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 Popular UK Seventies TV Programmes

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ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL
UK (BBC) Drama. BBC 1 1978-80; 1983; 1985; 1988-90

videos bullet iconBased on the celebrated autobiographical novels of James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small proved to be an enormous success as a TV series, inspired by a 1974 cinema version featuring Simon Ward, and its 1976 sequel, It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet starring John Alderton. With Christopher Timothy now pulling on the vet's wellies, the TV adaptation (with its echoes of Dr. Findlay's Casebook) took viewers back to the 1930s as Herriot arrives at Skeldale House, home of the veterinary practice in the North Riding town of Darroby (the real-life Askrigg). There he joins senior partner Siegfried Farnon (Robert Hardy), his easy-going brother, Tristan (Peter Davidson), and housekeeper Mrs. Hall (Mary Hignett), helps to build up the practice and deals with all manner of agricultural and domestic animal ailments. If James is not preventing foot and mouth or groping around up a cow's posterior, he is treating the likes of Tricki-Woo, the pampered Pekinese owned by villager Mrs. Pumphrey (Margaretta Scott). James meets and marries Helen Anderson (Carol Drinkwater, later played by Lynda Bellingham) who later bears him a son, Jimmy (Oliver Watson), and a daughter, Rosie (Rebecca Smith). The series "ends" after three years when James and Tristan head off to join the war effort (Herriot's original novels had run out). A couple of Christmas specials kept the concept alive during the early 1980s, before public clamor was answered with a new series in 1988. The series ran for three more seasons, plus another Christmas special. The programme's sweeping theme music was composed by Johnny Pearson. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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ANTIQUES ROADSHOW
UK (BBC) Antiques. BBC 1 1979-

videos bullet iconA Sunday afternoon favourite, Antiques Roadshow has travelled the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, inviting viewers to drop in and have their family heirlooms valued. Since the first broadcast in 1979, there has been much raiding of attics and basements across the land, in the hope of discovering something of value. Punters have queued up, cherished items in hand, awaiting the verdict of one of the experts, who have all been drawn from leading auction houses and dealerships. Participants have explained how the items came into their family's possession, and the specialists have then provided more background information, explaining where, when and by whom it was probably made, and winding up with a financial valuation. One piece a week has usually proved to be a real find -- a magnificent specimen of furniture, a long-lost work by a distinguished artist, etc. -- much to the delight of both the excited connoisseur and the gasping proprietor. Among the longest-serving experts are David Battie and Hugh Morley-Fletcher (both porcelain), Simon Bull (timepieces), Roy Butler (militaria), and David Collins and Philip Hook (both paintings). Some have become celebrities in their own right -- "potaholic" Henry Sandon, his son, John Sandon, furniture specialist John Bly, and ceramics man Eric Knowles, for instance. Hugh Scully hosted the proceedings for many years until his departure in 2000. A young person's special, entitled Antiques Roadshow - the Next Generation, has been screened occasionally. The main series also inspired a similarly successful American version of the same name, closely following the same format, that airs on the PBS network.

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ARE YOU BEING SERVED?
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1973-9; 1981; 1983; 1985

videos bullet iconChock-full of nudge-nudge, wink wink innuendo, this long-running farce centers on the members of staff in the clothing department on the first floor of Grace Brothers. Clearly divided into male and female sections, supervised by department manager Mr. Rumbold (Nicholas Smith) and floor walker Captain Stephen Peacock (Frank Thornton), the clothing section employs some well-defined comedy stereotypes. On the men's side there is swishy homosexual Mr. Wilberforce Humphries (John Inman), declaring "I'm free" whenever a customer needs attention and always poised to take that inside leg measurement. He works alongside grouchy old Mr. Ernest Grainger (Arthur Brough), and in later episodes Mr. Percival Tebbs (James Hayter), and the department junior, Mr. Dick Lucas (Trevor Bannister). In charge of the ladies' cash desks, amid the intimate apparel, is billowing Mrs. Slocombe, a superficially dignified mistress of the unfortunate phrase, who brings howls of laughter from the studio audience with her fluorescent rinses and her constant worries about her pussy. She is ably supported in the battle of the sexes by buxom young Miss Brahms. Overseeing the whole operation, and telling everyone that they've "done very well," is the store's owner, the doddery Young Mr. Grace (Harold Bennett), a failing geriatric with a dolly bird on each arm, who is superseded eventually by the equally senile Old Mr. Grace (Kenneth Walker). Mr. Harman (Arthur English) is the cantankerous caretaker who takes over for militant trade unionist Mr. Mash (Larry Martyn). Though plots were thin and obvious, the in-jokes kept coming -- for 12 years. The pilot for Are You Being Served? was an episode of Comedy Playhouse seen in 1972, and the series was based on writer Jeremy Lloyd's personal experience of working at Simpson's of Piccadilly. John Inman had a minor hit with a novelty spin-off record, "Are You Being Served, Sir," in 1975, and a feature film version was released in 1977. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE BENNY HILL SHOW
UK (BBC) Comedy. BBC 1 1955-1968; Thames 1969-89

videos bullet iconBenny Hill was a celebrated British funnyman whose saucy postcard style of humour made him a favourite around the world. Hill was one British comedy export who made even the Americans laugh (his show was syndicated in the US during the 1970s and 1980s), and his cheeky grin and feigned air of innocence enabled him to get away with smutty jokes and innuendoes that would have died in the hands of other comics. They certainly wouldn't have been aired in peak hours. The hallmarks of his shows were send-ups of other TV personalities (whether they were Moira Anderson, Fanny Cradock or Jimmy Hill); comic creations like the saluting half-wit, Fred Scuttle; bawdy songs that exhibited his skill with words -- such as his number-one hit, "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)"; and, most provocatively, slapstick chases involving scantily-clad women. Most of the time he was ably supported by stooges like Bob Todd, Henry McGee and Jack Wright. Hill's career began in music hall (including a period as a straight man to Reg Varney) and progressed to television via the radio comedy Educating Archie. His TV debut came in 1949 and his first series for the BBC was show in 1955. In 1964 he won plaudits for his portrayal of Bottom in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and then, in 1969, Hill switched to Thames TV, where he stayed until his show was axed amid rows over sexism in 1989 (even though he had already toned down the voyeurism and ditched the steamy Hill's Angels dance troupe). Central was prepared to give him another bite of the cherry three years later but Hill died of a heart attack in 1992 before he could finish the series. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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BLESS THIS HOUSE
UK (Thames) Situation Comedy. ITV 1971-4, 1976

videos bullet iconCheery, pipe-chewing Londoner Sid Abbott (Sidney James), a middle-aged stationery salesman, is fond of booze, women and football. He still considers himself one of the lads, but has little chance to prove it, as his long-suffering wife, Jean (Diana Coupland), is always around to keep him in check. They live in Birch Avenue, Putney, with their two teenage children Mike (Robin Stewart) and Sally (Sally Geeson), and this is where their real problems begin. Mike (trendily garbed in beads and Afghan coat) has just left art college and is far too busy protesting about this and that to find himself a job; with-it Sally, apple of her dad's eye, is in the final year of grammar school. Sadly their 1970s morals and vices are a touch too daring for their rather staid parents, who are constantly bemused at the permissive society and seldom fail to jump to the wrong conclusion. Trevor (Anthony Jackson) is Sid's next-door neighbour and drinking pal at the Hare and Hounds, with Betty (Patsy Rowlands) his nagging wife. A big ratings success, Bless This House numbered among writers Carla Lane and its creators, Vince Powell and Harry Driver. Produced by future Fifteen to One host William G. Stewart, it was Sid James's last major television series. Geoff Love wrote the theme music. A feature film version was issued in 1972. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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CALLAN
UK (ABC/Thames) Secret Agent Drama. ITV 1967-72

videos bullet iconAlthough similarly based in the secret world of international subterfuge, Callan is a far cry from the glamour of James Bond. The hero David Callan (Edward Woodward) is a hard man, edgy and friendless. He works for the intelligence service, bluntly snuffing out enemies and others who represent a danger to British security. But he is also a rebel and a thinker who brings his own version of justice into play, rather than just killing willy-nilly as instructed. Callan, as a consequence, is constantly in trouble with his superiors. In his first appearance, in a 1967 episode of ABC's Armchair Theatre called "A Magnum for Schneider," Callan himself was the target. He had been given the chance to retrieve his dodgy reputation within British Intelligence by bumping off an enemy agent, but this was merely a ruse to nail him for murder and so dispose of him. Turning the tables, Callan won through and public interest in the character led to a filly fledged series later the same year. In the series the star is assisted by a dirty, smelly petty crook called Lonely (Russell Hunter), who supplies him with under-the-counter firearms and useful information. Callan treats Lonely, one of life's perpetual losers, with complete disdain. At the same time, though, he protects his little accomplice, finding him a job as a driver of the communications car, a taxi filled with high-tech listening devices. Within the intelligence service, Callan's immediate boss is Hunter (Ronald Radd, Michael Goodliffe, Derek Bond and William Squire) not a specific person but a codename for the various heads of department supervising him. Then there is Toby Meres (Anthony Valentine, played by Peter Bowles in the Armchair Theatre play), a fellow agent who resents Callan's position and contrives to dislodge him. Another agent seen later, the trigger-happy Cross (Patrick Mower), shares the same sentiments. Nine years after the series ended, Callan was brough back in a one-off 90-minute play for ATV entitled Wet Job. Callan, with its swinging naked light-bulb opening sequence, was created by writer James Mitchell, who was later responsible for When the Boat Comes In. A cinema version was released in 1974. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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CILLA
UK (BBC) Variety. BBC 1

videos bullet iconLiverpudlian singer turned presenter whose career break came while working as a cloakroom attendant and occasional vocalist at The Cavern Club, famous for The Beatles' early performances. Spotted by Brian Epstein, Black secured a recording contract and notched up two number ones with "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "You're My World." She ventured into television in in 1968, gaining her own Saturday night series, Cilla, on BBC 1, which ran for several years. In these live programmes she sent an outside broadcast team to surprise unsuspecting residents somewhere in the UK. She also gave viewers the chance to choose the Song for Europe. Black later tried her hand at sitcom in Cilla's Comedy Six and Cilla's World of Comedy, and after a quiet period during the 1970s she resurfaced as host of Surprise, Surprise (in 1984), and Blind Date (in 1985). In 1998, she launched another Saturday evening show, Cilla's Moment of Truth.. Five years later, she dropped a TV bombshell by announcing in a special live episode that she was quitting Blind Date after 18 years. Buy this artist on CD at Amazon.com

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CITIZEN SMITH
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1977-80

videos bullet icon"Power to the People!" Walter Henry "Wolfie" Smith (Robert Lindsay) is the Che Guevara of south-west London -- or so he believes. Sporting an Afghan coat and a commando beret, he is the guitar-strumming figurehead of the Tooting Popular Front (TPF), a team of hapless Marxist freedom fighters whose members total six in number. His right-hand man is Ken Mills (Mike Grady), a weedy, vegetarian pacifist-cum-Buddhist with whom he shares a flat above the home of Charlie (Peter Vaughn, Tony Steedman) and Florence Johnson (Hilda Braid), the parents of Wolfie's girlfriend, Shirley (played by Robert Lindsay's real wife at the time, Cheryl Hall; Shirley appeared in only the first three seasons, when she worked in the Sounds Cool record shop). Shirley's dad, a security guard at Haydon Electronics, is an irascible social-climbing Yorkshireman who has no time for "that bloody yeti," as he brands Wolfie. His dopey wife, on the other hand, is genuinely fond of the lodger she mistakenly knows as "Foxy." The other main characters in the TPF are Tucker (Tony Millan) and Anthony "Speed" King (George Sweeney). Tucker, a nervous family man with a formidable wife named June and nine kids, owns the van the gang use for their "manoeuvres." Speed is the team's hard man, a brainless, violent thug who drifts in and out of jail. Lurking in the background is the manor's Mr. Big, Harry Fenning (Stephen Greif), owner of Wolfie's local, The Vigilante. Fenning is replaced in the last series by the just as nasty, but cruelly hen-pecked, Welsh gangster, Ronnie Lynch (David Garfield). Citizen Smith was John Sullivan's big break. The writer of Only Fools and Horses, Just Good Friends, Dear John, etc., was working as a scene shifter at the BBC at the time. Convinced he could produce something better than the humourless sitcoms he was watching, he created the character of an ageing hippie turned working-class hero, whose support for Fulham FC was yet another lost cause. The script was taken up for an episode of Comedy Playhouse in 1977 (in which Artro Morris played Shirley's dad) and a full series was commissioned the same year. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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COLDITZ
UK (BBC/Universal) Drama. BBC 1 1972-4

