Archive for the 'TV: 1980s' Category

10
Dec
12

Knightmare celebrates 25 years

Knightmare at 25

With most old TV shows I find it hard to believe I was watching them 25 years ago; surely I was far too young to even know what a TV was 25 years ago?! Sadly, I was probably happily watching telly 35 years ago, I just don’t like to admit it to myself.

Anyway, the point of this brief post is to point you in the direction of a nice little reminder of days gone by, when after school TV consisted of series like Blue Peter, Tony Hart in his gallery, Grange Hill and some teenage reporters on the Junior Gazette (I will get around to a Press Gang post one day).

Joining their ranks was ITV’s Knightmare, a fantasy adventure game which took invited children to don a helmet and make their way through a cunningly designed dungeon, under the guidance of Treguard (Hugo Myatt), a friendly(ish) dungeon master.

Each week a team would move from room to room, with the helmet-clad child, the dungeoneer, taking instructions from his or her teammates in another room. They watched proceedings from a monitor and advised their friend which direction to take or how best to interact with the various denizens of the dungeon.

It was a simple enough premise but one which was captivating. Judging from an article on Knightmare.com, I probably watched every season of the show, I certainly remember most of the characters and changes to the basic set-up. I’ve not seen an episode years but would welcome an extras-laden DVD set of the first series if anybody fancies making one.

In the meantime, the owner of Knightmare.com, James Aukett, has done fans proud by making his own documentary to celebrate the programme’s 25th anniversary. James has interviewed many of the cast and crew, including Myatt and creator Tim Child, for this internet-only production, and he’s done a grand job with zero budget and a lot of love for the subject.

Thanks James, you’ve made an old(ish) fan very happy!

07
Aug
12

The Search for Fraggle Rock

It shouldn’t happen to a TV show. The result of months of work by a team of professionals, who then pass it on to a broadcaster to transmit to a few million viewers who then (hopefully) embrace it to their collective bosoms, a great TV programme should then be allowed to retire to an archive somewhere, occasionally receiving visitors in the shape of satellite channels or a DVD company.

In the case of Fraggle Rock, Jim Henson’s 1980s series which brought weird puppets and conflict resolution to teatime telly, something seems to have gone badly wrong in those archives.

Henson’s dream was to have series that appeared to be small-scale to the casual observer, but which underneath was a complex network of international co-production deals and filming schedules. The theory was that children would react better to a series made in their language and with references they understood.

Each episode would start in the “real” world with some business about an old man called The Captain (Fulton Mackay) living in Fraggle Rock lighthouse with his dog, Sprocket. After a few minutes the scene would then switch to an underground world of Fraggles, led obstensibly by young Gobo (Jerry Nelson). There would then follow an adventure in which one Fraggle would get into trouble and the others would save him/her while learning a valuable lesson about life.

If you watched Fraggle Rock in the UK then the lighthouse “wraparound” bit will sound familiar, though Fulton Mackay was replaced by John Gordon Sinclair and Simon O’Brien in later years. If you lived in America, Australia, Scandinavia, Spain or numerous other countries you would have seen Doc (Gerry Parkes), an inventor, interact with Sprocket. Doc’s mini-adventures took place in his garage.

French and German audiences again got their own wraparounds with local actors playing Doc.

Though Fraggle Rock went on to become a huge success around the world, spawning 96 episodes in total, that simple idea involving co-production deals would be the series downfall when it came to repeats, at least it was here in the UK thanks to TVS, a now defunct TV station, producing the UK wraparounds.

When TVS lost their licence in 1992, their back catalogue, and the documentation detailing it, was a victim of massive upheaval behind the scenes, resulting in only 12 episodes of the UK Fraggle Rock now officially remaining in the vaults. These were released on DVD a few years ago from HIT Entertainment on Region 2.

