telly Addicts.

When he was asked something like “what is the name of this children’s TV character?”, he said “scraggy doll”, even though no such thing seemingly exists, what was he thinking. Also appearing was Sonia Evans, who was a chart-topping pop star in the 80s, and was now an actress, going on to appear in BBC1’s The Lily Savage Show, and she describes her personality as “Liverpool” (oh no, that was a parody sketch in French And Saunders).

Oh, and Rowland Rivron was in this too. As for the actual plot, Clive and Carol like to have their intimate moments in their car, but after being repaired, it is bought by a passer-by, so now they have to use their garden shed instead. Would The Smiths become the latest zany family TV comedy stars? No, not really, there was only one episode, and they were never seen again.

This style of humour had already been well explored in sitcoms including The Liver Birds, Bread, and Watching. And this also had one of the harshest reviews in the Radio Times Guide To TV Comedy book. Although this could apply to other shows, we were informed that this unusually was produced “without an audience (either this or there was one but they found nothing to laugh at)”. And people wonder why ITV were falling so far behind the BBC at making decent sitcoms.

Game Show Memories – The 1% Club.

The 1% Club (ITV, 2022-present)

I thought for a change that I would look back at some of my game show highlights of the year so far. One of the things that attracted me to The 1% Club was that the host was Lee Mack. Now I have enjoyed a lot of his comedy shows over the years, and he has also featured in a few comedy panel games, but this is the first time that he has really hosted a game show with people playing for prizes.

100 contestants take part, who all start with £1,000. There has been a survey of the public, and how many people got the questions right has helped to calculate their difficulty. But they weren’t general knowledge questions, they were (mostly multiple-choice) logic questions like “what comes next in this sequence?”. This is something of a cross between Whittle (hosted by Lee’s mate Tim Vine) and Test The Nation.

The first question was got right by 90% of the poll. Contestants are then given about 30 seconds to choose their answer. Whoever gets it wrong is eliminated, their £1,000 goes into the prize fund, and they can also receive a mild ribbing from Lee. Their light also turns blue, so it’s odd seeing him talk to someone who appears to have changed colour.

Whoever gets it right though progresses to the next question, which was got right by a smaller percentage of the poll, and is supposedly more difficult. The questions are well balanced enough that a huge amount of people aren’t eliminated at an early stage, or Lee would end up having to fill rather a lot of time. By the halfway stage of the game, there are some twists.

Contestants can pass on one question, although they will lose their £1,000. And at one stage they can take their money, although they will be eliminated from the game. As the questions do get rather hard, the tension mounts, and few remain, Lee adopts a slightly more serious tone, as it is clear that these people do know their stuff. If there is anybody remaining by the time of the final question that just 1% of the poll knew, then they have a few options.

They can either not play the question, and take a guaranteed £10,000. Or they can play the question for the prize fund (although if more than one contestant gets this right, the money is shared). But if they do get this question correct, as well as the money, they have the honour of joining The 1% Club, which is very elite and only accepts the smartest people around. This all did rather well in its Saturday Night slot, and the forthcoming second series should be equally enjoyable.

More TV Memories – The Weekend Show.

The Weekend Show (ITV, 1997-1998)

Rather a long time ago now, as part of my Saturday Morning Memories series, I looked back at CITV’s The Noise, and said about how surprised I was to see Andi Peters host another Saturday morning show, fairly shortly after his departure from CBBC’s Live & Kicking. His co-host was Emma Forbes, who also around this time hosted shows on ITV including Good Stuff and Talking Telephone Numbers.

But did you know that not long after Live & Kicking Andi and Emma went on to host another show together? Just like The Totally Friday Show that I reviewed recently, The Weekend Show was another live show in the LWT region on Fridays (produced by London News Network) that aimed to get weekends off to a lively start. There doesn’t seem to be much about this one online, so it’s time for me to fill the gap.

This was sponsored by Thorpe Park, and the opening sequence was rather memorable. This was partly because the theme was an extended version of the LWT ident jingle that was introduced in 1996. Every week this would come from a different location in the region, and featured the usual mix of celebrity guests, competitions, and so on.

And well, this was yet another show where pop groups could turn up to get on the TV and perform their latest single in front of some fans, that’s if they didn’t mind being interviewed by Andi afterwards! Another interesting thing about The Weekend Show was that this would be shown in two parts. The first was from 5:10-5:35, which was followed by London Weekend Tonight and ITN Early Evening News.

Then at 6pm there would be Home And Away (and they did seem to insist that this was an actual feature on the show), with the second part following from 6:25-7pm. Andi would get fairly stroppy if we missed the first part for whatever reason. The Weekend Show would run for a year or two, usually around the summer, and maybe it was an attempt at a The Big Breakfast-style show.

I can’t recall Andi’s old mate Edd The Duck ever turning up though, which was disappointing. Andi was also credited as the co-series producer, and after this ended, he went on to work more behind the scenes, including being involved in Channel 4’s T4 strand that was aimed at teenagers, and he then went on to ruin Top Of The Pops. Well I’m sorry, but he did.

More TV Memories – The Totally Friday Show.

The Totally Friday Show (ITV, 1996-1997)

It is hard to believe that regional ITV ended almost 20 years ago now (well sort of, the names of most regions were around until 2004, and there was still plenty of regional programming until about 2005). Over the years, there were many attempts by LWT to feature a live “let’s start the weekend in style”-type show on a Friday, and these including The 6 O’Clock Show and 6 O’Clock Live.

And this is an example of one from the late-90s, that was aimed at younger viewers. The memory is a little vague on this one, but the idea behind The Totally Friday Show, it says here, was “children’s series offering ideas on how to fill your spare time”. This was produced by London News Network, which was also behind Carlton and LWT’s main news show London Tonight.

Among the hosts was Sonya Saul, who had featured as an entertainment reporter on London Tonight, and I didn’t realise at the time that she had actually been on TV going back to the 80s as one of the hosts of CITV’s computers show Video And Chips. One feature was having various pop stars perform their new single in the studio, and they seemed to be anybody who was keen to appear really.

They ranged from Spice Girls (who went on to conquer the pop music world) to Speedy (who, er, didn’t). There is one rather unusual moment that I’m fairly sure happened on this show, but anyone is welcome to confirm or deny this. Let Loose were a group who were tipped to be big in the mid-90s. After about a year on the scene, they finally had a big hit with “Crazy For You” (although this had to be re-released a few times first).

They went on to have further hits, and performed one of them on this show. I’m not sure what happened because I was only half-looking, but afterwards they took some questions from some children who were in the studio. One asked “what was the most embarrassing moment of your career?” (they always seem to ask that don’t they, they never ask anyone what the highlight was).

The singer said “er, I think it happened about ten minutes ago actually”. I think they missed their cue or had some microphone trouble, something like that, there’s live TV for you. I don’t recall seeing them much after this, hopefully they’ve recovered from the embarrassment now. Along with The Totally Friday Show, also around this time LWT tried a similar idea with The Weekend Show, and I’ll review that soon too.