Thursday 30 August 2018

Callan - Wet Job

Bringing back a popular show can be enormously tempting. It worked once, so why wouldn't it work well again? I wasn’t keen on the idea of a revival and reviews from others set my expectations low, then lower again, so I had put off watching this for some time.

Wet Job does start reasonably well and the set up with the Section manipulating Callan is good. How he came to retire is left rather murky, allowing us to plough on with the present. The idea of an old job coming back to haunt him seems the best way to drag Callan back into the espionage world. The new Hunter fits in well. He's just as upper class and slightly removed as the others, and I think Hugh Walters does a reasonably decent job in the part. If Wet Job was a way of testing the waters for another series, I would have been pleased to see Walters again.

Callan's current occupation, running a military memorabilia shop, fits well as Callan was always depicted as having a great deal of knowledge as well as passion for the subject. The Nazi items on display seem a tad out of his area but perhaps he’s just decided to go with what sells well, as opposed to making friends with his local NF branch.

The scenes between Lonely and Callan are undoubtedly the best in the production. They both effortlessly slide back into their old roles and the two are wonderful together. I love how proud Lonely is at finally going straight and I only wish we could have got a look at the photo of his beloved. Gawd knows how he got her. It seems losing Mr Callan from his life has benefitted Lonely in the long run, which makes it all the greater shame that he honestly believes their meeting again is pure coincidence. While they do recreate much of their old on-screen rapport, I think scripturally their relationship is more reflective of the literary Callan, where James Mitchell depicts them as better friends. Callan treats Lonely much nicer here than he normally did in the TV series and Lonely himself has developed the confidence to stand up to Mr Callan a little. It’s lovely seeing Russell Hunter and Woodward so comfortable together.

In fact, I think Woodward is fantastic throughout. Despite those massive, ageing, we’re-definitely-in-the-1980s glasses, his old ‘Callan’ expressions shine through and there are intonations in his voice that immediately bring the character back into the room. Considering how physically different Woodward looks compared to Callan's last outing seven years earlier, I think easily establishing the character this well is important for the audience. This is probably the main thing that makes Wet Job slightly bearable because, well…

There is so much bad stuff. So, so, very much and so, so, very bad.

The script is a mess. After a promising start, it all goes to pot. Meres’ replacement, Thorne, is pointless and seems to be there to plug a gap that doesn’t need to be filled. Apart from tailing Callan and giving him a lift to Oxfordshire, he is utterly useless. He blags his way into Lucy Smith’s conspiratorial flat and learns precisely bugger all. It was undoubtedly an enormous mistake to believe that Anthony Valentine's wonderfully cold Toby Meres could be so easily replaced.

George Sewell could have been a marvellous villain but partway through his character decides to chuck out the whole plot so far, abandon his plan to kill Callan, and murder a Czech dissident with the KGB instead.

The KGB bloke. You need a high-profile enemy of the people to disappear in a foreign country on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Apparently you send a short fellow with a ‘tache who can barely use a gun.

There is also an awful lot of padding to bring this up to length as a TV movie. It's 80 minutes long, running in a 90-minute slot when broadcast, which seems like something today's advert-drenched prime time can only dream of. It needs to shave a good 20 minutes off though. Instead, things really start to drag, and we have too many minor characters like the KGB man and Lucy's communist friends that fail to make an impression. I was stunned to learn from Robert Fairclough and Mike Kenwood's The Callan File (an impressive and enthusiastically recommended tomb) that the Wet Job we got had already had 20 minutes cut. What did they cut for us to still end up with this monstrosity?

Who knows what was going on at ATV because the picture quality is noticeably worse than that of the Thames series a decade earlier. Everything in the studio seems to have a dark hue and I found myself squinting to make out details that should definitely be there. Yet outside on location everything is far too bright and sunny. Apart from the contrast between the two being terrible on the eyes, the brightness doesn’t suit the traditional dark colour palette of Callan at all. Bring back the grey and brown.