videos bullet iconBased on the book by Major Pat Reid, a genuine survivor of Colditz who acted as technical adviser, this series follows the adventurous bids for freedom of a group of high-level Allied POWs, most of whom have already succeeded in escaping from other prison camps. After an initial three episodes which show how all the main characters arrive at Castle Colditz (a supposedly impregnable fortress, known as Oflag IV C, perched high on sheer cliffs in eastern Germany), the series settles down into a portrayal of the rivalry and suspicions that exist among the various Allied nationalities. Their relationship with their German captors is also in focus. Although a mutual respect develops between the POWs, led by the British Lt. Col. John Preston (Jack Hedley), and the camp's tolerant Kommandant (Bernard Hepton), friction increases when the SS threatens to take over the castle and when, in the second series, the sadistic Major Horst Mohn (Anthony Valentine) is introduced. The desperate escape plans include launching home-made gliders off the castle roof, as well as the more conventional guard impersonations and wall scalings. One inmate, Wing Commander Marsh, works on insanity as a means of getting out. He succeeds but, when finally freed, the stress of acting mad has actually warped his mind. Guest stars come and go, and the progress of the war outside the castle walls is used as a backdrop to events in the closed world of Colditz itself. The series concludes with liberation in 1945. Colditz revived the flagging career of Robert Wagner, who played Canadian airman Phil Carrington. The series also led to a variety of spin-off ventures, ranging from bizarre holidays at the real castle to a children's board game. The inspiration had been the 1955 film The Colditz Story, starring John Mills and Eric Portman. In 2005, ITV 1 screened a new two-part drama with the same title and based loosely on events at Colditz Castle. It starred Damien Lewis, Sophie Myles and Tom Hardy. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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CORONATION STREET
UK (Granada) Drama. ITV 1960-

videos bullet iconCoronation Street is a British institution. However, after the first episode went out at 7 p.m. on 9 December 1960 one critic famously declared that it had no future, being all doom and gloom. Like the Decca records executive who turned down The Beatles, he couldn't have been more wrong. The 'Street' is now over 40 years old and still at the top of the ratings. That said, anyone viewing early recordings will immediately recognize how the series has changed over the years. It began in an age of industrial grime and sweat but has progressed to reflect the many changes that have taken place in British life. The smoking chimney pots and leaden skies of the early programme credits echoed a dour but vibrant society, and creator Tony Warren (a 23-year-old Granada staff writer, tired of adapting Biggles stories) initially produced scripts similar to the kitchen-sink dramas seen on Armchair Theatre. But the programme quickly mellowed, introducing more humour and occasional farcical elements. Indeed, the programme wandered so far from Warren's original goals that at one time he disowned it. These days, Coronation Street plays almost like a situation comedy, although shocks, tragedy and moments of high drama are liberally dispersed throughout its episodes. Warren himself later conceded that with society growing "softer," Coronation Street had to follow suit. The programme is set in the fictional Manchester suburb of Weatherfield, Coronation Street (the working name was Florizel Street but, allegedly, sounded too much like a lavatory cleaner) being a typical northern back-street terrace with a pub on one corner and a shop on the other. The first ever scene took place in the shop on the day that Florrie Lindley arrived to take over the business from the retiring Elsie Lappin (Maudie Edwards). Also in that historic original cast were Annie and Jack Walker (Doris Speed and Arthur Leslie), landlords of the pub, the Rovers Return. The genial Jack (and actor Leslie) died in 1970, but Annie, the Street's duchess and mistress of the withering look, held the licence until 1983, when she retired and left the series. Ena Sharples (Violet Carson) was the local hair-netted battleaxe, caretaker of the Glad Tidings Mission. Her OAP friends in the pub's snug were meek-and-mild Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant) and Martha Longhurst, who was sensationally killed in 1964, slumping dead over her milk stout. Another veteran was pensioner Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth), proud of his war medals but never too proud to cadge a free rum if one was offered. Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix) was the fiery brunette whose promiscuity nettled the local puritans (especially Ena), and Dennis (Philip Lowrie) was her layabout son. And then there were the Barlows, hard-working, salt of the earth dad, Frank (Frank Pemberton), his loyal wife, Ida (Noel Dyson) (soon to be crushed by a bus), and two sons, Ken (William Roache) and David (Alan Rothwell). David, a one-time professional footballer, was subsequently killed in a car accident in Australia, while Ken, always the Street's intellectual (thrice-married: to Albert Tatlock's niece Valerie, to suicide victim Janet Reid and to Deirdre Langton -- the last on two occasions), is today the only remaining original cast member. In the 1970s action focused around flighty shop assistant Suzie Birchall (Cheryl Murray), corner shop girl Tricia Hopkins (Kathy Jones) and insecure Gail Potter (Helen Worth). Gail has since matured into a mother of three, and wed three times. Her first husband was the brawny Brian Tilsley (Christopher Quinten) (son of Ivy, arch-nagger, devout Catholic and one-time factory shop steward), while her second husband was trainee nurse Martin Platt (Sean Wilson), one of the 1980s' intake of teenagers. Originally screened live on Fridays, with a recorded episode shown on Mondays, Coronation Street switched to Monday and Wednesday evenings in 1961 and was, for the first time, fully networked (the earliest episodes were not seen in the Midlands or in the Tyne-Tees area). From 1989, a third helping was served up on Fridays in a bid to win the soap war with BBC rival Eastenders. A fourth weekly episode -- on Sunday -- was added in 1996, and a fifth -- a second Monday instalment -- began in 2002. Coronation Street has also been viewed with much pleasure around the world, although one of the few places it has yet to catch on is the USA. America did produce its own copycat soap, however, in the shape of Peyton Place. Outliving its glamorous American clone by many years, Coronation Street is now the world's longest-running fictitious television series. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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CROSSROADS
UK (ATV/Central/Carlton) Drama. ITV 1964-88; ITV 1 2001-3

videos bullet iconFew programmes have endured as much ridicule as Crossroads, which began as a five-times-a-week early-evening serial. At the same time, few programmes have won the hearts of so many viewers. From its earliest days, Crossroads was taunted with criticisms of its wobbly sets and often wobblier performers who fluffed lines or simply forgot them. Despite this and the constraints of a small budget (and hectic recording schedule) its popularity was such that it ran and ran -- for 24 years in all. The programme's queen bee was Meg Richardson (Noele Gordon), widowed owner of the Crossroads Motel, set in the fictitious village of King's Oak, somewhere in the West Midlands. Around her buzzed her next-of-kin: daughter Jill (Jane Rossington), son Sandy (Roger Tonge) and sister Kitty (Beryl Johnstone), with Kitty's husband, Dick (Brian Kent), and architect son Brian (David Fennell). Meg's extended family were the motel staff, most of them dyed-in-the-wool Brummies, with the notable exception of Spanish chef Carlos Rafael (Anthony Morton). The most popular employees over the years included Diane Lawton (Susan Hanson), the blonde waitress who steadily worked her way up the motel ladder, singing waitress Marilyn Gates (Sue Nicholls, later replaced by Nadine Hanwell), gossipy little Amy Turtle (Ann George), pompous chef Mr. Lovejoy (William Avenell), hairstylist Vera Downend (Zeph Gladstone) (who lived on a houseboat), coffee bar worker Benny Willmot (Deke Arlon), gardener Archie Gibbs (Jack Haig), gruff nightwatchman Carney (Jack Woolgar), spinster Doris Luke (Kathy Staff), oily restaurant manager Paul Ross (Sandor Elès), Scots chef Shughie McFee (Angus Lennie) and receptionist Anne-Marie Wade (Dee Hepburn). At the Crossroads garage worked Jim Baines (John Forgeham), Sid Hooper (Stan Stennett) and Joe McDonald (Carl Andrews), and the good folk of King's Oak also had a look-in, especially miserable old Wilf Harvey (Morris Parsons) (whose electrician son, Stan [Edward Clayton], married Jill) postmistress Miss Tatum (Elisabeth Croft), antiques dealers Tish and Ted Hope (Joy Andrews and Charles Stapley) and shopkeeper Roy Lambert (Steven Pinder). Probably the best loved of all Crossroads characters, however, was the slow-witted, wooly-hatted Benny Hawkins (Paul Henry), first seen as a labourer at Diane's uncle's farm. He followed "Miss Diane" back to King's Oak, but continued to suffer more than his fair share of misfortune, including the death of his gypsy girlfriend, Maureen Flynn, on their wedding day. But tragedy and romance were the name of the game at Crossroads. Young Sandy was crippled in a car accident and spent most of his time afterwards in a wheelchair (actor Roger Tonge was later confined to a wheelchair himself, before dying prematurely in 1981). Jill married three times (once bigamously) and Meg herself married twice. Her first new husband, Malcolm Ryder (David Davenport), tried to poison her, and she later fell for old flame Hugh Mortimer (John Bentley), a millionaire businessman who then died of a heart attack while being held as a terrorists' hostage. This may sound rather far-fetched, but such extravagant storylines were always possible. Devised by former Compact writers Hazel Adair and Peter Ling, from an idea by producer Reg Watson (later of Prisoner: Cell Block H and Neighbours fame), Crossroads' working title was The Midland Road. Adopting the snappier name, the series began in 1964 but, despite gaining a cult following, was not fully networked by ITV until 1972. Its heavy workload was cut to four episodes a week in 1967, and then, on the instructions of the IBA, which was concerned about its quality, to three episodes a week in 1980. When the plug was pulled altogether in 1988, after over 4,500 programmes, there was a huge outcry, but the bosses at Central Television were adamant that Crossroads' day was done and refused to reconsider. In its place, fans had to made do with Victoria Wood's cheeky send-up, Acorn Antiques. However, Crossroads is not the sort of serial that gives in easily and was revived as a daily serial by ITV in 2001 and yet again in 2003.

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CROWN COURT
UK (Granada) Drama. ITV 5 1972-84

videos bullet iconPresenting a different case each week, over three half-hour episodes, Crown Court was a stalwart of ITV's first afternoon schedules. Viewers were treated to hearings on a variety of subjects, from drug-pushing to murder, and then awaited the deliberations of the jury (a panel of viewers), which were revealed at the close of the last episode. Many distinguished actors graced this popular series, including the likes of John Le Mesurier, Bob Hoskins, Ben Kingsley, Juliet Stevenson, Pauline Quirke, Michael Elphick, Liz Fraser, Michael Gough, Jack Shepherd and Connie Booth. Richard Wilson was a regular, playing barrister Jeremy Parsons QC. The setting was the fictitious Fulchester Crown Court. A similarly styled series, Verdict, was screened on ITV in 1998, and in 2004 Channel 4 launched a daytime series called The Courtroom, another take on the same idea. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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DAD'S ARMY
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1968-77

videos bullet iconDrawing nostalgically on 1940s Britain, this long-running farce has been described as the classic British sitcom. It focuses on the misadventures of the Local Defence Volunteers of fictional Walmington-on-Sea (supposedly Bexhill). In true Home Guard tradition, the platoon is comprised of men too old, too young or too weak to take their place on the front line (hence, 'Dad's Army'). Self-appointed head of the unit is Captain George Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe), the town's pompous, incompetent bank manager with a tragically misplaced sense of his own importance. His much-maligned second in command, in the bank as well as in uniform, is Sgt. Arthur Wilson (John Le Mesurier). Public-school-educated and polite to the point of asking the platoon if they "would mind awfully falling in," he is far more level-headed than Mainwaring and never fails unwittingly to undermine his CO. Next in line is the town's butcher, Cpl. Jack Jones (Clive Dunn), a fading veteran of Kitchener's army and master of the long-winded, far from pertinent tale, but a man with the heart of a lion and always the first to volunteer for the most dangerous tasks. The other key members of the platoon are just as distinctive. Private James Fraser (John Laurie) is a rolling-eyed, penny-pinching Scottish undertaker, and Private Charles Godfrey (Arnold Ridley) is the company's doddery, weak-bladdered first aider, who lives in a picture-postcard cottage with his sisters, Dolly and Cissy. Private Joe Walker (James Beck) and movie-mad teenager Frank Pike (Ian Lavender) are the other two principals, Walker a black market spiv (a role originally earmarked for writer Jimmy Perry himself) and Pike a bank clerk and mummy's boy whose mother conducts a semi-covert affair with Sgt. Wilson -- his "Uncle Arthur." Valiantly failing to patrol the resort or to fulfil demanding military exercises, the platoon are constantly nettled by the local ARP warden, Mr. William Hodges (Bill Pertwee), the greengrocer. Bound together with 1940s tunes vocalized by Bud Flanagan, the series conjured up some of the most memorable lines in TV comedy. Mainwaring's "Stupid boy" (to Pike), Wilson's ominous "Do you think that's wise, sir," Jones's "Permission to speak, sir" and "Don't panic," and Fraser's "We're doomed" all became catchphrases. The death of James Beck in 1973 (ironically one of the youngest cast members) was not allowed to stop the series. The cast was full and talented enough to continue, and lesser characters like Private Sponge (Colin Bean) were given more prominence in support. A film version of Dad's Army was released in 1971. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE DES O'CONNOR SHOW
UK (ATV) Comedy.

videos bullet iconDes O'Connor is a London-born singer, comedian, presenter and talk show host who came to the fore in the 1950s in series like Spot the Tune. The Des O'Connor Show ran through most of the 1960s (a time when Des was notching up a string of hit singles) and O'Connor's other series for ITV in the 1960s and 1970s included Des and Des O'Connor Entertains. O'Connor then switched to the BBC for Des O'Connor Tonight, a chat/variety show, but that, too, transferred to ITV. He was once compere of Sunday Night at the London Palladium and, in more recent years, has hosted a revival of Take Your Pick, the talent show Pot of Gold, The National Lottery - on the Spot and Today with Des and Mel (with Melanie Sykes). Despite being mercilessly pilloried for his singing by Morcambe and Wise, O'Connor has remained one of the UK's favourite entertainers. Buy this artist on DVD at Amazon.com