A bit of research (well, Googling) over the years from yours truly leads me to believe that, despite HIT contacting The Jim Henson Company to enquire about the episodes, the original master tapes are indeed missing. As is usually the way of these things, the fans are also doing a bit of digging around and, according to some recent posts on a missing episodes forum, we can add a further 17 broadcast quality episodes held by the BFI to the 12 that came out on DVD.

According to that post, fan Alex Taylor has a further 28 episode recorded off air (on his own video recorder), bringing the total number of Fraggle Rock UK episodes known to exist up to 57 – he’s kindly listed them all over on his own website.

I was fortunate enough to interview the producer of the UK wraparounds, Victor Pemberton, a few years ago and he mentioned that he at one time had every episode on VHS but that he wasn’t sure if he still had them in the basement.

The reason for my summing all of this up is that this week saw The Jim Henson Company upload six new clips to their excellent YouTube channel featuring Fulton Mackay as The Captain. Of the six clips, three now only exist as fan owned, off air, non broadcast quality episodes – The Trash Heap Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Sir Hubris and the Gorgs and The Garden Plot – and yet they all look in perfect condition to me:

So what does this mean for the existence of more UK episodes at The Jim Henson Company? Are these merely clips that have been lying around that have now been put online in isolation? Or are these excerpts from full episodes held by Henson that could, theoretically, be released in full? Do they have more clips still to be put online?

I’ve been holding back publishing this post for a few days as I’ve emailed the team at Henson to ask what the situation is, but assuming they’re busy with more pressing issues I may not hear back for a while.

It’s also useful to raise the subject once again in case any reader of this post has an episode on VHS that is missing, presumed gone. If so, feel free to let me know in the comments and we can try to get it into some new archive…

30
Oct
11

Blu-ray Review: Robin of Sherwood – Jason Connery

Robin of Sherwood

Building up a loyal following in its mid-1980s Saturday teatime slot, Robin of Sherwood, Richard Carpenter’s bold reimagining of the Robin Hood legend, could do no wrong. That is until Robin himself, Michael Praed, decided to abandon Sherwood for Hollywood, leaving the Merrie Men without a leader and the fans without a hero.

Carpenter returned once again to the legends that had originally inspired him, deciding that if they told of more than one origin for the Robin Hood character, so would he. Series three saw the introduction of Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery), a wealthy member of the gentry chosen by Herne the Hunter (John Abineri) to take on the mantle of Herne’s son and lead the fight against injustice.

Just as Robert’s background was the polar opposite of Robin of Loxley, so Connery was very different to Praed, both in hair colour and personality. While Robin had the classic brooding hero character down pat, Robert seemed to be more of a spoiled rich kid rebelling from his parents, at least in the opening episodes.

The two-part Herne’s Son sets things in motion once again, reminding viewers of the tragic events that closed season two before introducing Robert properly. With the old gang of outlaws now scattered far and wide, only Tuck (Phil Rose) left living in Sherwood, Robert must gather them together when Lord Owen of Clun (Oliver Cotton) takes up residence near Nottingham and sets his sights on the Lady Marion (Judi Trott).

Also back on the scene is the scene chewing Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace) and his dimwitted assistant, Gisburne (Robert Addy), while Clun gains something of a right-hand man in Gulnar (Richard O’Brien), a sorcerer with an evil streak.

With much to pack in to these episodes, Connery isn’t given a lot of space to prove himself other than in the action stakes, where he does a good job of showing the character’s physicality.

Luckily the young actor is surrounded by performers such as Ray Winstone and Clive Mantle; while Connery reads his lines well, Winstone and Mantle ensure you believe they’ve lived wild and killed out of necessity.

This 13 episode run takes the characters into new territory, introducing them to a once and future king, a village that spells danger for Robin and his men, an increasingly desperate Sheriff whose methods get more inventive every time.

This year saw Carpenter divide writing duties with Anthony Horowitz, episodes such as Cromm Cruac, The Betrayal, Adam Bell and Rutterkin  pushing the characters and giving guest stars, including Phil Davis, Bryan Marshall and Ian Ogilvy, something to get their teeth into.

