More TV Memories – Shortland Street.

Shortland Street (TVNZ, 1992-present)

Recently I was thinking again about the time when Australian soaps swamped the daytime schedules of some channels throughout the 90s, and that’s because they were rather popular. This is another one that was imported to the UK, but this is actually from New Zealand, and is as far as I know, the only soap from that country ever to be shown here.

Shortland Street is set at a hospital in Auckland, and the episodes centre around the lives of the staff, when they are at work, and when they are not, which we soon realise can be just as traumatic, which always seems to happen. I must admit that I didn’t watch this too much, but when I took a look at the list of past and present regular cast members, I couldn’t help but notice something.

A lot of them had also featured in The Tribe, another New Zealand series which as you might know was one of my favourite TV shows from this era. People have noted how many actors have gone on to appear in multiple Australian soaps. I suppose in this case, they started their acting careers as children playing the patients, and then after The Tribe ended, they returned as adults to play the doctors.

There were also episodes that contained cliffhangers that really are worthy of the word “spectacular”. Shortland Street has been shown in various countries around the world, but the scheduling in this country was rather erratic to say the least, varying rather wildly from region to region. Some ITV regions showed episodes as early as 1993, but they could never commit to five episodes a week (like this is in New Zealand), and the timeslots changed a lot.

In the Carlton region, I’m fairly sure that this was shown for a short while, before being dropped. And then, a few years on, Carlton decided to begin another run. They even went to the trouble of making a special episode, where two of the main cast members explained what had been happening in the years since. And then, not long after, Carlton dropped this again, which seemed an unfair move even by their standards. I don’t think the theme music was even released as a single.

But by 2003, with the amount of regional daytime slots dwindling, a decade on from first being shown in this country, Shortland Street left the screen. But not long after, this was picked up by satellite channel Living, for another rather short run. But Shortland Street continues in New Zealand. There have now been almost 8,000 episodes, and after three decades, this has been established as one of the longest-running and most-popular TV shows in that country.

More TV Memories – The Bill.

The Bill (ITV, 1984-2010)

I don’t usually review what can be considered to be straightforward drama series (with the exception of some soaps, and one of two others), because this isn’t my favourite TV genre. But as this was a long-running series that plenty of people will be familiar with, and even I was a regular viewer for a while, I thought that I might as well do a review.

The Bill is a series all about the police force that started out as a rather hard-hitting one-off called Woodentop. The decision was then made for there to be a full series, which would usually be shown once or twice a week. This was set in the fictional area of Sun Hill, but once again, as seems to happen with so many TV shows, I believe that this is supposed to be not too far away from where I live in London, that might not be something to be too proud of.

And of course, there was a rather large cast that changed a lot, but the various constables, sergeants, detectives and the like soon became familiar to viewers. To pick one out as an example, there was the corrupt officer played by Steven Hartley, who had previously appeared in EastEnders and Married… With Children, and he went on to be the booming voice of just about every trail on radio station TalkSport.

And that’s the thing about The Bill really. As this was shown rather frequently, there would be a lot of things covered in the space of an average year, and although some critics claimed that this was “conveyor belt drama”, there’s no better way to try and give your acting career a boost by standing in the background of an episode, or if you’re really lucky, you could even have some dialogue.

This could lead to better things, one day you might even appear in the background of an episode of EastEnders too, and what can be better than that. Episodes also varied between being half-an-hour and an hour, and there was a brief period when this was extended to three episodes a week, but curiously all of this didn’t really fit on a Saturday night, and didn’t last long in that timeslot.

As the years went by, there were some ambitious ideas, and every new series seemed to promise to be grittier than the last, but there’s only so far that you can end up going, and after about 25 years, the station was finally closed down and left the screen. And about after five minutes after the final episode ended, there were the first rumours of a revival, but this still hasn’t happened.

Some of the earlier episodes have been released on DVD, and there were some spin-off series too. There was a repeat run on UK Gold, and more recently on Drama, which started a repeat run from the beginning, although this was soon abandoned, and they just jumped to the point of the episodes that they have already repeated several times over anyway.