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DOCTOR WHO
UK (BBC) Science Fiction. BBC 1 1963-89; (Universal/BBC Worldwide/MCA) 1996; 2005-

videos bullet iconDoctor Who first reached the TV screen on the day after President Kennedy was assassinated. It quickly lodged itself into the Saturday teatime slot and gained a wonderful reputation for frightening children and entertaining adults. From behind the sofa, kids of all ages wallowed in the concept of a galactic do-gooder with unusual habits working his way around the dimensions of time and space, protecting the innocent and thwarting the oppressive. Initially, Doctor Who had an educational thrust, with creator Sydney Newman intending to involve The Doctor in real historical events, showing viewers just how things had actually happened. But, although there were instances when our hero found himself at the Gunfight at the OK Corral, among the Aztecs, alongside Marco Polo or at the start of the Great Fire of Rome, for example, the idea was quickly dropped in favour of more popular scary monsters and superbeasts. The Doctor (William Hartnell) is first encountered in the then today of 1963 in the episode "An Unearthly Child," The child in question is his alleged granddaughter, Susan Foreman, a hyper-intelligent pupil at a London school. Her snooping teachers, Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), discover her home is an old police box, parked in a junk yard, where she lives with her grandfather, a mysterious, white-haired, tetchy old man dressed in Edwardian clothing. They sneak into the police box, only to find it is larger inside than out and is, in fact, a kind of spaceship. Fearing his secret will be made public, The Doctor activates the ship, takes off (dematerializes) and lands (materializes) on a prehistoric Earth inhabited by prehistoric tribesmen. Thus the first Doctor Who adventure begins. It is at this point that we learn more about The Doctor's spaceship. It is known as the TARDIS, standing for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space, and, as implied, it can travel through time as well as space. Sadly, The Doctor has little control over it, and, as one adventure ends, so another begins, with the TARDIS depositing its reluctant crew in yet another perilous situation. (The cliffhangers at the end of the programme were always worth waiting for.) As the series progresses, The Doctor's companions change frequently. Susan leaves her grandfather to stay on Earth in the year 2167, and Ian and Barbara eventually return to their own time. In their places, The Doctor picks up Vicki (Maureen O'Brien) (a stranded Earth girl), Steven Taylor (a space pilot, played by future Blue Peter presenter Peter Purves) and Dodo, from Wimbledon. Then comes Polly (Anneke Wills), a scientist's secretary, and Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), a Cockney merchant seaman, before The Doctor himself changes. In an episode called "The Tenth Planet," something happens that will prove vital to the longevity of the series: The Doctor regenerates. Viewers learn that he has the power to revitalize himself when close to death. On this occasion, the grey locks and craggy features of William Hartnell give way to the pudding-basin haircut and elfish grin of Patrick Troughton. Along with his appearance, The Doctor's character also changes. His dour snappiness is replaced by sprightly joie de vivre, as Troughton turns The Doctor into a kind of scientific clown, a cosmic hobo in baggy checked trousers who passes the time piping up then Scots Highlander Jamie McCrimmon (a pre-Emmerdale Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling), the orphaned daughter of an antiques shop owner, and a superintelligent alien named Zoe Herriot (Wendy Padbury). When Troughton decided to bow out, it was easy to drop in a replacement, given that the regeneration idea had been comfortably established, and, with his departure, anther of The Doctor's many secrets is revealed. Viewers learn that The Doctor is actually one of the Time Lords, a race that lives on the planet Gallifrey and acts as guardians of the time concept. In fact, he has been a bit of a rebel, a runaway who stole a TARDIS, albeit not a very good one. Not only is its navigation control hopelessly flawed, but its chameleon circuits are also defunct. Consequently, instead of being able to change appearance to blend in with the background (as it did in 1963), it is now stuck in its police box guise. All the same, the Time Lords are not forgiving. Finally catching up with The Doctor, they put him on trial and exile him to Earth. Troughton's successor, Jon Pertwee, plays the role as a brilliant scientist with martial arts skills, a dandy in a frilly shirt and a velvet jacket who drives a yellow vintage car named Bessie (registration WHO 1). He works as a consultant at UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), commanded by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), a by-the-book, traditional army man who first appears as a Colonel in the Troughton days. Earth is suddenly under threat from all quarters, as malevolent aliens cast their eyes on the planet, and it is during this period that The Doctor's arch-rival, The Master (Roger Delgado), a scheming, mesmeric, renegade Time Lord with a goatee beard and a sinister smirk, makes his debut. Working with The Doctor at UNIT to counter such adversaries is Liz Shaw (Caroline John), headstrong agent Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and tomboyish journalist Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). Although often mocked for its primitive effects and soundtracks, few programmes have earned more respect than Doctor Who. Two feature film copies were made in the early days -- Doctor Who and the Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD, both starring Peter Cushing in the title role. Doctor Who trivia is available in abundance. Allegedly he is around 750 years old and, being a Time Lord, has two hearts and is allowed 13 regenerations. Among his favourite gadgets is the sonic screwdriver, used for anything from opening electronic doors to detonating unexploded bombs. He is seldom called "Doctor Who," but simply "The Doctor" (or, somewhat confusingly, "The Professor" by his travelling companion Londoner Ace in the Peter Davison depiction). The atmospheric original them music (modernized by later producers) was composed by Ron Grainer of the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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A FAMILY AT WAR
UK (Granada) Drama. ITV 1970-2

videos bullet iconGranada's most expensive ever serial at the time, A Family at War focuses on the middle-class Ashton family as they struggle throughout the lean war years. Starting in May 1938 and running on to 1945, it sees them emerge from the decay of the Depression to face the even more bitter realities of World War II, and witnesses family and romantic relationships disintegrate along the way. Never a day passes without a new worry for the Ashtons, headed by morose Yorkshire dad Edwin (Colin Douglas), who is beholden to his pompous brother-in-law, Sefton Briggs (John McKelvey). Sefton and his sister, Edwin's wife Jean (Shelagh Fraser) have inherited the family printing works. Eldest child is David (Colin Campbell), a docks worker who has married too young to Sheila (Coral Atkins), produced two children, Peter and Janet, and is constantly in debt until he joins the R.A.F. Next comes schoolteacher Margaret (Lesley Nunnerley), who marries John Porter (Ian Thompson), who goes missing in action. Philip is the 21-year-old Oxford student who fights in the Spanish Civil War, while Freda (Barbara Flynn), the youngest daughter, is just starting work and Robert (David Dixon), the youngest son, is way at nautical school. The programme's symbolic titles-sequence, showing a demolished sandcastle, is as well remembered as the series itself. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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FAWLTY TOWERS
UK (BBC), Situation Comedy. BBC 2 1975; 1979

videos bullet iconFawlty Towers, a modest little Torquay Hotel, is run by husband and wife Basil and Sybil Fawlty (John Cleese and Prunella Scales). Modest the hotel may be, but Basil has ambitious plans for his small empire and runs it with great enthusiasm. Sadly, the guests tend to get in the way. Inhibited also by his nagging, droning, gossiping wife and by Manuel (Andrew Sachs), a useless Spanish waiter from Barcelona who understands little English ("I know nothing"), Fawlty's best-laid plans always end in disaster. Fawlty is a master at turning the simplest procedures -- like serving dinner to guests -- into complete chaos, and his patronizing air, biting sarcasm and bouts of rage all contrive to make matters worse. When practising a fire drill, he refuses to allow a real kitchen fire to interrupt the flow of proceedings; when entertaining German guests, a blow on the head encourages the already unbalanced hotelier to goosestep around the dining room, magnificently failing not to "mention the war." When an undercover hotel inspector comes to town, Fawlty unctuously fawns over every guest except the right one, and on a planned gourmet evening, Terry (Brian Hall), his chef, gets blind drunk. Hovering on the fringe at all times are the hotel's permanent guests, two doddery old ladies named Miss Tibbs (Gilly Flower) and Miss Ursula Gatsby (Renee Roberts), and senile and deaf Major Gowen (Ballard Berkeley). But, thankfully, there is also Polly Sherman (Connie Booth), the chambermaid, who attempts to bring some order back to the hotel. Hers is generally only a limited success, with her lanky, hot-headed boss screwing things up time and again. He can't even keep control of the hotel's name plate, which is constantly tampered with by meddling hands to offer Fatty Owls, Farty Towels, Watery Fowls or other anagrammatic names. The series combines the best aspects of farce -- misconstrued conversations, physical stunts, well-timed exits and entrances, etc. -- with some classic one-liners and insults. Very few series manage to imbue the viewers with so much tension, frustration and expansion, but Fawlty Towers has been generally accepted as one of the gems of British TV comedy. It was allegedly inspired by a visit by the Monty Python team to a Torquay hotel and their discovery of a rude hotelier who threw Eric Idle's briefcase into the street, thinking it was a bomb. The character was written into one of John Cleese and Graham Chapman's Doctor at Large scripts, before finally achieving greatness in his own right in this sitcom, several years later. After the acclaim of the first six Fawlty Towers episodes, the second series took four years to arrive (partly because Cleese and his co-writer wife, Connie Booth, had split up), but most people thought it well worth the wait. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE FRANKIE HOWERD SHOW
UK (BBC) Comedy.

videos bullet iconFrankie Howerd was a British comedian, known for his "oohs," "aahs," "please yourselves" and stuttering, bumbling delivery (caused by a natural childhood stammer, which he exaggerated for effect). Eventually breaking into showbiz at the end of World War II, and making a name for himself on radio shows like Variety Bandbox, Howerd was given his first TV show in 1952. It was entitled The Howerd Crowd and was followed by numerous variety spots and guest turns over the years. Although his popularity faltered at the turn of the 1960s, and Howerd appeared not to be moving with the times, he was thrown a lifeline with an appearance on That Was the Week That Was, which resulted from a successful appearance in Peter Cook's Establishment Club. Howerd never looked back. He went on to star in a London stage version of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," which led to a TV lookalike, Up Pompeii!, in 1969. In this, as Lurcio the slave, Howerd meandered his way through double entendres and innuendoes (some allegedly too strong for the man himself), trying to deliver a prologue. This series led to run of film spin-offs, as well as a similar TV outing set in the Middle East, Whoops Baghdad!, in 1973. In all, Howerd was seldom off TV screens in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to programmes such as The Frankie Howerd Show, The Howerd Confessions, Frankie Howerd Strikes Again and A Touch of the Casanovas (the pilot for a never-realized series). His wartime sitcom, Then Churchill Said to Me, made in 1982, was not broadcast (because of the Falklands conflict) until UK Gold screened it 11 years later. In 1992, the year of his death, he entertained selected audiences in a short series called Frankie's on... (the gap filled by words to reflect his location, like Board for the Ark Royal or the Coals for a mining community). One of his last series was the kids' comedy All Change, in 1989, in which he played the ghostly Uncle Bob. Buy this artist on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE GENERATION GAME
UK (BBC) Game Show. BBC 1 1971-82; 1990-2002

videos bullet iconThe Generation Game is the number-one game show in British TV history, enjoying two lengthy prime-time runs. Simple in format, it involved four couples (each composed of an elder and a younger member of a family -- father and daughter, aunt and nephew, etc.) competing in two heats and a semi-final. The heats consisted of two games based on little quizzes and challenges -- guessing film themes and miming the answer to a partner, spotting personalities in disguise, etc. Demonstrations by experts (making pots, icing cakes, spinning plates, performing a dance, etc.), which the contestants had to copy, proved particularly popular. Points were awarded for performance and the two heat-winning couples then competed in a semi-final. This often took the form of a comic playlet, with celebrity judges allocating marks for performances. The winning duo progressed to a final "conveyor belt" round in which a succession of household goodies (always including a cuddly toy) passed before their eyes. Everything that they could recall in a set time was taken home as prizes. The Generation Game was devised by a Dutch housewife who was inspired by game shows like Beat the Clock (part of Sunday Night at the London Palladium), and when it was televised in Holland as Een Van De Acht (One from Eight) it topped the ratings. Former Beat the Clock host Bruce Forsyth was the obvious choice to take charge of the UK version and he quickly established the programme as an integral part of Saturday evening viewing. Forsyth revelled in the party game format. With a twinkle in his eye, he bullied and coerced the hapless contestants through each show, combining words of encouragement with false anger and gentle mockery. The contestants loved it. Assisting Bruce was the leggy Anthea Redfern, who was soon to be his second wife. When Bruce was lured away to ITV in 1978, it seemed that The Generation Game's heyday was over. Camp comedian Larry Grayson was not an obvious replacement, yet he made the show an even bigger hit. Sensibly avoiding Forsyth's aggressive approach, Grayson instead brought his own effete style to proceedings, in which he was assisted by Scottish folk singer Isla St Clair. The Generation Game was cancelled in 1982 but was brought back, with Bruce Forsyth again at the helm, in 1990. Once more, his skilful manipulation of the studio audience and his ease with contestants ensured that the programme was as popular as ever. Dancer Rosemarie Ford became his Girl Friday. In 1994, Bruce retired once more, leaving Jim Davidson to take over a year later, supported by Sally Meen and, subsequently, Melanie Stace, then Lea Kristensen. The Generation Game has aired under several titles. In the early days, it was known as Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game. It then became Larry Grayson's Generation Game, and the latest incarnation has been called Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game or Jim Davidson's Generation Game. It has also given us catchphrases galore -- from "Let's meet the eight who are going to generate" and "Let's see the scores on the doors" to "Good game, good game" and "What's on the board, Miss Ford?." King of the catchphrases, however, has been "Didn't he do well?" -- just like the programme itself. On New Year's Eve 2004, Graham Norton hosted Generation Fame, a one-off revival featuring celebrity contestants.