The downside to this need to try new things, not dwelling too much on the Sheriff’s failure each week to kill any of the outlaws, does mean that plot points are introduced and forgotten about with haste, more so than in the first two seasons. The Sheriff gains a nephew one week while Little John suddenly plans to get married another, while characters who aid Robin are seemingly forgiven as soon as they escape from the Sheriff’s clutches.

Continue reading ‘Blu-ray Review: Robin of Sherwood – Jason Connery’

12
Sep
11

Chris Jury on Lovejoy: ‘It was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic’

Dudley Sutton, Ian McShane, Chris Jury and Pyllis Logan

As an actor, writer, director and producer, Chris Jury may have worked extensively in film, theatre and televison, with directors as diverse as Anthony Minghella and Danny Boyle and on series such as Doctor Who and EastEnders, but it’s as Eric Catchpole on BBC One’s Lovejoy that he’s perhaps best remembered by the British public.

Having recently reviewed the re-released complete Lovejoy on DVD, I spoke to Chris about his memories of working on the top-rated programme which baffled TV producers but viewers couldn’t get enough of.

Jonathan Melville: How did you first come to audition for Lovejoy?

Chris Jury: In 1985 I was in a play at The Bush Theatre on Shepherds Bush Green next to the BBC drama offices. They couldn’t find Eric and a secretary in the office saw me in the play and suggested they came and saw me. I was then interviewed by the director Baz Taylor. I heard nothing for three weeks so assumed I had not got the part and accepted a job in Glasgow as Assistant Director to David Hayman for theatre company 7:84.

I was then called back into meet Ian McShane, producer Bob Banks-Stewart, writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, executive producer Alan McKeown and director Ken Hannam. It was terrifying! I was offered the job the next day and had to drop out of the directing gig with 7:84.

The rapport between yourself, Ian McShane, Dudley Sutton and Phyllis Logan seems genuine – did you enjoy making series one?

Chris Jury todayAll the series were a joy to make. Ian, Dudley, Phylis, Malcolm Tierney and I got on like a house on fire. My abiding memory of filming Lovejoy is laughter and friendship. It doesn’t happen very often. I was very lucky. To this day I regard all four of the regulars as among my dearest friends.

Were you all set to return for a second series in 1987 or was it clear early on that the first series might be the only one?

We were hopeful of a second series in ’87 (which would have been filmed in ’86) but the BBC made Executive Producer Alan McKeown an offer he couldn’t accept and all power to him he walked away. The deal’s the thing you see. That’s why Alan is as rich as Croesus and I’m skint.

When did you learn that the programme would finally be returning?

In spring 1989 Michael Grade left the BBC to go to Channel 4 and within three weeks Witzend, Alan’s company, contacted my agent and we were back on. The deal was finally done in the Autumn of ’89 to start filming 10 eps from Easter 1990.

1993 saw two seasons and a Christmas special air, quite unusual for a BBC drama. Did you sense the BBC were particularly fond of the show at that time?

No. I always felt many of the metropolitan TV industry types were slightly embarrassed by Lovejoy. It wasn’t cynical, urban, edgy or cool enough for them. like Heartbeat and Last Of The Summer Wine, it was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic – and of course immensely popular with the public! My own taste is for drama that engages more directly with the contemporary world but I could appreciate Lovejoy for what it was and that it was done extremely well. The scripts were brilliant!

This sneering metropolitan attitude crops up even now and the show is the butt of jokes from the likes of Catherine Tate and Little Britain who portray the show as a talisman of an unsophisticated middle-England. Very patronising.

Continue reading ‘Chris Jury on Lovejoy: ‘It was innocent, rural, funny and nostalgic’’

09
Sep
11

DVD Review: Lovejoy The Complete Collection

With scripts as well crafted as a Chippendale, performances as finely tuned as a Stradivarius and a production history more complex than the workings of a Thomas Earnshaw timepiece, Lovejoy arrives on DVD to once more charm viewers who have missed the series since its departure from TV screens in 1994.