I've held back on what I believe is the worst aspect of the production and I only wish he had because the composer's incidental music on Wet Job is enough to make you want to cut off your ears, put them through a shredder and boil them in acid. Callan never really needed incidental music and the damning silence in scenes often spoke louder than a hundred of these electronic noise machines ever could. It sounds cheap, poor, and none of it, not one single note, is appropriate for the tone of the programme. If this wasn't enough, he, that ruinous bastard Cyril Ornadel, never lets up. There is not a moment of silence that he won't fill. It's infuriating. I just wanted it to end.

Wet Job is a poor revival for Callan. Cut the music, tighten the script and make it on film instead of whatever videotape atrocity ATV are utilising and I think it could have been great. It has nothing to do with the passage of time - indeed, Woodward makes a considerably better older Callan than I would have expected - and everything to do with what's gone on offscreen. Wet Job is frustrating because it feels like such a waste and it's a shame that Callan's final television outing is so far off the series' high standards.

Monday 6 August 2018

A is for Armchair Theatre

Armchair Theatre was one of several anthology series on television during the 1960s and 1970s. Others include The Wednesday PlayPlay for TodayTheatre 625ITV Playhouse and Thirty-Minute Theatre. Upon first hearing about these, I was rather bemused because there is little resembling an anthology series on television today. Also, they are referred to as 'plays', which made me imagine them to be rather low-budget and cheap-looking filmed stage performances. It gave me flashbacks to the educational programmes we occasionally had to sit through at school.

I often forget that I've seen an episode of Armchair Theatre before - A Magnum for Schneider, which was the 1967 pilot for Callan. The sets may have been few but it certainly didn't look 'stagey' at all. It's wonderfully written with excellent performances. But as it was written partly with a future series in mind, I wasn't sure how much the regular episodes of Armchair Theatre would differ.

'Say Goodnight to Your Grandma' is from the Armchair Theatre: Volume 1 DVD and was broadcast in 1970. Tony (Colin Welland) and Jean (Susan Jameson) live in London now but head back up north to introduce their baby daughter, Chrissie, to her grandmothers. Tony's mother, Mrs Weston (Madge Ryan), and Jean's, Mrs Clarke (Mona Bruce), take every chance to pick at one another and there are snide remarks aplenty. It's amusing and catty with Jean desperate to keep the peace while Tony is more laid back about it. Eventually, arguments among the women reach a peak when the lack of a christening is brought up. The religious Mrs Clarke has taken it particularly badly. "Come on now, love, Tony'll pour you a nice cup of tea. We musn't quarrel," Mrs Weston says. "No thank you, I'm too upset," replies Mrs Clarke, marking the start of civilisation coming crashing down around them. Mrs Weston is a great character and you can see a smirk when Mrs Clarke decides to leave.

Tony gets a phone call from an old pal asking him to come down the club for a drink. Jean is not thrilled but Tony goes anyway. Later, he and the boys all pile in and the reason for a barrel of beer we saw Mrs Weston hiding earlier becomes apparent. It's clear she planned this all along. She's delighted to start making sandwiches for them all, talking about the fantastic old times they used to have with her boys, who loved visiting. We start to get a sense of time for the party, as the lounge becomes increasingly filled with smoke from their cigarettes.

Jean has had enough though and reappears with her hair down, wearing one of Tony's old rugby jerseys. She drinks and dances with the lads, getting close to several of them. Tony is quietly annoyed while Mrs Weston is deeply upset by Jean's behaviour, which initially confused me. Mrs Weston says Jean is embarrassing them up and all the boys will think "she's a right common little piece." It turns out she is quite right though, with remarks including, "My god, Ken. That shirt's never seen better days." One of the boys is even ready to take Jean up on her offer of sex in his car before Jean laughs it off.

I really love the shots during the party scenes, directed by Jim Goddard, who is on much more sedate turf, having recently directed episodes of Callan, Public Eye and Special Branch, as well as other episodes of Armchair Theatre. The camera often doesn't cut, instead, it moves between each of the room's conversations, where the men barely turn to glance at one another as their eyes are glued out of shot, to Jean's dancing.

I found this a powerful drama and enjoyed all the conflict, from the two grandparents to the couple's old life impacting on their new, marked completely by the ending when their daughter is woken by the party and Jean brings her downstairs in among everyone. Earlier, Mrs Weston has asked to be called 'Nana' as "Granny make me feel elderly," so Jean telling the baby, "Say goodnight to your Grandma" is a nasty, cruel stab. Jean is telling her: I've won - your family is mine now.