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GEORGE AND MILDRED
UK (Thames) Situation Comedy. ITV 1976-9

videos bullet iconIn this Man about the House spinoff, George and Mildred Roper (Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce) have moved from their ground-floor flat to a middle-class housing development (46 Peacock Crescent, Hampton Wick). There, the pushy, man-hungry Mildred strives to be upwardly mobile and the weedy, shiftless George -- with his motorcycle and sidecar -- defiantly proclaims his working-class roots. Next door live the Fourmiles: snooty Jeffrey (Norman Eshley), his likeable wife, Ann (Sheila Fearn), and their bespectacled young son, Tristram (Nicholas Bond-Owen), who is constantly corrupted by George. The Fourmiles later add baby Tarquin to their family. Regular visitors, much to Mildred's embarrassment, are her materialistic sister Ethel (Avril Elgar) and brother-in-law Humphrey (Reginald Marsh). Jerry (Roy Kinnear) is George's layabout pal and Truffles is Mildred's pampered Yorkshire Terrier. Like Man about the House, which became Three's Company in the USA, this series was also translated into an American version. The Ropers starred Norman Fell and Audra Lindley. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE GOODIES
UK (BBC/LWT) Comedy. BBC 2 1970-7; 1980/ITV 1981-2

videos bullet iconGraeme (Graeme Gordon), Tim (Tim Brooke-Taylor) and Bill (Bill Oddie) are benefactors to society, available to do anything, anywhere and at any time to help humanity. Taking on the weirdest assignments, they find themselves guarding the Crown Jewels, rescuing London from the advance of a giant kitten, and in other bizarre situations. Sometimes they cook up their own world improvement schemes and attempt to put them in action. Energetically charging around on a three-seater bicycle (a "trandem"), the three form an unlikely team. Tim is a weedy royalist sporting a Union Jack waistcoat, Graeme is a mad scientist type and Bill is an unkempt, hairy socialist-cum-cynic. They live in a typical 1970s flat, dominated by portraits of the Queen (for Tim) and Chairman Mao (for Bill), plus Graeme's computer. Their adventures are punctuated with crazy sight gags, slapstick sketches and spoof TV commercials. There are send-ups galore as the trio take contemporary fads or issues and place them surreally in different contexts -- a north country spoof on the Kung Fu craze, for instance. Bill Oddie's original music features prominently (The Goodies had five real-life hits in the 1970s, most notably, alas, "Funky Gibbon" in 1975). Originally planned as Super-Chaps Three, The Goodies was one of BBC 2's biggest successes of the 1970s, enjoying repeat showings on BBC 1. However, disillusioned with the Corporation's lack of commitment to the programme, the team moved to LWT for a short run in 1981-2, by which time the concept had dated somewhat. The team was finally reunited at Christmas 2005 in Return of the Goodies (BBC 2), a one-off celebration of the series. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE GOOD LIFE
UK (BBC), Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1975-8

videos bullet iconTom Good (Richard Briers) has become tired of the rat race. On his 40th birthday, sick of commuting to his draughtsman's job in the City (where he creates cereal gifts for the JJM company), he throws it all in to concentrate on home farming. Ably and inventively assisted by Barbara (Felicity Kendal), his perky wife, the buoyant Tom turns his back garden into an allotment, growing fruit and vegetables and housing chickens, pigs, a cockerel named Lenin and even a goat named Geraldine. For heating and cooking they restore an old cast-iron range, and for power they run a generator in the cellar. Living off the land, and bartering away the surplus with local shopkeepers, the Goods thrive on the joys of self-sufficiency, even if there are mooments of deep despair. It is at times like these that their true-blue neighbors, Jerry and Margo Leadbetter (Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith), ride to the rescue. Although they consider Tom and Barbara to be completely insane, and to have brought "The Avenue" into disrepute, they remain loyal friends. Even if Margo hates donning wellies to feed the pigs, she still does so, and she and Jerry (a former work colleague of Tom's) always take great interest in events next door. In return, the Goods bring a ray of wholesome sunshine into the depressingly snobbish life of their wealthier neighbours. Occasionally seen is Jerry's overbearing boss Andrew, "Sir" (Reginald Marsh). Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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GRANGE HILL
UK (BBC/Mersey), Children's Drama. BBC 1 1978-

videos bullet iconIn the days when the nearest thing to unruly behavior on children's television was an elephant wetting itself in the Blue Peter studio, it would have been quite unthinkable to have switched on at five o'clock and watched a schoolboy trying to kick his heroin addiction. But times move on and kids' TV certainly caught up with its viewers when the BBC launched Grange Hill in 1978. The brainchild of Liverpudlian writer Phil Redmond (later to take Brookside to Channel 4), Grange Hill (screened twice a week as a children's soap opera) was school as it really was, with none of the jolly japes and wizard wheezes of Billy Bunter's days. The action took place at Grange Hill Comprehensive and, to make its intended audience feel at home, low, kid-height camera-angles were used. The series showed pupils (mostly Form 1 Alpha) out of control, insulting teachers, truanting, bullying weaklings, smoking and shopflifting. It covered subjects as intense as child abuse, racism, sex, pregnancy, job hunting and, yes, drugs; and, while it received no thanks from Mary Whitehouse, its audience, aged between six and 16, loved it. Critics also failed to note that no one ever benefited from any of the hell-raising, and punishments were suitably doled out and the moral angles were well publicized. Although lead and supporting characters have come and gone as pupils have progressed through school, the best remembered is Tucker Jenkins (played by future EastEnder Todd Carty), who also earned his own spin-off series, Tucker's Luck (1983-5), on leaving school. Carter's EastEnders sister, Susan Tully, was another early star, playing Suzanne Ross, and several other members of the prime-time soap cut their TV teeth in the classrooms of Grange Hill. Oscar-winning writer Anthony Minghella was the series' script editor, 1983-8. Phil Redmond returned to the series as executive producer in 2003, relocating the school out of London and to nowhere in particular (filming took place in Liverpool, as Mersey Television took over production), and aiming to re-introduce lighter elements to the format. Also guesting at this time was Todd Carty as Tucker, bringing in his rascally nephew, "Togger" Johnson (Chris Perry-Metcalfe). Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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IT AIN'T HALF HOT MUM
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1974-8; 1980-1

videos bullet iconSet during World War II, It Ain't Half Hot Mum relates the farcical exploits of the Royal Artillery Concert party as they entertain the active men, and takes its name from the content of letters written home by one of its recruits, Gunner Nigel Parkin (Christopher Mitchell). Joining Parkin in the troupe are Bombardier "Solly" Solomons (George Layton, written out after the early episodes); drag artist Gunner Beaumont (Melvyn Hayes, known to all as Gloria); intellectual pianist Gunner "Paderewski" Graham (John Clegg); diminutive chief vocalist Gunner "Lofty" Sugden (Don Estelle); Scotsman Gunner Mackintosh (Stuart McGugan); and Gunners "Nobby" Clark (Kenneth MacDonald) and "Nosher" Evans (Mike Kinsey). Their out-of-touch COs are snooty Colonel Reynolds (Donald Hewlett) and his idiotic sidekick, Captain Ashwood (Michael Knowles), but bane of their lives is the Welsh Sgt Major B. L. Williams (Windsor Davies). "Old Shut Up," as they know him, considers the concert party to be a bunch of "pooftahs" (especially Gloria and "Mr Lah-de-dah Gunner Graham"). He does, however, have more respect for young Parkin, a Colchester lad who, in the Sgt Major's eyes, has a fine pair of shoulders and always sets a good example to the rest of the unit (Williams thinks he is the boy's father). The show opens to the troupe's rousing theme song, inviting viewers to "Meet the gang 'cos the boys are here, the boys to entertain you." Windsor Davies and Don Estelle capitalized on their roles for a spin-off single, "Whispering Grass," which surprisingly topped the UK charts in 1975. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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JASON KING
UK (Scoton/ITC) Detective Drama. ITV 1971-2

videos bullet iconJason King (Peter Wyngarde) was the prominent member of the Department S team. This was hardly surprising, given the extravagant lifestyle he enjoyed and the outrageous 1970s fashions he favoured. Now out on his own, he continues writing his "Mark Caine" mysteries and indulging in investigations of his own, usually surrounded by beautiful girls. Nicola Harvester (Ann Sharp) is his publisher, and Sir Brian (Dennis Price), together with his assistant, Ryland (Ronald Lacey) are civil servants who blackmail King (over tax evasion) into working for the Government from time to time. His assignments are considerably more down-to-earth than the baffling Department S cases, despite being set in exotic locations. Buy the Jason King movie on DVD at Amazon.com

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LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1973; 1975-6; 1978-9; 1981-93; 1995-

videos bullet iconLast of the Summer Wine is the world's longest-running sitcom. It began as a Comedy Playhouse presentation in 1973 and then emerged as a series in its own right the same year. Filmed in the Yorkshire village of Holmfirth, it has focused for most of its life on three mischievous but lovable pensioners who pass their twilight years energetically engaging themselves in a second childhood of assorted romps and antics. The original trio are seedy, tramp-like William "Compo" Simmonite (Bill Owen), laconic widower (and lifelong Co-op furniture operative) Norman "Cleggy" Clegg (Peter Sills) and former Royal Signals sergeant Cyril Blamire (Michael Bates). Blamire is replaced by another ex-military man, army sign-writer Walter "Foggy" Dewhurst (Brian Wilde) (actor Michael Bates had taken ill). He, in turn, is substituted for a few seasons by schoolteacher turned crackpot inventor Seymour Utterthwaite (Michael Aldridge). Former policeman Herbert Truelove, a.k.a "Truly of the Yard" (Frank Thornton) later becomes the third man behind Compo and Clegg. As the men lurch from scrape to scrape, desperately trying to keep them in check are the town's disapproving womenfolk, particularly the redoubtable Nora Batty (Kathy Staff), the object of Compo's desires. Also seen in this battle of sexes have been Wally Batty (Joe Gladwin), Nora's hen-pecked husband; Seymour's sister, Edie Pegden (Thora Hird), and her mechanic husband, Wesley (Gordon Wharmby), with the brassy Marina (Jean Ferguson) as his fancy woman. Auntie Wainwright (Jean Alexander), the junk-shop owner who never misses a sale, has also been in the action, as have café-proprietor Ivy (Jane Freeman) and her husband, Sid (John Comer). Edie's daughter, Glenda (Sarah Thomas), and her husband, Barry (Mike Grady); the short-sighted Eli Duckett (Danny O'Dea); and the inappropriately named Clem "Smiler" Hemingway (Stephen Lewis) have also contributed as the character ensemble has extended over the years. The spring 200 series was a tribute to actor Bill Owen, who died after filming only three episodes. His character suffered a fatal seizure after seeing Nora Batty not in her usual wrinkled stocking but in black tights. Compo's funeral was shown, and other episodes revealed how his ageing chums coped with his loss, with Owen's own son, Tom (Tom Owen) (once star of Freewheelers), playing Compo's long-lost offspring. In 1988, the series spawned a prequel, which showed the old folk in their formative years. Entitled First of the Summer Wine, it featured Peter Sallis as Cleggy's dad, with David Fenwick as the young Norman, Paul Wyett as Compo, Richard Lumsden as Foggy and Paul McLain as Seymour. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE LIKELY LADS / WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE LIKELY LADS?
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 2 1964-6/BBC 1 1973-4

videos bullet iconIn The Likely Lads, Bob Ferris (Rodney Bewes) and Terry Collier (James Bolam) are two young pals who work in a factory making electrical parts. Bob is ingenuous, ambitious and keen to see the good side of people (especially those in authority). Terry is a cynic, proud of his working-class roots and a true Jack the Lad figure. Theirs is an unusual but solid friendship which sees them tour the pubs of Newcastle in search of beer and birds, chewing the fat over several pints of brown ale and ending up in all manner of scrapes, usually at Terry's instigation and against Bob's better judgement. The series became a surprise hit, even though only screened on BBC 2, but it ended after just two years. The duo were back together again seven years later, thanks to a remarkably successful revival entitled Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? With the turn of the 1970s, Bob's bourgeois dreams have begun to be realized. Now an executive on the point of marriage to his boss's daughther, Thelma (Brigit Forsyth, seen at the end of The Likely Lads), he owns his own house and has taken to holidays on the Costa Brava and Saturday nights the trattoria. Terry, on the other hand, escaping a disastrous marriage in Germany, has not changed, except perhaps to bury himself even further into his proletarian origins and deep-rooted chauvinism. The lads' altered relationship echoes the social changes that swept Britain between the 1960s and 1970s, changes stressed time and again as they reminisce about their heyday and pay dispiriting visits to old stomping grounds that are sadly now unrecognizeable or even demolished. A feature-film version was released in 1976. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR
UK (Thames) Situation Comedy. ITV 1972-6

videos bullet iconThere have been few more conventional sitcoms than Love Thy Neighbour, which takes delight in the predicament facing white trade-unionist Eddie Booth (Jack Smethurst) whose new next-door neighbour in Maple Terrace is Bill Reynolds (Rudolph Walker), a true-blue Tory and, even worse, a black man. It was intended, according to its producers, to take the sting out of racial conflict. Others saw it as a barrage of cheap colour jokes that reinforced racial stereotypes. it is quite true, however, that the bigot always loses out. Eddie is never prepared to give Bill a chance, yet Bill always comes up trumps, delighting in humiliating Eddie and always giving as good as he gets. Meanwhile, to underline the futility of it all, the two wives, Joan Booth (Kate Williams) and Barbie Reynolds (Nina Baden-Semper), become good friends. Arthur (Tommy Godfrey), Jacko "I'll have a half" Jackson (Keith Marsh) and Nobby Garside (Paul Luty) are their pals down at the Jubilee Social Club. Remarkably, the series was a huge ratings success. The theme song was sung by Stuart Gillies. A feature-film version was released in 1973, and the series was revamped in 1980 in Australia. Love Thy Neighbour in Australia, as it was titled when screened in the UK two years later, depicts Eddie embroiled in the same racial conflict on his emigration Down Under. There was also a short-lived American version, starring Ron Masak and Harrison Page, in 1973.