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.

Game Show Memories – Top Of The World.

Top Of The World (ITV, 1982)

This is another game show that I don’t remember watching at the time of course, but I have seen an edition online, and I thought that the idea was rather interesting and ambitious. The host of Top Of The World was Eamonn Andrews, best-known to viewers from This Is Your Life. Three contestants took part, and the twist is that they were all in different continents.

One was in the UK, one was in the USA, and one was in Australia, but they were all able to compete against each other thanks to the latest satellite technology (and I presume that this was shown in all these countries too, not just the UK). In the first round, there are nine questions asked about the three countries for one point each, all the contestants have three questions.

Round two featured specialist subject questions that were asked for about two minutes for two points each. In the final round, which lasted about four minutes, there were general knowledge questions on the buzzer, with three points for a correct answer, and three deducted for an incorrect one. They had to try and work their way around the inevitable time delay though.

The highest-scorer became the defending champion, and went on to play other contestants. And in round two, they were asked general knowledge questions instead of specialist subject ones. Whoever won the most games for their respective countries would return for the grand final, which was held in the UK, with the US and Australian contestants being flown over to take part in person.

This was determined to be a rather fancy occasion, with the overall series winner receiving what was hoped to the ultimate accolade of not just being the quiz champion of this country, but of the entire world, although it seems that most people thought that was an exaggeration. The champion turned out to be from the UK, and received a very special prize.

This was a rather valuable vintage Rolls-Royce car, which was presented by the director of Thames Television. This really was “The World’s Top Prize”. However, Top Of The World didn’t return for another series, because it seemed that they couldn’t really expand on this idea, unless they wanted to launch to quest for the quiz champion of the entire universe, although they might’ve had some trouble finding anybody from other planets to take part.

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.

More TV Memories – The Two Of Us.

The Two Of Us (ITV, 1986-1990)

This is another rather successful sitcom that was on ITV in the 80s, before the 90s came along, and they began to struggle to find a winning comedy formula. Even by this point, Nicholas Lyndhurst had been established as a big name in comedy after appearing in Only Fools And Horses for about five years, and he went on to star in this sitcom as well.

The Two Of Us (not to be confused with a short-lived American sitcom that was shown on ITV in the mid-80s) starred Lyndhurst as Ashley, who was a computer programmer (what an 80s occupation that is). If the late-80s was a time of excess, he was hoping to get some himself. He was rather fond of Elaine, and his aim was to get married and spend the rest of his life with her. But that wasn’t her aim, well not at this time in her life at least.

She wanted to do various other things and didn’t want to settle down and have children. Most of the episodes consisted of Ashley aiming to get a little closer to Elaine and hope she’ll see what things are like from his side, meaning that this was another one of those sitcoms where a constant “will they-won’t they” gently simmered away in everything that happened.

Other regular characters included Ashley’s granddad and friend, who he often turned to for advice, along with his parents, who weren’t really that keen on Elaine. This carried on until the fourth and final series when, well… they did it. Get married that is, in an extended episode, where it finally seemed that the time was right for them, and this must’ve pleased many a regular viewer.

And then it seemed that Elaine could be pregnant, and the happy family is finally beginning to happen, although this turned out to be the final episode. There were 32 episodes of The Two Of Us in four series, but not all of them have been released on DVD. This was popular enough for there to be an hour-long Christmas special, and there were some TV Times covers too.

Lyndhurst taking part definitely helped things go well, and shortly after this ended, he went into The Piglet Files, another sitcom produced by LWT. There were also some repeat runs on Granada Plus a while ago, but I can’t recall there ever being any on ITV3 in more recent years though. I wonder if they are still together all these years later…

The Comedy Vault – Shelley.