Like 'A Magnum for Schneider', there are very few sets; the lounge, the kitchen and the hall, with the majority taking place in the lounge. There is also a location scene in the Weston's car, which rather impressed me as I hadn't expected a play to have any location filming. The limited sets do help here, giving the family a sense of claustrophobia. They are bound together, even if none of them is entirely happy about it.

While 'Say Goodnight to Your Grandma' does go for the stereotype of a man stuck between his wife and mother, this is a much more interesting look at it. Both implore him to stop the other; Jean when Mrs Weston is bringing up every uncomfortable subject and Mrs Weston when Jean is dancing provocatively in the lounge. Both women are also called a "bitch", though not to their faces and it's Tony who uses the word about Jean. In both instances, Tony refuses to do anything, pleasing no one.

It's a depressing ending. Jean is a modern social climber but Tony could move back up north to his old friends tomorrow, even if he does admit nothing is quite the same. In voiceovers of their respective thoughts, Jean muses on Mrs Weston's scheming ways and her snide comments, while Tony longs for the old days as he's now stuck down Earl's Court with "no mates, a howling kid and lousy ale".

By the end, I find myself siding with no one. Jean shouldn't rise to the two grandmothers' complaints as they are exactly what she had expected. Was it really that bad for Tony to spend one night with his old pals? Her response exposes her snobbishness. Yet Tony has to let the past go. It becomes clear they have all grown up by how many of his mates know how to prepare a bottle. His thoughts make his priorities clear and show his immaturity.

I previously looked at a 1967 interview with Philip Mackie, a writer and producer, who argued that 'too much of television is stuck in a rut of sameness and tameness and mediocrity'. Television plays would appear to be the saviour of this as regular series are by their nature constrained somewhat. One-off dramas are the equivalent today and I do think we have had some marvellous ones in recent years, like A Passionate WomanNational Treasure and A Very English Scandal, though most consist of more than one episode, including all of those examples. Television anthology series do exist now in the form of Inside No. 9 and Black Mirror, with both having a loose theme, which isn't new. Armchair Theatre had the genre-specific offshoot of Armchair Thriller (1978-80) and there was also Espionage (1963).

Of the two Armchair Theatres I've seen now, I felt both had great writing and casting. As well as starring in it, Colin Welland also wrote this episode. He would go on to win BAFTAs for his anthology series scripts and top it all with an Oscar for Chariots of Fire. Meanwhile, I spent ages trying to place Susan Jameson. Both her name and face seemed familiar as she played Esther Lane in New Tricks.

Sunday 22 July 2018

# is for 1990

A few years ago I stopped binge-watching television. It wasn't an entirely conscious decision. I had begun viewing a few programmes and they were so good that I wanted to drag out having 'new' episodes of them for as long as possible. I didn't want to race through them, be done with it and then move onto something new next month. This was made easier because I now owned quite a lot of shows and there is always something else to watch. Eventually, it just became a habit to watch one episode of a programme each week, perhaps less and occasionally more, but no longer entire series in a day.

The problem with this method is that I recently realised I have a lot of unwatched or barely-watched DVDs on my shelves. In fact, I can cover at least one for almost every letter of the alphabet. So, partly because I like doing things in order, I've decided to work my way through them all in alphabetical order.

Before we get onto the alphabet proper, I had the little matter of a series without any letters in its title: 1990.

"Ninety-Eight Four plus six" proclaims the quote on the cover, from the series creator, Wilfred Greatorex. It was this sort of description that intrigued me in the series. I had never heard of 1990 until Simply Media announced its DVD release, and I sat up and took notice because since watching Callan I have sat up and took notice on anything concerning Edward Woodward.

The first series has now sat in cellophane of my shelf for over a year, partly because I  know little about it. I subsequently realised that the reason it had been neglected was there was nothing pushing me towards it.