BBC Television DVDs at Amazon.com

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MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE
UK (Thames) Situation Comedy. ITV 1973-6

videos bullet iconNeeding a third sharer to help pay the rent on their Earl's Court flat, two young, attractive girls, dark-haired Chrissy Plummer (Paula Wilcox) and blonde, toothy Jo (Sally Thomsett), plan to find another girl. But when Robin Tripp (Richard O'Sullivan), a catering student, is found sleeping in the bath the morning after the party, they decide to let him move in, especially as he can cook. The new arrangement understandably raises a few eyebrows, particularly with the girls' landlords, George and Mildred Roper (Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce), who live downstairs. Although there is much mock-sexual bravado, this ménage á trois is definitely not of the murky kind, despite Robin's attempts to bed fare too sensible Chrissy. The well-signaled humour comes from domestic squabbles (like hogging the bathroom), their respective boyfriends/girlfriends, and Robin and Chrissy's attempts to follow Jo's weird logic. There are also nosy interruptions from the Ropers, he a work-shy weakling, she a man-devouring social climber with an eye on young Robin. Two spin-offs followed: Robin's Nest, in which Robin opens his own bistro, and George and Mildred, following the Ropers' new life on a middle-class housing estate. The series also spawned a feature film of the same title and was translated for American audiences in a less subtle version called Three's Company. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
UK (LTW/Tri Films) Situation Comedy. ITV 1977-9; 1986

videos bullet iconEnglish teacher Jeremy Brown (Barry Evans) bit off more than he could chew when enrolling as instructor of an evening class for mature foreign students. His multinational pupils include amorous French girl Danielle Favre (Françoise Pascal), humorless German Anna Schmidt (Jacki Harding), Italian romeo Giovanni Cupello (George Camiller), and other similarly well-defined racial stereotypes, all of whom have clearly never considered the concept of ethnic tolerance. Misunderstanding and abuse are rife in the classroom, leading to constant aggression and turning the naive, inoffensive Brown into a quivering, frustrated wreck. Miss Courntey (Zara Nutley) is the dragon-like principal who has the knack of entering the class at just the wrong moment, and Sid (Tommy Godfrey) is the Cockney caretaker. Mind Your Language was revived in 1986 by independent production company Tri Films. The series was not fully networked but did bring back together most of the original cast, along with several new faces playing characters in the same mold. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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MINDER
UK (Euston Films/Thames/Central) Comedy Drama. ITV 1979-80; 1982-5; 1988-9; 1991; 1993-4

videos bullet iconArthur Daley (George Cole) is a name that has become synonymous with shady deals, for this cowardly but lovable rogue specializes in less than reliable, marginally hooky produce dished out at a bargain price. Whether it is mutton-dressed-as-lamb motors from his used-car showroom or crates of appellation noncontrôllée from his lock-up, Arthur has the knack of twisting suckers' arms and getting them to buy. Of course, they soon return the goods, or the law intervenes to ensure that Daley's pockets are once again as empty as when they started. But this trilby-sporting, cigar-chewing master of Cockney slang is never far away from another "nice little earner." Arthur's right hand is Terry McCann (Dennis Waterman), a former professional boxer and occasional jailbird. Now on the straight and narrow (as far as Arthur will allow), McCann -- one of life's losers -- is easy meat for Daley, who pays him a pittance and promises him the earth. Hired out as a commmodity by Arthur to be a bodyguard, bouncer, fetcher or carrier, Terry nevertheless is always there to protect his guv'nor from someone with a grievance -- and such people are not hard to find. The wonderful repartee between Daley and his uncomfortable, generally kind-hearted "minder" as they work their way around the fringes of the underworld is even more important than the stories themselves. Off duty, the pair can be found in the Winchester Club, run by its genial steward, Dave (Glynn Edwards). This refuge from "'er indoors" (as Daley refers to his wife) is also the setting for many "business" meetings. On the side of justice are policemen DS Albert "Charlie" Chisholm (Patrick Malahide), Sgt. Rycott (Peter Childs) and DC Jones (Michael Povey). Just like Wyle E. Coyote and the Road Runner, their sole aim is to catch up with Arthur Daley, the crook with the Teflon finish. The series was nearly brought to a close on many occasions, as both George Cole and Dennis Waterman contemplated a way out. But when Waterman finally called it a day in 1991, Gary Webster was introduced in the role of Arthur's second cousin's son, Ray, and Daley's schemes and scams continued apace. Pursuit this time came from coppers Morley (Nicholas Day) and Park (Stephen Tompkinson). Dennis Waterman also co-wrote (with Gerard Kenny) and performed the theme song, "I Could be So Good for You," which he took to number three in the charts in 1980. Cole joined him on a novelty hit, "What are We Gonna Get 'Er Indoors" at Christmas 1983, and the partnership was celebrated in a hit for The Firm "Arthur Daley ('E's Alright)," in 1982. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS
UK (BBC) Comedy. BBC 1 1969-73; BBC 2 1973-4

videos bullet iconWhen it first reached the TV screen in 1969, filling a former religious slot, late on Sunday night, Monty Python's Flying Circus understandably met with some bemusement. However, it soon acquired a fervent global following and genuine cult status. Each programme was well endowed with sketches and held together with animation and one-liner humour; but, essentially, anything went in this manic college of comedy styles. The sketches relied heavily on off-beat domestic situations and spoof TV interviews or documentaries, although the series seldom lacked invention. Swaying between incomprehensibility and bad taste, it was a show that shocked and confused, but was always inspired. The Oxbridge background of its writers/performers surfaced in the show's literary and artistic allusions, yet there was always room for juvenile pranks, vulgar asides and general silliness. Among the highlights were skits like "The Dead Parrot," in which John Cleese confronted Michael Palin, a shopkeeper, with the corpse of a bird he had just purchased. Another classic was "The Lumberjack Song," a rousing Canadian chorus of machismo which unravelled into a celebration of transvestism. There was also "The Argument Clinic," "Upper Class Twit of the Year," "The Ministry of Silly Walks," "Spam," "The Spanish Inquisition," "The Fish-Slapping Dance," and "Blackmail" (a sadistic game show). Classic characters included Graham Chapman's stuffy army officer, Terry Jones's piercingly vocal women, Eric Idle's seedy men, and the cerebrally challenged Gumby, complete with knotted handkerchief on head. Wrapped around the sketches were Terry Gilliam's chaotic, surreal cartoons which "stole" images from classical art. Sometimes they picked up from the end of the previous sketch (which seldom had a punchline), in the same way that sketches themselves occasionally merged when a character from an earlier skit wandered into the action. Snappily cut together, it was a programme without a beginning and without an end which broke all the rules of television structure. Its opening titles, bouncing along on the music of Sousa's "Liberty Bell," could appear anywhere in the show, even after the closing credits, and along the way there was plenty of time for developing catchphrases, from Michael Palin's succinct "It's" (possibly the shortest catchphrase ever) to John Cleese's "And now for something completely different." Yet if Monty Python broke new ground, it could at the same time be seen as a culmination of the unconventional comedy trend that had begun with That Was the Week That Was, and developed through The Frost Report, Not Only... But Also, At Last the 1948 Show and Do Not Adjust Your Set. The Pythons had all learned their craft in such programmes, a craft which was to stand them in good stead in individual projects long after Monty Python was laid to rest. John Cleese did not appear in the final season (which went out under the simple title Monty Python). A series of stage shows and feature films was also produced, the earliest films reprising the best of TV sketches but the later ones taking the Python manic humour to new bounds in mock epics like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the notorious Life of Brian. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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MORCAMBE AND WISE
UK (ATV) Comedy. 1961-7; BBC 1 1968-76; ITV 1978-84

videos bullet iconPossibly Britain's most popular comedian to date, Eric Morecambe took his stage name from his home town. His career began in variety theatres before the war and, when auditioning for a new-talent show in 1941, he met a young entertainer from Leeds by the name of Ernest Wiseman, otherwise known as Ernie Wise. They forged an enterprising double-act, but their progress was shattered by war service. However, meeting again by chance in 1947, they were able to resume their joint career. Their first television forays came in the early 1950s and led, in 1954, to their own disastrous series called Running Wild, which set back their hopes of stardom. Undaunted, the pair continued to improve their act on stage and radio and were chosen to support Winifred Atwell in her TV series, this resulting in another short series of their own, Double Six, and appearances on Sunday Night at the London Palladium, which encouraged ATV to give them The Morcambe and Wise Show in 1961, scripted Sid Green and Dick Hills. This time they didn't squander their chance and quickly established themselves and the characteristics of their act -- Ernie's pomposity. Eric's boyish anarchy, their Abbot-and-Costello-like exchanges, all underscored by impeccable comic timing. Viewers took to their many sight gags: Eric slipping his glasses askew, for instance, slapping Ernie around in the face or pretending to be strangled behind the stage curtain. The public began to refer to Ernie as Little Ern and "the one with the short, fat, hairy legs." Unfortunately, their attempts to make it in movies proved fruitless. Their films, The Intelligence Men, That Riviera Touch and The Magnificent Two, flopped. In 1968, after Eric had suffered a heart attack, they were tempted over to the BBC where, by common consent, they produced their best work (most scripted by Eddie Braben). A regular feature of their shows was a play "wot Ernie wrote" which never failed to attract a big-name guest star. Among those who giggled their way through proceedings were Glenda Jackson, Diana Rigg, John Mills, Eric Porte, Peter Cushing (to return many times still looking for payment) and Hannah Gordon. The partners switched back to ITV in 1978 with less success (Eddie Braben was not immediately released by the BBC), while the BBC countered by screening repeats of their best material. However, they soon knew the would have to start treading carefully. Eric's heart problems resurfaced in 1979 and, after surgery, he was forced to take things somewhat easier. The partnership was brought to an end when Eric suffered another, this time fatal, heart attack in 1984. Their last work together was a TV movie, Night Train to Murder, which was aired in 1985. Ernie soldiered on alone, making stage and television appearances, becoming a member of the revived What's My Line? panel and even writing on gardening for the News of the World. He died in 1999. Buy this artist on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE NEW AVENGERS
UK (Avengers Enterprises/IDTV) Adventure. ITV 1976-7

videos bullet iconIn The New Avengers, John Steed (Patrick Macnee) is called up once more to thwart extravagant plots by the world's most eccentric saboteurs and assassins. Working undercover for the British Secret Service, as in The Avengers, Steed, however, now spends more time on his private stud-farm, where he indulges his hobbies of breeding horses and entertaining beautiful women. Ageing a little, but as suave and sophisticated as ever, he is typically supported by a glamorous female, but also, this time, by a tough young male, someone to do the running around. The newcomers are Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and Mike Gambit (Gareth Hunt). Perdy, a former ballerina with a much-copied page-boy haircut, is classy, elegant and as hard as nails. Like her predecessors Gale, Peel and King, she knows how to fight. Her strength is in her kick, and many an assailant feels the power of her long, shapely legs. She is also a good shot and extremely fit. Gambit provides the muscle which Steed now lacks. A former mercenary, he is a weapons specialist and a practitioner of kung fu. Both young colleagues show Steed the respect he deserves and rely on his wealth of experience and knowledge. The series being produced in association with a French TV company and also with some Canadian input, three episodes were filmed in France and four in Canada, although the majority was made in the UK. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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ON THE BUSES
UK (LWT) Situation Comedy. ITV 1969-73

videos bullet iconStan Butler (Reg Varney) is a driver for the London-based Luxton Bus Company, usually working with his conductor mate Jack Harper (Bob Grant) on the number 11 route to the cemetery gates. Bane of his life is humourless Inspector Cyril Blake (Stephen Lewis), who is always desperate to catch the chirpy pair up to no good. (Blakey's catchphrase, "I 'ate you, Butler," was quickly adapted by the viewing public.) Stan lives with his widowed mother (Cicely Courtneidge), his dowdy sister, Olive (Anne Karen), and her gruff, layabout husband, Arthur (Michael Robbins), but life is somewhat brighter at the depot, where there are always busty clippies to chase and jokes to play on the much-maligned Blakey. In keeping with the humour of the time, leering and innuendo dominate the series, although there is seldom any serious sexual activity -- living with his mum, Stan never has the opportunity, much to his frustration. Cicely Courtneidge was the first actress to play Stan's mum, although Doris Hare is best remembered for the role, while Stephen Lewis, who played Blakey, took his character into a spin-off series. Entitled Don't Drink the Water (ITV 1974-5), it saw Blakey moving into a retirement home in Spain with his spinster sister, Dorothy (Pat Coombs). Three feature film versions (On the Buses, Mutiny on the Buses and Holiday on the Buses) were released in the 1970s, reflecting the popularity of this cheerfully vulgar comedy, and a US copy, set in New York City and entitled Lotsa Luck, was also produced. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS / BOB SAYS "OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS"
UK (Associated-Rediffusion/ABC/Thames/BBC) Talent Show. ITV 1956-78; BBC 1 1987-90

videos bullet iconBeginning on Radio Luxembourg in the early 1950s, Opportunity Knocks and its ebullient host, Hughie Green, were brought into television soon after ITV began. There had been talent shows on TV before -- Carroll Levis Discoveries was one -- but none proved to have the stamina of Opportunity Knocks, which not only survived the ITV franchise swap of 1968 but was resurrected by the BBC in 1987, having been cancelled by Thames in 1978. The format was simple. Green introduced half-a-dozen acts per week ("Friends, we want to hear them," Green declared), each "sponsored" by a studio guest who offered background information about the performers. At the end of the show, all the acts gave a short reprise of their routines which the studio audience evaluated by applauding. The highest scorers on the "clapometer" were declared the studio winners, but this counted for nothing. What mattered ("And I mean that most sincerely, folks," Green was known to swear) were the votes of viewers at home, expressed by the mailing in of postcards. At the start of the following week's programme, the winners were announced and were given the chance to repeat their success. A winning contestant could return literally week after week and, at the end of each series, an all-winners show was put together. Telephone voting replaced postal votes when the BBC revived the show under the title of Bob Says "Opportunity Knocks" (the new host beig Bob Monkouse). Les Dawson, himself probably the programme's greatest find, presented the final season, with the title reverting to Opportunity Knocks. Other notable performers given their showbusiness break by Opportunity Knocks were Russ Abbot (as part of the Black Abbots group), Freddie Starr, The Bachelors, Frank Carson, Mary Hopkin, Little and Large, Paul Daniels, Freddie Davies, Peters and Lee, Lena Zavaroni, Ken Goodwin, Pam Ayres, Bonnie Langford, Paul Melba, Tom O'Connor and Paper Lace. But whatever happened to winners like Bobby Crush, Neil Reid, Gerry Monroe, Millican and Nesbitt, Stuart Gillies, Berni Flint and 1960s muscle man Tony Holland? There were hard-luck stories, too. Su Pollard was allegedly beaten by a singing dog and a singer called Gerry Dorsey even failed the audition. He changed his name to Englebert Humperdink and did rather better for himself.