Adapted for the small screen by veteran scriptwriter Ian La Frenais, who took Jonathan Gash’s rather earthy novels and made them acceptable for a mainstream audience, season one aired on BBC One in 1986.

That series introduced the character of East Anglian antiques dealer and ‘divvie’, Lovejoy, as played by Ian McShane in full-on rogue mode. Aiding and abetting are wily Tinker (Dudley Sutton), nice-but-dim Eric (Chris Jury) and the delectable Lady Jane Felsham (Phyllis Logan), while hindering Lovejoy in his plans to make a tidy profit on each deal is the panto villainesque Charlie Gimbert (Malcolm Tierney).

Slightly closer to the books in those first 10 episodes, the first year established the type of story offered up by La Frenais and his fellow writers; a mystery involving a rare antique draws in Lovejoy, with a dash of humour and the odd aside to camera helping things rattle along at a fair old lick.

Thanks to an unfortunate rights snafu, and a short trip to Dallas for McShane, season two didn’t appear until 1991, by which time Gimbert had gone but the rest of the gang were still available for more of the same. For the next few years it was as if nothing had happened, Sunday nights enlivened by preposterous plots and a cast of recognisable British thespians – including Sir John Gielgud, Brian Blessed, Bill Travers, Joanna Lumley, Richard Griffiths, Michael Kitchen and Donald Pleasance – drifting in and out of each episode to add a touch of class to proceedings.

By 1993 the series was a bone fide BBC hit, with season four running from January until April and season five from September until November, with a US-set Christmas special thrown in for good measure. Sadly, nothing lasts forever, and season five would see two of the leads leave, only for a new cast to be phased in and the dynamic change. Lovejoy may still have been loveable but the world around him was different.

Comprised of self-contained episodes for the majority of its run, the last year would see the makers build on the romance between Lovejoy and Charlotte (Caroline Langrishe), even if his heart was always with Lady Jane.

Bringing every episode together, with the original music present and correct for the first time, this set takes the viewer into a world where it’s permanently summer, every antique shop hides a lost treasure and friends conspire to help and hinder each other before making up with a pint in the pub and move on to the next dodgy deal.

Continue reading ‘DVD Review: Lovejoy The Complete Collection’

15
Aug
11

ITV turned down the return of Ray Winstone and Robin of Sherwood

Nothing’s forgotten. Nothing’s ever forgotten. Those words will be recognisable to any fans of the hit 1980s TV show, Robin of Sherwood, which ran for three years on ITV from 1984 to 1986 and captivated a generation in the process.

With the highest TV budget of the period, Michael Praed made for a dashing Robin i’ the Hood, but one whose fate never looked to be to a happy one, at least as long as he and his followers, including a young Ray Winstone as Will Scarlett, lived in an England ruled by men who put land and money before the welfare of the populace. At least that’s something which we could never say is the case today…

The series came to an abrupt end after the third series, when the company behind it, Goldcrest, went belly up, leaving viewers wondering what might have happened next. Rumours surfaced in the 90s that a film version might appear, but that was scuppered by Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which “borrowed” a number of elements from Carpenter’s series.

Today I had the opportunity to meet with Clive Mantle, Little John in Robin, thanks to his presence in Edinburgh for the Fringe. He’s here with his stage show, Jus’ Like That, in which he portrays comedian Tommy Cooper, and it’s a fantastic performance that he’s honed to perfection. I wanted to discuss the show but I couldn’t help mentioning Robin of Sherwood and had to ask if there were any plans for the upcoming 30th anniversary.