We live in interesting times. No one actually wants to live in interesting times. They may think they do but life is much easier if we live in dull ones. Have there ever been any? We live with words like freedom, censorship and that newer phrase 'fake news'. 'Big Brother' is an old favourite. It has entered such common parlance that I'm certain many people who use the term now are not aware of its connection to George Orwell's 1984. The fact that people continue to be tricked, lied to, and, increasingly, watched by their governments means 1984 has never and I suspect will never lose its impact.

I find the most sinister-seeming depictions of 1984-esque societies are those in which the transformation is shown to happen gradually. It reinforces the idea that this could all too easily become us. From this episode, 1990 appears to be going down that path. This is not a full on, smack-you-sideways-in-the-face blatant, totalitarian regime. That would be far too dull and I'm keen to see where it goes as I'm intrigued by the "plus six" part of Greatorex's quote.

So far, 1990 appears to present us with a very subtely delivered future. While 1984 was set 35 years ahead when it was published, 1990 is only 13 years on from the year of its original broadcast. Setting things in the future is always problematic and even the near future is tricky. Happily, the show doesn't give a dramatic take on fashions - the one thing always liable to be embarrassing when viewed years later.

I think the sets are going to be interesting throughout the series. Apart from a single modern government office, the rest of the sets don't look any different from something I'd expect to see in the 1970s. I'm curious as to whether the show will do anything with them or continue to play it safe. Possibly because I have spent so much time with predominantly studio-bound 1960s' drama recently, I was impressed with the amount of location work and there are some interesting shots. Being set in London helps as so much of it can be relied on to stay the same and certainly for only 13 years into the future.

One thing 1990 completely misses is the prevalence of people smoking. Despite the number of smokers beginning to fall during the '70s, I don't think many had perceived this yet by 1977 and 1990's creators certainly hadn't. They didn't predict anyone cutting down at all by 1990 as people are still sparking up all over the place.

They also didn't predict the demise of the typesetter in newspaper printing. With technological changes, newspaper copy no longer needed to be manually set in place by the end of the 1980s.

For balance, the one thing 1990 does manage to get right is the use of home video recorders, which actually contributes to the plot in the episode I watched. Home videos were only just coming out in the mid-1970s and they couldn't have realised that machines would get a lot smaller, but it's still a nice detail.

"Everybody records everything these days."
Moving on to the plot, in this episode, the leader of the opposition makes a televised speech, professing how much he believes in what the present government is doing. Journalist Jim Kyle (Edward Woodward) is watching and is not convinced. The opposition leader disappeared a while ago and Kyle is sure the speech has been faked somehow. When he writes an article on the broadcast, the typesetters refuse to set it and the newspaper's editor finds himself snookered by the union leader. Meanwhile, there is an underground newspaper making its way around and Kyle tries to make contact with it, hoping they will be able to help his investigations into the opposition leader. The government are also keen to get in touch with those behind the newspaper. They have words with Kyle, who is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not one of their favourite people.

Due to the DVD manufacturer's annoying trait of putting disc 1 on the right and disc 2 on the left (*shakes fist*), I actually ended up starting with episode 5 and only realised afterwards. Despite this, I had no trouble following it. 1990's world-building comes through in the plot and it will be interesting to go back and watch the actual first episode. I hope they don't spend too much time on backstory because it really isn't needed - this reality speaks for itself and that has impressed me.

I like Kyle; I think he's going to be gutsy and dogged and I don't expect him to come out of it unscathed, if indeed he comes out of it at all in the end.

An additional inclusion on these DVDs is a wonderful BBC2 Drama ident that I hadn't seen before. I'm also keen on 1990's great minimalist titles.

Thursday 1 March 2018

Time Travel: 1960s

I have spent the last few years exploring several programmes, each of which has given me a different glimpse into an era long before my birth. I am fascinated by the window on a world that is slightly familiar, but not quite. It feels within touching distance.

Though not planned, I found myself watching a number of 1960s' shows and there are some I have come to really love. Inspired by the now-defunct TV Minus 50 blog, I spent a month in 1968 and, having thoroughly enjoyed it, decided to spend a lot more time in the decade.

I'm spending a week with each year's telly - this week, that year. As I don't possess an actual time machine, there are a few limits on what is available for me to watch - I may not always get to see the exact episode from that day - but, hopefully, there should be something watchable every day.