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PLEASE SIR!
UK (LWT) Situation Comedy. ITV 1968-72

videos bullet iconRecent graduate Bernard Hedges (John Alderton) secures his first appointment as English and History teacher at Fenn Street Secondary Modern, under the auspices of headmaster Mr. Morris Cromwell (Noel Howlett). From the start, his unruly class, 5C, go out of their way to make life difficult for him, but they soon come to respect the bashful yet dedicated master, whom they nickname "Privet." Behind the desks the youths include loudmouth Frankie Abbott (David Barry), who acts hard but always runs to his mother; slow-witted Dennis Dunstable (Peter Denyer); flirtatious Sharon Eversleigh (Penny Spencer, later Carol Hawkins); and Maureen Bullock (Liz Gebhardt), an evangelical Christian who has a crush on her teacher. The staff are just as unhelpful. Apart from the incompetent headmaster, there are thick-skinned Welshman Mr. Price (Richard Davies) teaching maths and science; formidable deputy-head Miss Doris Ewell (Joan Sanderson); dithery old Mr. Smith (Erik Chitty); and former Desert Rat caretaker Norman Potter (Deryck Guyler), who is terrified of kids but enjoys great influence with the headmaster. After a couple of years, Hedges acquires a girlfriend, Penny Wheeler (Jill Kerman), who eventually becomes his wife. Please Sir!, LWT's first big comedy success, was inspired by the 1967 film To Sir, with Love. Its own feature film was released in 1971 and a spin-off, The Fenn Street Gang, followed on TV, tracing the lives of the teenagers after leaving school. Please Sir! continued simultaneously for one more year, but the new kids and teachers failed to catch on. The American version was Welcome Back Kotter, featuring a young John Travolta among the pupils. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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PRISONER: CELL BLOCK H
Australia (Grundy) Drama. ITV 1979-87

videos bullet iconThe Wentworth Detention Centre houses some of Melbourne's toughest female criminals, and, through a series of rather far-fetched plots, this programme examines the interrelationships of these inmates, their warders, and fringe characters such as partners on the outside, prison doctors and other officials. The series deals openly with issues such as lesbianism and wanton assault (by both prisoners and guards) and in its own melodramatic way strips the front off hard-bitten prisoners to reveal personal tragedies that have led them into a life of crime. It shows how some mature to rehabilitate themselves successfully on their release, although it also makes it clear that, for others, prison life is the only option. Principal characters early on are Governor Erica Davidson (Patsy King), her deputy Jim Fletcher (Gerard Maguire) brutal warder Vera Bennett (Fiona Spence) and the more sympathetic guard, Meg Jackson (Elspeth Ballantyne). Ringleader of the prisoners is Bea Smith (Val Lehman) (doing time for the murder of her husband), and other characters are lesbian biker and armed robber Franky Doyle (Carol Burns), Karen Travers (Peita Toppano), a deeply religious ex-schoolteacher (also convicted of the murder of her husband), and dumb blonde Lynn Warner (Kerry Armstrong), a convicted nanny. Thumb-sucking Doreen Anderson (Collette Mann) is the easily led unmarried-mother-turned-forger; Marilyn Manson (Margaret Laurence) is a prostitute and the prison nympho; "Mum" Brooks (Mary Ward) the gentle, well-respected gardening lover (yet another imprisoned for killing her husband); and Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Florance) the alcoholic, chain-smoking mass-murderer who is hell-bent on escape. Greg Miller (Barry Quinn) is the prison doctor. The show, originally entitled simply Prisoner, was renamed Prisoner: Cell Block H to avoid confusion with Patrick McGoohan's cult series of the 1960s in the UK and USA. Its creator, Reg Watson (a former Crossroads producer), and one of its producers, Marie Trevor, later moved on to the rather more successful Neighbours. Maggie Kirkpatrick, who played Joan Ferguson, appeared with Lily Savage in a spoof stage version, which opened in London in 1995. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE PROFESSIONALS
UK (Avengers Mark 1/LWT) Spy Drama. ITV 1977-80; 1982-3

videos bullet iconThe Professionals' are the men and women of CI5 (Criminal Intelligence 5), a covert agency set up by the Government to specialize in criminal intelligence in the way that MI5 centres on military intelligence. The aim is to pre-empt trouble and so nip crime in the bud. Head of the section is no-nonsense ex-MI5 man George Cowley (Gordon Jackson). He assembles around him a team of the toughest operatives, none more resilient and respected than William Bodie (Lewis Collins), a former SAS and Parachute Regiment hero brimming with confidence. Bodie's partner is Ray Doyle (Martin Shaw), an ex-copper with a curly perm. Fresh from an East End CID division, he is calm on the outside but harbours a rage within which threatens to burst out at any second. The pair are affectionately known as "The Bisto Kids" to Cowley, whom they know as "The Cow." The programme was created by Brian Clemens, the brains behind some of The Avengers' best adventures, although this all-action, macho series did not share the light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek, quirky qualities of his earlier work. It was parodied by members of The Comic Strip in a one-off satire, The Bullshitters. In 1999, Sky One launched an updated version of The Professionals. Entitled CI5: the New Professionals, it starred Edward Woodward, Kal Weber, Colin Wells and Lexa Doig. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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RETURN OF THE SAINT
UK (ITC) Adventure. ITV 1978-9

videos bullet iconNine years after Roger Moore hung up Simon Templar's halo, lookalike Ian Ogilvy tried it on for size. Similar in many ways although critically less well received, this regeneration of Leslie Charteris's dashing, confident hero once again sees our hero whizzing around the globe, relaxing in the company of beautiful women and escaping from many life-threatening situations -- all against a backdrop of international intrigue. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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RISING DAMP
UK (Yorkshire) Situation Comedy. ITV 1974-5; 1977-8

videos bullet iconRupert Rigsby (Leonard Rossiter), grubby, lecherous, ignorant, nosey and tight-fisted (and those are just his good points), is the owner of a horribly run-down northern boarding house that is home to an odd mix of lodgers. Rigsby lives on the ground floor with his cat, Vienna. Upstairs, long-haired Alan Moore (Richard Beckinsale), a medical student, shares one spartan room with Philip Smith (Don Warrington), the sone of an African tribal chief, and another room is taken by frustrated spinster Miss Ruth Jones (Frances de la Tour), a university administrator. Although liberally treated to decrepit furnishings and the eponymous rising damp, the one thing Rigsby's paying guests do not receive is privacy. Given the opportunity to catch his lodgers "at it," the snooping Rigsby does not hesitate to barge in. Whatever secrets lie in their personal lives, Rigsby prises them out into the open, and however great their hops and dreams, Rigsby is always ready to sneer and jeer at them. His own ambition, though, is to share a night of torrid passion with Miss Jones but, like his other plans, it is never realized. Brenda (Gay Rose) is one of Rigsby's later lodgers. The series sprang from a one-off play entitled "The Banana Box" (in which the landlord was called Rooksby) and gave Leonard Rossiter the first chance to show off his acclaimed comic timing. Indeed, most of the series' humour came from his sharp, glib delivery. A film version was released in 1980. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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ROBIN'S NEST
UK (Thames) Situation Comedy. ITV 1977-81

videos bullet iconFresh from the successful Man about the House, Robin Tripp (Richard O'Sullivan) has now left his two female flatmates and teamed up with his live-in lover, air hostess Victoria Nicholls (Tessa Wyatt). They live above their own Fulham bistro -- Robin's Nest -- where they are not-so-ably assisted by their one-armed washer-up, Albert Riddle (David Kelly), an Irish ex-con with an endless line in blarney. The fly in the ointment is Vicky's disapproving dad, James Nicholls (Tony Britton), a far from sleeping partner in the business, although her divorced mother, Marion (Honor Blackman, later Barbara Murray), is far more sympathetic about her daughter's cohabitation with a long-haired cook. Tensions are eventually eased with a marriage and, eventually, the birth of twins. Also seen in later episodes in restaurant help Gertrude (Peggy Aitchison). Star Richard O'Sullivan also wrote the synthesizer theme music. Like Man about the House's US version Three's Company, Robin's Nest inspired a US copy, Three's a Crowd, also starring John Ritter. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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ROCK FOLLIES
UK (Thames) Drama. ITV 1976-77

videos bullet iconAnna Wynd (Charlotte Cornwell), Devonia "Dee" Rhoades (Julie Covington) and Nancy "Q" Cunard de Longchamps (Rula Lenska) are The Little Ladies, a struggling girl rock band lurching from gig to gig, striving to rise out of the sordid lower reaches of the rock music business. This series follows their ups and downs (mostly downs), as they fight to avoid exploitation -- often sexual -- and establish themselves as genuine musicians. Derek Huggin (Emlyn Price) is their less than helfpful manager. Busby Berkeley-inspired fantasy sequences added extra colour to this six-part drama. The music was original and penned by Roxy Music guitarist Andy Mackay, leading to two soundtrack albums and a hit single, "OK?," which also featured Sue Jones-Davies, whose character, Rox, joined the band in the second series. Also new was pushy American agent Kitty Schreiber (Beth Porter). The second series was entitled Rock Follies of '77. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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SAPPHIRE AND STEEL
UK (ATV) Science Fiction. ITV 1979; 1981-2

videos bullet iconIn this imaginative series, time is perceived as a tunnel, with different time zones spread along its length. Outside lie dark forces of chaos and destruction which take advantage of any weakness in the tunnel's fabric to enter and wreak havoc. Whenever this happens, Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are sent to investigate. Little is revealed about the two characters. From the programme's introduction viewers learn that: "All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned." So, it appears, Sapphire and Steel are elements sent from above, although their forms are human. Stunning Sapphire, true to her name, wears bright blue; blond-haired Steel, cold and humourless, dresses in grey. They each have special powers. Sapphire can see through time, gauge the history of an object just by holding it and even turn the clock back for a while. The analytical Steel enjoys phenomenal strength; he can resist the flow of time and reduce his body temperature to below zero. But sometimes these superhuman attributes are not enough and the pair need assistance. Usually it comes from another element, Silver (David Collings), but Lead also joins the fray on one occasion. The nightmarish storylines centre on the pursuit of disruptive forces. In their first outing, Sapphire and Steel are called in to arrest a time warp after the reading of historic nursery rhymes brings Roundhead soldiers to the 20th century. In another, a haunted railway station is drawn back into the era of World War I. The dark forces are seldom seen, except as faceless beings or globes of light. The longer they are allowed to remain in a dimension of time, the stronger they become, and they test the dynamic duo to the extreme. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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SOFTLY, SOFTLY / SOFTLY, SOFTLY - TASKFORCE
UK (BBC) Police Drama. BBC 1 1966-76

videos bullet iconOne of the most successful spin-offs ever, Softly, Softly ran for ten years in parallel with Z Cars, its mother series. It takes up the story of the "nasty and nice" double act of Charlie Barlow (Stratford Johns) and John Watt (Frank Windsor), after they leave Newtown and head south to the fictional region of Wyvern (somewhere near Bristol). Promoted to the ranks of detective chief superintendent and detective chief inspector respectively, one of the first people they encounter is their retired former desk sergeant, Mr. Blackitt (Robert Keegan) (now a news-agent), and his dog, Pandy. Among their new colleagues are jovial Welshman Sgt. Evans (David Lloyd Meredith), miserable dog-handler PC Henry Snow (Terence Rigby) (and his most famous charge, Inky) and a local detective inspector, Harry Hawkins (Norman Bowler). The show's title was derived from the adage "Softly, softly, catchee monkey." In 1969 Softly, Softly became the more cumbersome Softly, Softly - Taskforce and saw Barlow and Watt working for Thamesford Constabulary's CID Task Force. In 1969 Barlow went his own way, branching out into Barlow at Large/Barlow. He was reunited with Watt, however, for a novel reinvestigation of the Jack the Ripper case in 1973 and a subsequent series, Second Verdict, in 1976, which looked at other such mysteries.