Shelley (ITV, 1979-1984, 1989-1992)/The Return Of Shelley (ITV, 1988)

This is one of the most successful ITV sitcoms of its era, running for over a decade, and several series. Although there were other cast members who came and went over the years, Shelley centred around wily Londoner James Shelley, played by Hywel Bennett. This was someone who was rather downbeat, he struggled to find work, and often managed to get through his difficult situations by wittily musing on life.

Every setback that he faced was met with some rather barbed comments, as he tried to carry on, even though he was never sure where he was going to go next. But not everything for him is dull of course. He eventually gets married to Francine, and they have a daughter together. But after having enough of his idling, Francine eventually walked out, and it was at this point that he realised he really had to do something different.

So he decided to travel around the world, bringing the sixth, and what seemed to be final, series to a close. But five years later, he finally came home, meaning that the seventh series was retitled The Return Of Shelley. A lot might’ve changed since then, but somehow, he hasn’t, despite being older. And as he was readjusting to life in Britain, he met a new group of people, who once again were on the receiving end of many a sarcastic putdown.

His ex-wife and daughter had long since moved to Canada. Who’ll return his library books and do his laundry now? Shelley launched in 1979, but the first series was suddenly curtailed because of the epic ITV strike. This meant that viewers didn’t really get the chance to know his quirks until the second series. And just like Never The Twain, another production by Thames, this seemed to be guaranteed to return year after year, finally ending in 1992.

Shelley was created by Peter Tilbury, who also wrote several episodes. After he moved on to work on other sitcoms, the majority were written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, who had proved that they were able to make satirical observations, as they were also behind the successful Channel 4 sitcom Drop The Dead Donkey. I must admit that I only really remember watching some of the later episodes, but there’s little doubt that this always good value.

There were 71 episodes of Shelley in ten series, and all of them have been released on DVD. I don’t recall any ever being repeated on ITV3 though, with so many episodes available, you would’ve thought that they could easily fill an afternoon or two with them. Five years after the end of the TV version, there was one more series on BBC Radio 2 in 1997, although this featured a different cast.

The Comedy Vault – The New Statesman.

The New Statesman (ITV, 1987-1992)/A B’Stard Exposed (BBC1, 1994)

This is definitely considered to be one of the better ITV sitcoms of its era. By the late-80s, Rik Mayall had established himself as one of the leading names in British comedy. And now having finally left the likes of The Young Ones behind, he wanted a new challenge, and he ended up playing another rather remarkable sitcom character.

The New Statesman (not to be confused with an earlier BBC2 sitcom that starred Windsor Davies) was created and mostly written by Marks and Gran, the double-act who would go on to score many other sitcom hits including Birds Of A Feather. Mayall starred as Alan B’Stard, who at the 1987 General Election not only becomes an MP, but he also has the biggest majority in the House Of Commons.

But he was unlike most other politicians, being greedy and nasty on a huge scale. He soon takes the opportunity to do everything that he can to further his profile, always putting himself first. Several other politicians and colleagues get caught up in his schemes, and he also flirted with just about every woman that he meets, which is something of a concern to his wife.

The New Statesman was shown by ITV in the 10pm on Sunday slot, where the likes of Spitting Image would usually be, and this equally satirical show became popular enough to be associated with the excesses of the era. Along with the four series, there was a feature-length special, and the final edition was on BBC1 and titled A B’Stard Exposed, where the MP turned interviewer Brian Walden met the man himself to look back on his spectacularly sleazy career.

This also won a Bafta, and all of the episodes have been released on DVD too. After a break, the idea was revived as a stage show, with Mayall again taking the lead role, and he also went on to play a similarly devious character in Believe Nothing, another Marks and Gran ITV sitcom (that I reviewed a while back), but this one made little impact with viewers by comparison.

And after that, there was a series on ITV where every week there was a short documentary looking back at a classic sitcom (not that they had many to choose from), followed by an episode from the archive. The New Statesman was one of these, and viewers enjoyed seeing this again. Overall this did do well, but B’Stard was an exaggerated character, and a lot has changed since then, you wouldn’t really find any MPs doing anything like him now, would you…?

More TV Memories – Only Joking.