You can find all my time travelling adventures over at Transdiffusion's My 1960s.

Monday 22 January 2018

In 1968 tonight...

There is something lovely about looking at what was on telly 50 years ago today. It's that nice round number - 49, or 51 just won't do quite so nicely.

I've been doing this for a couple of years now. Although I was already interested in a few programmes, an enormous influence on me delving into more was the blog, TV Minus 50, run by @hellothisisivan. For over two years, TV Minus 50 followed this week's TV, 50 years ago. It gave me a look at some shows I knew and piqued my interest in several others. I also always enjoyed Ivan's commentary and since the blog has finished, I have often continued looking back at this week's TV 50 years ago.

However, I've rarely actually watched it that very week. But now. Have spreadsheet. Will watch. For a month at least. I have kept track of my first week in 1968 here so let's crank up the time machine...

Conveniently, 15th January is a Monday in 2018 and in 1968. We will keep the same days of the week until the end of February when it all falls apart because 1968 was a leap year and 2018 is not.

Monday 15th January

Lunchtime viewing on BBC One brings us Watch with Mother and today is Monday so it's Andy Pandy. Filmed in the 1950s, Andy Pandy was repeated for years in the Watch with Mother strand. Like several other children's programmes, by the time all the episodes had been shown the kids watching them had grown up and a new generation had appeared in front of the screen so they could be shown all over again.

These repeats had long since ceased by the time I first peered into the box in our living room. However, I am actually familiar with Andy Pandy because we were lent a Watch with Mother compilation video. Just how this managed to tear us away from Spider-Man or X-Men cartoons, I cannot say, but that video was watched repeatedly.

Unlike several other young children's programmes from that era, Andy Pandy is lacking a DVD release. If they can manage it for Muffin the bleedin' Mule and Torchy the Terrifying Battery Boy, dear old Andy certainly deserves one.

It means I am confined to what YouTube offers so today I found Andy Pandy in the garden, playing on his swing. 'Do you have a swing in your garden?' I do not but I do occasionally like to go on the one at the park. Teddy arrived and pushed Andy on the swing. Then the narrator didn't know what Teddy was doing BUT I DID. He was marching because he wanted to do his marching song. Looby Lou appeared in her pram and though Andy and Teddy pushed her, she refused to move or do anything until they had both gone. She clearly wanted all our attention for herself. Soon it was time to go home. Looby Lou disappeared and Andy and Teddy climbed inside the picnic basket.

My revisit to Andy, Teddy and Looby Lou was wonderfully relaxing. There is something about the slow pace of children's programming that I rather enjoy. The narrator is Maria Bird and I found her voice familiar and comforting. I don't want to say it looked cheap but my god they got their money's worth out of this with the years of repeats.

Early evening now and it's a Hardy Boys' serial, The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure. I had heard of The Hardy Boys' books and was aware they were two young American detectives. This serial is from 1956 so it is safe to assume it's another repeat. Today is part two of nine.

A young girl claims to have had a blanket thrown over her head and her purse stolen, though it is soon recovered after one of the lads finds it. Suspicion soon falls on a young boy, Perry, employed by Mr Applegate. We (but not the Hardys) find out the lad is on probation from reform school, which I'm guessing is a type of young offenders' institution. With help from another of Mr Applegate's employees, the Hardys search Perry's room. They find some stolen items, including the Hardys' wire cutters, and a hunt is mounted for Perry. Yet when one of the Hardys finds him hiding in a bush, Perry insists he has been set up. We will have to wait until next week to find out more.

I liked this and the child actors are not bad, though nine episodes seems a long time to drag the plot out. Hopefully, it will develop fast soon. The sets are clearly limited. We have had a garden and a lawnmower all inside a studio, which seems a lot more hassle than just filming in a garden. Maybe US series were as studio-bound as some British series.

Tuesday 16th January

In 1968, The Magic Roundabout is on BBC One most days at the moment. Both Andy Pandy and The Magic Roundabout have had modern CGI remakes and these seem to have won the draw for DVD releases over the originals. As with yesterday, this means picking out what YouTube has. Today, Dougal is a film director. I have vague memories of watching The Magic Roundabout as a young child but can clearly see why adults also enjoyed it. The narration from Eric Thompson is wonderful and I'm looking forward to more.