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SOME MOTHERS DO 'AVE 'EM
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1973-5; 1978

videos bullet iconFrank Spencer (Michael Crawford) is an accident waiting to happen. Sporting a knitted tank-top, unfashionable long mac and a beret, wherever he goes he brings chaos and confusion. DIY jobs result in the systematic destruction of his house while, at work (whenever he finds any), machinery explodes and his bosses despair. And yet poor Frank, with his infantile voice, unfortunate turn of phrase, expressive shoulder-twitches and hurt looks, always tries hard and means well. He is gravely offended by criticism and deeply shocked at everything untoward. At his side through thick and thin are his over-loyal wife, Betty (Michele Dotrice), and baby daughter, Jessica. Mr. Lewis (Glynn Edwards) the irascible neighbour seen in the last series, is just one of Frank's many adversaries. Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em made a star out of Michael Crawford, but the actor worked hard for his success. His characterization was so precise that it kept impressionists in gags for years after. He also chipped in with occasional ad-libs, plotted the stories for some episodes and even performed many of his own stunts that included driving a car halfway over a cliff, and narrowly escaping a collapsing chimney stack. Series creator Raymond Allen was working as a cinema cleaner on the Isle of Wight when he began writing the scripts. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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SPECIAL BRANCH
UK (Thames/Euston Films) Police Drama. ITV 1969-70; 1973-4

videos bullet iconAlthough this series is best remembered for the exploits of snappily dressed detectives Alan Craven (George Sewell) and Tom Haggerty (Patrick Mower), they were latecomers to Special Branch. For the first two seasons, the featured officers are Inspector Jordan (Derren Nesbitt) and his superior, Superintendent Eden (Wensley Pithey) (later substituted by Supt. Inman, played by Fulton Mackay). Alongside Craven and Haggerty, DS North and Commander Nichols (Richard Butler) are also added, though they are soon replaced by Commander Fletcher (Frederick Jaeger) and a snooty civil servant named Strand (Paul Eddington). The thrust of Special Branch investigations was international crime and espionage. The team were assigned to high-pressure, undercover operations which involved plugging gaps in security, preventing murders and foiling attempts at sabotage. It was the first series to show a British copper in trendy clothing (Jordan) and is also notable for being the first programme made by Thames TV's offshoot, Euston Films, which took over production after the first two seasons had gone out on videotape. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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STEPTOE AND SON
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1962-5; 1970; 1972-4

videos bullet iconThere are few shows in the history of television which have reaped such wide appreciation as Steptoe and Son, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's saga of a socially aspirant son and the dirty old dad who keeps him anchored to the mire of a scrapyard. Harold Steptoe (Harry H. Corbett), in his late 30s, dreams of a life away from the squalid, junk-filled house he shares with his father Albert (Wilfrid Brambell) at 24 Oil Drum Lane, Shepherd's Bush. He longs to progress his cultural interests and to embark on some romantic journey but is always hauled back to sub-working-class grime by his disgusting, emaciated old man. His plans for soirées in gentrified circles usually collapse into nights at The Skinner's Arms or argumentative evenings in front of the box, thanks to the efforts of his seedy father. Albert Steptoe is vulgarity personified, a man who washes his socks only when taking a bath. He cooks and generally runs the house, while Harold does the round with Hercules (later Delilah) the carthorse, but Albert's idea of culinary finesse is edging a pie with his false teeth. Albert's greatest skill lies in scuppering his son's dreams of a better life. Whenever Harold makes a dash for freedom, the clinging, devious old man always stands in the way, using emotional blackmail to deny his son independence. The gloriously coarse series -- which is as much a tragedy as it is a comedy -- ran in two bits, in the early 1960s (it first aired in 1962 as a Comedy Playhouse episode called "The Offer") and then in the early 1970s. A radio series was also produced, and the show spawned a US cover version, Sanford and Son, as well as two far less successful feature films, Steptoe and Son and Steptoe and Son Ride Again. In 2006 Jake Nightingale (Harold) and Harry Dickman (Albert) starred in a stage play based on the series. Called "Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane," it was penned by Ray Galton and John Antrobus. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE SWEENEY
UK (Euston Films/Thames) Police Drama. ITV 1975-6; 1978

videos bullet iconTaking its name from the Cockney rhyming slang for Flying Squad ("Sweeney Todd"), this is one of television's most physical cop shows. It features the investigations of door-smashing, crook-thumping, heavy-drinking DJ Jack Regan (John Thaw) and his junior partner, DS George Carter (Dennis Waterman), who scream around London in a gold-coloured Ford Granada. Hard, and sometimes unquestioning, Regan has little time for rules and regulations. In his leather jacket and 1970s-style kipper ties, he is also a bit of a lad, found off-duty in the boozer, chatting to the local villains, or in bed with yet another woman (he is, not surprisingly, estranged from his wife). Carter is his loyal number two, learning the trade from his mentor and picking up bad habits along with good. Like his boss, he too is pretty useful with his fists. Supervising the operations, often in desperation at the tactics involved, is Chief Insp. Frank Haskins (Garfield Morgan). The series began seven months after a pilot episode, Regan, part of the Armchair Cinema anthology, was screened in 1974, and it ended in 1978, when Regan was banged up for allegedly taking bribes. No charges were brought, but Regan had had enough and decided to call it a day. Through The Sweeney, the public was introduced to a new kind of policeman, one the authorities tried to deny existed but one that certain real-life lawmen privately acknowledged to be alive and kicking, especially kicking. Indeed, Jack Quarrie, a former Flying Squad officer, was the programme's technical adviser. But, for all its bad language and excessive violence, the series also has its humorous side, highlighted in the Regan-Carter Cockney repartee and an episode which features Morecambe and Wise as guest stars. Two feature films were also made. Harry South composed the theme music. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THIS IS YOUR LIFE
UK (BBC/Thames) Entertainment. BBC 1955-64; ITV 1969-94; BBC 1 1994-2003

videos bullet iconTaking people unawares, surrounding them with friends and family, and reliving the major moments in their life is what this programme was all about. This Is Your Life began on American TV in 1952, with Ralph Edwards, its creator, also acting as host. In the UK it meandered between channels, beginning first on the BBC in 1955 and running for nine years. After a five-year hiatus, Thames picked up the format for ITV, and the company continued to produce the show when it returned to the BBC in 1994. The same formula was followed from the start. The unsuspecting victim was cornered by the presenter (usually in disguise) at a public event or at a contrived meeting, informed "This is your life" and then whisked away to a nearby TV studio, where close family and friends welcomed the fêted one. Other guests were introduced as the host worked his way chronologically through the person's life, reading from a large red book. Mystery voices hidden behind closed doors gave way to forgotten faces and warm embraces. Amusing anecdotes were told and glowing tributes were paid. The final guest was usually someone special: a child from the other side of the world, an inspirational teacher from the distant past, a person who had saved the celebrity's life, or vice versa. Buckets of tears were shed. The very first victim was Eamonn Andrews, who was already signed up to be the programme's regular host. Ralph Edwards had flown over from the USA to conduct the inaugural programme but, after the Daily Sketch had spoiled the launch by revealing that the subject was going to be Stanley Matthers, a new victim had to be found. Instead, it was Andrews himself. When Thames revived the series, its first victim was Des O'Connor. Some celebrities refused outright to appear. Soccer star Danny Blanchflower was one; novelist Richard Gordon (of Doctor in the House fame) was another. To avoid such embarrassments, the programme was later prerecorded. Not all those featured were famous. One or two guests per series came from the ranks of anonymous worthies -- brave airmen, industrious charity workers, selfless foster parents, etc. Probably the highest-profile victim was Lord Mountbatten, the subject of a This Is Your Life special in the Jubilee Year of 1977. When Eamonn Andrews died in 1987, Michael Aspel picked up the big red book. The one used on screen contained just the programme script, but a real biographical scrapbook was later presented as a memento to the featured guest. Regular consultants to the series were Roy Bottomley and Tom Brennand.

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TILL DEATH US DO PART / IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1966-8; 1972; 1974-5/BBC 1 1985-7; 1989-90; 1992

videos bullet iconAlf Garnett remains one of TV's most memorable creations. He has been loved and he has been hated, but he is unlikely to be forgotten. The man who brought racist views and foul language into British living rooms is a hard act to follow. Although the 1980s' "alternative" comedians aimed to shock, their impact was negligible in comparison with TV's first controversial loudmouth. The Garnetts live in London's decaying East End, long before the Isle of Dogs is transformed into a yuppie paradise. Their little docker's terraced house is home to four adults: Alf (Warren Mitchell), his wife, Else (Dandy Nichols), daughter Rita (Una Stubbs) and son-in-law Mike (Anthony Booth). Such close habitation induces claustrophobia and an endless amount of personal friction. On one side, there is Alf, a bald, bespectacled bigot, patriotically standing up for the Queen and cheerfully pushing the blame for the country's ills on the "Darling Harold" Wilson and immigrants. Mind you, if he was to succeed in shipping out the immigrants and dislodging the Labour Party from government, Alf still wouldn't be happy with Edward Heath in charge -- he being a grammar school boy, not a traditional Tory like Winston Churchill. On the other side is Mike, a long-haired, unemployed, Liverpudlian socialist, "Shirley Temple" or "randy Scouse git," as he becomes known. In between are the phlegmatic, rather dopey Else and the giggle Rita. Alf's rantings were heavily criticized by the church, Mary Whitehouse and politicians, but his character has other sides to it, too. He is incredibly selfish, and extremely mean to his long-suffering wife. Yet Else takes it al in her rather sluggish stride, shrugging off insults like "silly old moo" and conjuring up sharp retorts to put Alf firmly in his place. Whenever that happens, he dons his West Ham scarf and skulks off to the pub. When Dandy Nichols briefly leaves the series (Else went to visit her sister in Australia in the 1970s), Alf's invective is directed against his neighbors, Bert and Min Reed (Alfie Bass and Patricia Hayes). Till Death Us Do Part began as an episode of Comedy Playhouse in 1965. In this pilot, Warren Mitchell played Alf Ramsey (as in the football manager), which Gretchen Franklin (Ethel in Eastenders) as his maligned wife. The series proper ran form 1966 to 1968 and was exhumed for a new run in 1972. A short-lived 1981 version, Till Death... (produced by ATV), was followed by a new BBC revival in 1985. This time the title had been changed to In Sickness and in Health, sadly appropriate considering the obvious illness of Dandy Nichols. In this, the Garnetts have been rehoused in a new development, without Rita (only an occasional visitor) or Mike, an the antagonizer's role is filled by a gay, black home-help, provocatively named Winston (Eamonn Walker). Arthur (Arthur English) is his chief boozing buddy. This series continued even after Nichols's death in 1986 (Alf's neighbour, Mrs. Hollingbery, played by Carmel McSharry, becomes his new sparring partner). However, by this time the political climate had changed. Even though Alf could slate the incumbent Tory government for being a bunch of spivs ruled over by a grocer's daughter, the bite had disappeared and the series was far less successful. Johnny Speight's monstrous creation had had his day. An American version of Till Death Us Do Part, All in the Family, was just as big and controversial. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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TO THE MANOR BORN
UK (BBC) Situation Comedy. BBC 1 1979-81

videos bullet iconWhen Audrey fforbes-Hamilton's husband, Martin, dies, he leaves her his stately pile, Grantleigh Manor, but also a mound of death-duties to pay. Not being able to keep up the estate, Audrey (Penelope Keith) is forced to sell the property (it fetches £876,000 at auction) to Richard DeVere (Peter Bowles), a former costermonger and now the tycoon head of supermarket and catering chain Cavendish Foods. She being strictly old money and he being noveau riche, Audrey is desperate to keep an eye on his activities, to make sure he does not destroy the character of the estate. By moving into one of the manor's lodges with her ageing butler, Braginger (John Rudling), and with the use of a pair of binoculars, at least she is able to monitor proceedings. But not even that is enough. Distrusting the new Lord of the Manor, resenting his position and also fancying him quite a bit, Audrey is always meddling in DeVere's affairs. She guides him in the etiquette of lordship and ensures -- as far as she can -- that Grantleigh is still run on traditional lines. Audrey's old school chum, Marjory Frobisher (Angela Thorne), drops in regularly to keep her friend in her place, while Richard's Czech mother, Mrs. Palouvicka (Daphne Heard), acts as a matchmaker for her son and Audrey, whom she considers perfect for each other. Her efforts bear fruit at the end of the series when the two are married -- and Audrey is back in charge at the manor. The series, filmed at Cricket St Thomas in Somerset and with music from Ronnie Hazlehurst, was originally devised for radio, and a pilot show was recorded, featuring Penelope Keith and Bernard Braden (as an American). However, it was never broadcast, although a radio version was produced in 1997, with Keith Barron slipping into the role of DeVere, alongside Penelope Keith. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE TOMMY COOPER HOUR
UK (BBC) Comedy.

videos bullet iconTommy Cooper was a tall, Caerphilly-born comedian, notorious as the fez-wearing magician with the bad gags and bemused look whose tricks always failed. Cooper's hugely successful career began in the army and continued after the war on the London variety circuit. In the 1950s he branched out into television, appearing in series like It's Magic and winning a run of his own series, including Cooper - Life with Tommy, Cooper's Capers, Cooperama, Life With Cooper, Cooper at Large, The Tommy Cooper Hour, Cooper King-Size and Cooper - Just Like That! (after his catchphrase). He became a cult comedian and enjoyed great respect among his fellow artistes. It was actually on television that he died, suffering a heart attack while appearing on Live from Her Majesty's.