Only Joking (ITV, 1992)

This is yet another show that I watched many years ago now, and there isn’t really a huge amount about this online. Was Only Joking a comedy game show, a variety show, or a complete mess? Well it was probably all of these really. But the reason that this is significant is because this was the first time that I remember seeing Bradley Walsh.

He had appeared on TV before this though, including doing his comedy routine on shows like Des O’Connor Tonight and Cannon And Ball’s Casino, and as early as 1989 he hosted the ITV game show You Must Be Joking, which also featured Shane Richie and his mullet as one of the regular panellists (and this isn’t to be confused with his later BBC1 comedy sketch show You Gotta Be Jokin’). The idea of Only Joking, if you really want to know, was that people from across the country were encouraged to tell some funny jokes. And joke-telling families also competed against the clock.

I think there was some sort of trophy for the funniest. One of the resident comedians was Dave Lee. Now I do have a vague memory that a long time ago my sister was in the audience for one of those live variety shows from The Palladium or some such place, and he was on the bill, and afterwards, he gave her his autograph, how nice. There was also an outtake that appeared on a lot of shows, where a boy said something rude and Bradley’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.

One problem with Only Joking though was that, similar to the You’ve Been Framed!/Caught In The Act situation that happened earlier in the year, there was a show on BBC1 called Joker In The Pack around the same that had an almost identical idea. And there was only one series, which I think was shown in a Saturday early evening slot. But t seems that after a few editions, some ITV regions moved this to a timeslot that even Get Stuffed!! would’ve found embarrassing.

I don’t remember LWT doing this though, and one critic later described this as “comfortably the worst thing LWT have ever made”. One positive though is that I have followed Bradley’s career ever since. This includes appearances on Celebrity Squares where he laughed a lot (what a surprise), and he also teamed up with Joe Pasquale for a one-off comedy special that I was looking forward to, but this was delayed because of World Cup coverage, and I don’t think I ever saw this. He has also done plenty of other acclaimed TV hosting and acting work. Who knows, one day, he might be as big as Billy Pearce.

More TV Memories – World Cup Heroes And Villains.

World Cup Heroes And Villains (ITV, 1994)

As people begin to eagerly anticipate the start of yet another World Cup (?), I thought that I would take a look at another football-themed show. World Cup Heroes And Villains seemingly turned up out of nowhere one Sunday afternoon (and I think that this was only shown in the LWT region). The host was Bob Mills, who is definitely someone who I am familiar with.

I was once in the studio audience for a TV show that he hosted, and he also went on to host the late-night football show There’s Only One Brian Moore. With the home location, his wry observations, and the way that he constantly fiddled around with his video recorder, it could be said that this was just about an edition of his comedy show In Bed With MeDinner in all but name.

This was shown before the 1994 World Cup in the USA, and Bob was in something of a state of despair, as none of the home nations had qualified, and he was still upset about England’s embarrassing defeat to the Netherlands where the dream died (“he’s gonna flick one!” etc). They had all missed out on the biggest sporting event on the planet. He decided to look back at some of the most heroic and villainous moments that have happened at the World Cup over the years.

But rather than choose the more famous players and moments, he took the chance to celebrate some of the more unsung heroes and their contributions. He decided to start with the 1966 tournament, although this was presumably because very little footage still exists from the earliest days, going back to the 30s. This of course would be England’s triumph, but there was a look at other moments too.

These included the Zairean player who didn’t seem to know the rules, the German goalkeeper who nearly decapitated a player and didn’t even get a yellow card, and a goalpost that denied what would’ve been a memorable goal. There were also some brief memories from some of the players who took part. The final tournament shown was 1990, which gave Bob the chance to reflect on the horror of penalty shoot-outs.

This was definitely an amusing look back at sporting history. After determining who goes into his Hall Of Fame, as well as the Hall Of Shame, he tried to remain enthusiastic throughout all of this, and he hoped that there would be better times to come for the England team. Who knows, maybe they may even qualify and get as far as the second round again one day.