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons immediately creeped me out due to how realistic the puppets are compared to other Gerry Anderson series. Add in the fact they didn't blink and I was unsettled from the off. I have the feeling Captain Scarlet is not his real name as he dresses in red and there is also a Captain Blue who wears blue. It feels an impersonal organisation.

I'm not all too sure how I feel about this show yet but I did like the new tank that had been developed. I was impressed with the realistic movement they had managed as the tank moved across a desert landscape, though this was interrupted when this tank managed to soar over an enormous drop without so much as a run-up.

Wednesday 17th January

As much as I enjoy children's programming, I had been looking forward to my first prime-time programme of 1968: Man in a Suitcase. My time machine went a little awry and threw me a completely different episode. Never mind. Apart from it being an ITC show, I had no idea what I was going into. The first few minutes went well when esteemed actor Peter Vaughan showed up as a baddie. I knew he was a baddie because he was played by Peter Vaughan. He was also covertly transporting a World War II sea mine and this seemed a tad suspect.

Peter Vaughan's character, Peters, teams up with another couple of blokes to kill a fellow called Masters, who has been blackmailing them. Masters' wife, Lucinda, is helping them because she wants to leave Masters and go off with Peter Vaughan. Our man of the title, McGill has been employed by Masters as a private eye to try to spot any dodgy people hanging around. Masters tries to blackmail McGill too, refusing to pay him and commenting that he is an ex-CIA agent, which was a nice little bit of series explanation considering this show has been on for several months already. The plotters reckon McGill has already found out too much so decide he will have to be bumped off too.

This episode has a lot going for it. McGill has a fight with Masters' henchman, Kirk, and manages to keep his cigarette hanging out of his mouth the entire time. That looked cool. Lucinda helps the gang capture McGill who later launches an escape attempt by tripping up and clobbering one of them, then diving out a window. Masters and Kirk turn up and Peters shoots Kirk. It all gets very tense as one of the gang, Harris, is having second thoughts about killing more than just Masters - the only bloke they originally planned on murdering. McGill divides them as he has worked out that Peters has never been blackmailed by Masters. McGill takes his chance to escape by running out the room and diving into the water. He keeps diving underneath to avoid the bullets being fired after him. Masters takes his boat but heads straight for the mine that has been planted.

This was so much fun. Fights, shoot-outs and tension are exactly what I like from my drama. Excitement and action like this are no less than what I have come to expect from ITC, whose output I have previously got to know well through The Saint, The Persuaders, The Prisoner, and, most recently for me, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). I can't wait for next week's episode.

Thursday 18th January

My second visit to Gerry Anderson this week is Four Feather Falls. I've watched an episode of this before and, as with Captain Scarlet, was put off by the puppets not blinking. The basis of Four Feather Falls is that there is a bloke called Two Gun Tex. He has two guns and four magic feathers in his hat. These enable him to fire the guns without touching them, and also enable him to understand his horse and dog. Very helpfully, the titles explain all of this each episode, as if it would otherwise be unreasonable for a puppet to be able to converse with his puppet animals.

I say this, yet I found myself questioning the realism of this show when two boys, Jake and Makooya meet up. Jake is wearing trousers and a long shirt. Makooya's full name is Makooya the Little Indian Boy and Makooya is wearing little more than a loincloth. If it is warm enough for him to wear only that, why is Jake not in shorts and short sleeves?

Tex does not have a great deal of screen time in this episode. Instead, we follow Jake and Makooya who go into some caves and are trapped by a baddie when they find some treasure. The episode is only 15 minutes long and the plot fills its slot adequately. Kenneth Connor and Nicholas Parsons are both in the cast list but I clearly wasn't paying enough attention to pick them up so will have to listen better next time.

Friday 19th January

I feel I know The Man from U.N.C.L.E. well but have actually only seen a few episodes, all from the first couple of series. As a result, finding Ilya Kuryakin with noticeably longer locks in this fourth series was a surprise. Napoleon Solo has not moved with fashion though so remains reassuringly familiar.