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TOP GEAR
UK (BBC) Motoring Magazine. BBC 2 1978-

videos bullet iconRoad-testing new models, highlighting innovations and generally keeping the motorist well informed, Top Gear was given a test drive in the BBC Midlands area in 1977 before being given the green light nationwide a year later. Its first hosts were Angela Rippon and Barrie Gill. Noel Edmonds was behind the wheel for a while, but Jeremy Clarkson held pole position for many years, returning after time away in 2002. Sister programmes, Top Gear GTi, Top Gear Motorsport and Top Gear Waterworld, were also screened in the late 1990s.

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THE TWO RONNIES
UK (BBC) Comedy. BBC 1/BBC 2 1971-87

videos bullet iconMessers Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, the big and the small of TV comedy, had first worked together in the mid-1960s when contributing to various David Frost programmes. Although they each enjoyed individual opportunities to shine (such as Sorry! for Corbett and Porridge for Barker), their joint efforts are equally well remembered. The Two Ronnies ran for 16 years from 1971 and was hugely successful. Most programmes were shown on BBC 2. Calling upon a host of talented scriptwriters (including the likes of David Nobbs, David Renwick and assorted Pythons -- as well as Gerald Wiley, a pseudonym used by Barker himself), each show followed a simple format, opening and closing with mock news items. In between, "in a packed programme," viewers were treated to cocktail party sketches, a boisterous costume musical, a meandering Corbett monologue delivered from a big chair, and doses of Barker's astounding pronunciation power, with a decent helping of gentle smut thrown in for good measure. There were also spoof serials like The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town (written by Spike Milligan), The Worm That Turned and cases of private investigators Charley Farley and Piggy Malone. Regular musical guests broke up the humour. Those included middle-of-the-road performers such as Barbara Dickson, Elaine Paige and the Nolan sisters. Finally, it was "Goodnight from me, and goodnight from him," as the programme rounded off with some "late news." As a postscript to their successful career together, Barker and Corbett returned to BBC 1 in 2005 to present The Two Ronnies Sketchbook, a package of highlights from the series, linked by news gags. Barker died later that year, but was seen in a Christmas special that had been recorded in the summer when he knew his health was failing. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS
UK (LWT/Sagitta) Drama. 1971-75

videos bullet iconMuch praised, fondly remembered and hugely successful, Upstairs, Downstairs focuses on life at 165 Eaton Place, the Belgravia home of Tory MP Lord Richard Bellamy (David Langton), his lady wife Marjorie (Rachel Gurney), and their two children James and Elizabeth (Simon Williams and Nicola Pagett). The family is rich, but not extravagantly so, with most of their wealth inherited on Lady Bellamy's side (she is the daughter of a prime minister). So Richard's career is vital to the upkeep of the family's home and its standing in society, something which the indiscretions of his wayward children continually place in jeopardy. But, as the title suggests, the "Upstairs" goings-on are only half the story, with the "Downstairs" world of the Bellamy's' domestic staff equally prominent. Head of servants is Mr. Angus Hudson (Gordon Jackson), the highly responsible, softly spoken but firm Scottish butler, a man who knows his place and makes sure other staff members know theirs. A father figure to the servants, he masterminds the team effort which keeps the house afloat, ably assisted by Mrs. Kate Bridges (Angela Baddeley), the gruff, plump cook, and Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), the level-headed chief housemaid. Beneath them work the younger staff -- feisty, daydreaming underparlourmaid Sarah (Pauline Collins), maturing footman Edward (Christopher Beeny), loyal housemaid Daisy (Jacqueline Tong) (later Edward's wife), pathetic maid Ruby (Jenny Tomasin), and, in later episodes, new footmen Thomas Watkins and Frederick (John Alderton and Gareth Hunt). The series opens in November 1903, shortly after the death of Queen Victoria, and runs through until 1930. Along the way, in cosy, soap opera fashion, it depicts the household's struggles to win through in times of adversity, whether social (such as a visit by the King for dinner) or real (when Rose's fiancé is tragically killed in the Great War). It reflects all the early fads and fashions of the 20th century, from the Suffragette movement to the jazz age, writing historical events into the plot. The General Strike is one example and the loss of Lady Marjorie on the Titanic is another. Lord Bellamy remarries (to Scottish widow Virginia Hamilton, played by Hannah Gordon), his ward Georgina Worsley (Lesley-Anne Down) moves in to replace the petulant Elizabeth, and other characters come and go, both above and below the stairs, before disaster strikes at the end of the series. The family's wealth is lost in the 1929 Wall Street Crash, James commits suicide and the house has to be sold. The final episode sees Hudson marry Mrs. Bridges and, together with Ruby, set off to run their own guest house. Edward and Daisy become butler and maid to Georgina and her new husband, the Marquis of Stockbridge (Anthony Andrews), and Rose is the last to leave, wandering through the rooms and closing up the house, with voices from the past reminding her of events, happy and sad, that have dominated her life in Eaton Place. Upstairs, Downstairs -- widely acclaimed for its historical accuracy and shrewd social comment -- was the brainchild of Jean Marsh and fellow actress Eileen Atkins (who had created the role of Sarah for herself but found herself committed to stage work when the programme began). They repeated the exercise in devising The House of Elliot in the 1990s. Upstairs, Downstairs enjoyed sales all across the world and led to a spin-off series, Thomas and Sarah, which followed the two young servants as they took up a new appointment in the country. An American version, Beacon Hill, set in 1920s Boston, was also attempted but didn't succeed. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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THE VAL DOONICAN SHOW
UK (BBC) Variety.

videos bullet iconVal Doonican was a relaxed Irish singer whose Saturday night variety shows became a staple of the BBC (and, briefly, ITV) diet in the late 1960s and 1970s. Mixing sentimental ballads with novelty songs like "O'Rafferty's Motor Car," and "Delaney's Donkey" and "Paddy McGinty's Goat," Doonican was a firm favourite with both old and young viewers, and his distinctive sweaters and cosy rocking-chair established themselves as his trademarks. Comedian Dave Allen was "discovered" thanks to the weekly slot Doonican gave him. Buy this artist on CD at Amazon.com

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WHO PAYS THE FERRYMAN?
UK (BBC) Drama, BBC 2 1977

videos bullet iconWhen Alan Haldane (Jack Hedley), a one-time officer in the Greek resistance, leaves his boat-building business in the UK to return to Crete after an absence of 30 years, he stirs up a hornet's nest. With old passions and hatreds reunited, he discovers he has an illegitimate daughter on the island and that there is a vendetta against him in Elounda, where he takes up residence. He begins a relationship with local woman Annika Zeferis (Betty Arvaniti), but, unknown to her, Haldane is haunted by memories of her dead sister. Tension mounts as old Greek traditions conflict with the ways of the modern world. The programme title is derived from the legend of Charon, who demanded a fee to ferry passengers across the River Styx to the Underworld. Star Jack Hedley took on the role of Haldane after Peter Finch, who was first choice for the part, unexpectedly passed away. Writer Michael J. Bird had previously explored the mystic Greek islands in his earlier BBC series, The Lotus Eaters. Music for this eight-part drama was performed by Yannis Markopoulos and his orchestra, who scored a UK hit with the theme tune in 1977. Buy this series on DVD at Amazon.com

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Z CARS
UK (BBC) Police Drama. BBC 1 1962-5; 1967-78

videos bullet iconIn 1962 the Dixon of Dock Green type of police series was already looking dated. The cosy life of a community copper had been lost for ever, certainly in the big cities at least, and it was time for television to reflect this change. However, it wasn't until writer Troy Kennedy Martin was ill in bed with mumps and, to while away the time, tuned into the police wavelengths that such a change became a possibility. Martin instantly recognized that what he was hearing was a world away from George Dixon's weekly homilies and decided to work his findings into an idea for a new programme. The result was Z Cars, a series that aimed to portray the real relationship between the police and the community. Filled with northern grit and heavily influenced by contemporary "kitchen sink" dramas, Z Cars was set on Merseyside, at a time when the Liverpool docklands were undergoing radical social change. Traditional streets, now designated slums, were making way for high-rise blocks of concrete flats, functional but soulless living spaces that rapidly turned into fertile breeding-grounds for unrest. The pace of life was quickening and crime was responding in its own unpleasant fashion. To combat this crime wave, police were taken off the beat and placed in patrol cars, with the aim of providing a swifter response. Z Cars depicted the efforts of one such patrol team as it roamed the streets of both the old district of Seaport and the modern development of Newtown. The very first episode reveals how the death of a police officer has led to the formation of the team. Det. Isnp. Charlie Barlow (Stratford Johns) and DS John Watt (Frank Windsor) are invited to select their new élite squad, and it introduces viewers to the four patrolmen who are chosen. In the first patrol car, Z Victor 1, are burly northerner William "Fancy" Smith (Brian Blessed) and a rugby-playing Scot, John "Jock" Weir (Joseph Brady). In Z Victor 2 are Irishman Herbert "Bert" Lynch (James Ellis) and red-headed Bob Steele (Jeremy Kemp). Both cars are Ford Zephyrs, initially Mark 4s (later traded in for Mark 6s). Supervising events back at the station is old-fashioned Sgt. Twentyman (Leonard Williams), replaced after a year by Sgt. Blackitt (Robert Keegan) (when Williams suddenly died). However, Z Cars didn't just focus on the new type of crime in the early 1960s, or the police response to it, but, for the first time on British television, it actually dared to suggest that policemen were not as wholesome as they ought to be. Creator Troy Kennedy Martin had wanted the crooks to win through now and again, to show that police were not infallible, but this was too much to ask of a staid BBC. However, he did get away with showing policemen as real human beings, with complicated home lives and vices of their own. Martin and his colleagues painted them as gamblers, drinkers and, most controversially of all, even wife-beaters. Real-life police withdrew their co-operation in response to such excesses. Another innovation was the portrayal by Stratford Johns of Charlie Barlow as a nasty superior officer, not averse to dishing out aggression. Johns was tired of seeing bumbling, ineffective TV detectives. What he wanted was a police officer who actually made the running, was hard on his subordinates and was not afraid to pound suspects into submission. Together with the gentler John Watt, he offered the classic combination of the nice and the nasty; and such was their success, they headed off to the Regional Crime Squad after three years and a series of their own, Softly, Softly. Watt and Barlow's departure in 1965 was intended to be the finale for Z Cars, but it returned to the screens in 1967, installing John Barrie and John Slater as DI Sam Hudson and DS Tom Stone, their replacements. New Panda cars roared into action and some fresh constables were added to the team, although continuity was maintained through Weir and Lynch (a man who was to rise steadily through the ranks). The format switched from 50-minute episodes to two 25-minute programmes a week, and continued in this vein until 1971, when the longer forms were reintroduced. Other notable characters to come and go over the years are young PC Ian Sweet (Terence Edmond), who is tragically drowned in a heroic rescue attempt; Leigh-born PC David Graham, Lynch's second partner (an early break for actor/writer Colin Welland); sarcastic Insp. Dunn (Dudley Foster); and Geordie heart-throb PC Joe Skinner (Ian Cullen) and his partner, PC Quilley (Douglas Fielding). Indeed, future stars fared rather well, either as guests or as regulars. They included John Thaw, Judi Dench, Kenneth Cope, Alison Steadman, Patrick Troughton and Ralph Bates, whose character pulls a gun on Joe Skinner and shoots him dead. Like Dixon of Dock Green before it, Z Cars found itself left behind by other cop shows in the 1970s. Not only were the likes of America's Kojak and Starksy and Hutch screaming on to British TV screens, but there was also our own The Sweeney to contend with. Still Z Cars rolled on, probably showing a more realistic image of 1970s policing than its contemporaries, until the end finally arrived in 1978. Originally transmitted live, making use of crude techniques like back-projection for car scenes, Z Cars looks very dated today. However, the quality of writing, from the likes of Martin, Alan Plater, Elwyn Jones and John Hopkins, is still apparent in the few surviving episodes from those early days. The last episode, penned by Martin, brings the newly promoted Det. Chief Superintendent Watt back to Newtown and features cameo appearances from Joseph Brady, Brian Blessed, Jeremy Kemp and Colin Welland. Over the previous 16 years, the programme's unforgettable theme tune (based on the folk song "Johnny Todd," with an ominous drumbeat intro) had become synonymous with TV policing.

- excerpted from The Penguin TV Companion - Third Edition by Jeff Evans (London: Penguin Books, 2001).

A list of popular New Zealand '70s TV shows:

Children of Fire Mountain (1979) - Historical drama
Close to Home (1975-83) - Soap opera
Country Calendar (1966-present) - Farming show
A Dog's Show (1977-92) - Sheepdog trials
Fair Go (1977-present) - Consumer watchdog show
Free Ride (1974) - Music show
The Games Affair (1975) - Childrens drama
Gather Your Dreams (1978)
The Good Time Show (1975) - Music show
The Governor (1977) - Historical drama
The Grunt Machine (1975-76) - Music show
Happen Inn (1970-73) - Music talent show
Hunter's Gold (1977) - Historical drama
It's In The Bag (1973-92) - Game Show
On The Mat (1975-84) - Wrestling show
Play School (1975-90) - Kid's show
Pukemanu (1971) - Drama
Radio With Pictures (1976-88) - Music Chart show
Ready To Roll (1975-87, 1994) - Music Chart show
Spot On (1973-88) - Kid's show
That's Country (1976-83) - Kiwi version of Hee Haw
A Week Of It (1977-79) - Political satire
The Years Back (1973) - Series about history of NZ

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