His response was as follows, and you can hear it in full over on audioboo:

“We wanted to do a television update and we submitted to ITV, 18 months or two years ago, [the idea of] a two hour special or a couple of specials, [with] all the original team, Ray back, Jason [Connery] and Michael [Praed], and ITV turned us down. We couldn’t believe it, especially with Ray on board. Kip Carpenter had written a fantastic idea and when I heard they’d turned it down, I stood there open mouthed and thought “I think that’s a mistake,”. Ray loves it so much that if he had a gap in his schedule and we were all available, I’m sure he’d give it another go.”

So there it is. Everyone wants to make it but nobody wants to fund it. ITV were offered, on a plate, the return of one of its most popular series, plus a star name in Ray Winstone, and they turned it down. It’s no secret that series such as X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent cost pennies to make and pull in large audiences, so it’s understandable that ITV would want to keep churning out the cheap stuff as long as they can.

Continue reading ‘ITV turned down the return of Ray Winstone and Robin of Sherwood’

25
Jul
11

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Paradise Towers

They say that the memory cheats. They’re wrong. I still remember being banished to my bedroom to watch Doctor Who back in October 1987, at the same time as Coronation Street was being enjoyed in the living room downstairs. The same thing happened every week, and every week I expected a classic episode.

Then along came Paradise Towers.

Even as an 11-year-old I knew something wasn’t quite right about this one. The way the actors just spoke their lines rather than investing them with any feeling. The way Bonnie Langford seemed to think she was on the stage,  shouting every line to the gods. The way the music seemed to actively be fighting against any attempts at drama that might escape from the script and onto the screen.

Paradise Towers

Watching this new DVD release 24 years on it’s fair to say that nothing much has changed, with 2entertain sadly avoiding any sort of special edition treatment that might excise most of the actors and replace them with CGI replicas.

The plot, for those of you who haven’t moved on to the Wikipedia entry by now, sees the Tardis land on the Paradise Towers of the title, a rundown tower block where a war is being waged by different factions as a group of caretakers attempt to keep things under control.

The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) manages to become embroiled in the various goings-on, while the death toll rises around him.

What is perhaps more apparent on this viewing is that Stephen Wyatt’s script does have darker undertones that, had they been given free reign, would have seen Who’s position as prime time family entertainment being questioned by TV watchdogs in the 80s. Cannibalism by two old ladies? Allusions to Adolph Hitler by Richard Briers? Bonnie’s costume?

Director Nicholas Mallett could have been trying to tone down the darker aspects for the pre-watershed crowd, but if so it was hardly worth putting the script into production in the first place, meaning we’re left with something that doesn’t really cater for anyone.

McCoy tries gamely with what he’s given but there’s little of substance for him to latch onto, his Doctor, only in his second story, still something of a blank canvas with a Scottish accent. Richard Briers is clearly in another of his sitcoms and it’s only Clive Merrison who comes out of this with anything vaguely resembling dignity, managing to balance humour and menace (what little there is) equally.

Extras

For the extras we’re given a commentary featuring actress Judy Cornwell, writer Stephen Wyatt, special sounds supervisor Dick Mills and moderater Mark Ayres, which touches on various aspects of the production without giving it quite the kicking one might expect.

Horror on the High Rise, a new documentary featuring contributions from script editor Andrew Cartmel, writer Stephen Wyatt and actors including Richard Briers and Howard Cooke, does contain some honest opinion from those involved, and it’s the highlight of the disc. Wyatt remains unimpressed with the BBC’s take on his script, though he did undertake the writing process with the best of intentions.

Another short documentary, Girls! Girls! Girls! – The Eighties, brings together Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Sophie Aldred to discuss their time aboard the Tardis and it’s nice to see the various companions reminiscing, even if Fielding’s comments are tend not to deviate from her standard views on the era.

A fun production notes track helps keep up the viewers’ spirits during the long haul of the episodes, while an alternative score for the story lets us hear what it would have been like had composer David Snell not been replaced by Keff McCulloch. Deleted scenes, photos and PDFs are also present and correct.

Story ★★★★★
Extras ★★★★★




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