Tonight's episode is a traditional race against time as Ilya is kidnapped, then locked in a gas chamber and Napoleon tries to reach him before the cyanide will. Mr Solo finds a random young lady on the way and together they duck and dive through buildings, rubble and passageways while being shot at by a man with a sniper and a big cat.

The sets in this are huge and we get to see the scale of it thanks to some high angle shots from the top of buildings. These tall blocks also mean the sniper has a perfect view for shooting Napoleon and the tension mounts as the minutes tick by.

Late on Friday night was The Untouchables, a US gangster series set in the 1920s. This sounded so exciting but it never quite grabbed me and I found it rather dull. Too much talking and too many characters - I could barely keep track of what was happening in the opening fifteen minutes.

Saturday 20th January

Teatime on Saturday evening could only mean Doctor Who so I joined episode 5 of 'The Enemy of the World'. This is one of the stories that were mostly missing until the rest of them were found a few years ago. I watched it when it was originally released but didn't actually remember all that much about the plot. From what I gathered from this episode, a chunk of the population have been living underground after a nuclear explosion. Their leader, Salamander, tells them it is not safe to go on the surface so they live a miserable existence on meagre rations below ground. He is lying. The twist of this story is that the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) is the exact double of Salamander. Patrick Troughton is my favourite Doctor and he does a fantastic performance as Salamander, switching marvellously between the two roles.

Next up is George and the Dragon, starring Sid James, Peggy Mount and John Le Mesurier. I had previously come across an interview with Sid James in TV Times to coincidence with a new series of George and the Dragon so was interested to see the sitcom. Sid plays George and Peggy Mount is Gabrielle Dragon, both in the employ of John Le Mesurier. I gathered that the Dragon was a housekeeper but I never quite figured out what George was meant to be doing. At the start of the episode, he is attempting to construct a DIY television set but the only channels he manages to pick up are the local taxi and air traffic control. There is an offer on new televisions though so the two of them spend a night trying to ensure they beat the other to the front of the queue for the next morning.

I was a little disappointed in The Monkees as I found it rather low on laughs. In tonight's episode, the band are visiting the relative of one of them, who, as they arrive, is being fired on by local cowboys. The gang spend the episode defending the home and, er... I'm not entirely sure what else. The programme is clearly intended to be surreal. A couple of them visit a saloon and manage to fool the locals into thinking they are big bad fellas, despite the fact that most of their dialogue is complete nonsense. Maybe that was half the point. It certainly felt like a children's show, perhaps reminding me slightly of The Goodies. However, I just didn't 'get' this. I'm intrigued enough to give it another go though.

"I hear you have some men with prices on their heads?"

Sunday 21st January

It's Sunday so there is bugger all decent on the box. Go to church, do your homework, it's bath night.

Missing and unavailable

What I would like to have been watching if it wasn't missing or lacking a release.

All Our Yesterdays - This programme looks back at what was happening 25 years ago this week. For 1968, this makes it 1943 and the Second World War is reaching a turning point in favour of the Allies. This show always grabs my attention in the listings.

Z Cars - Two episodes - parts 1 and 2 - were broadcast each week and I've often seen the cop drama praised.

A Man of Our Times - this stars George Cole, who would achieve success much later with Minder. His character in this seems to be expecting promotion but instead faces redundancy. I know little about this series and am intrigued.

Softly, Softly - I got to see an episode of this Z Cars spin-off last year.

Public Eye - I love Alfred Burke as private eye Frank Marker and this is the start of the programme's third series. The first three series have a different tone to those that follow, which makes it all the more a crying shame that out of 41 episodes, only five survive.

In 1968 neither BBC One nor ITV had begun colour broadcasting but as the screenshots above show, some programmes were already being made in colour. It would never have occurred to me if someone else hadn't suggested it but, strictly, to be watching 1968 telly properly, I should be watching everything in black and white. So, for the first week at least, I did. Due to switching from Granada to Anglia after a couple of weeks, I got to rewatch the episode of Man in a Suitcase and I appreciated the colour immensely. It had felt like dedication. It had also felt a tad obsessive. I enjoyed it.