Back in time for TV: 1978 

24 July 2019 tbs.pm/69279

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It must be the time of year as with many new series starting back in January, their 10-12 episode format means they are now nearing the end of their run. Among them, there are several that would go on to gain cultural significance. The Professionals, All Creatures Great and Small, Blake’s 7 and Grange Hill are all among the new programmes coming towards the end of their first series this week.

This week my ITV programmes are coming from LWT, ATV and Thames.

16th March
The Good Life ‘Mutiny’
BBC-1

 

 

Tom and Barbara Good are a couple who decide to live self-sufficiently in Surbiton. I happily return to the regular repeats of The Good Life as I find spending time with its characters is so fun.

This episode concentrates more on the Good’s neighbours, and good friends, Jerry and Margot Leadbetter. While any newcomer may perceive Tom and Barbara to be the show’s main stars (having their name in the title) they would be quite wrong, as Jerry and Margot hold almost equal footing in my view. Margot is middle-class snobbery personified and, while Tom was delighted to find a way to leave the rat race, Jerry is blatant and unashamed of his brown nosing method for climbing the corporate ladder.

It’s always marvellous evidence of how much the other three care for Margot that they do, to an extent, indulge her flouncing and overreacting. Nothing but perfection will do and this episode sees her preparing for a star turn in a local production of The Sound of Music, permanently distracted by the runny nose of one of the von Trapp children.

As Margot is busy playing Maria, Jerry has to turn down his boss’s request to put a businessman up for the weekend and is consequently given his notice. He doesn’t have much luck job hunting, telling Tom, “I’m 42. At my executive level that’s practically senile.” A similar sentiment is expressed in another sitcom, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, the third and final series of which begins later this year. At 46, sales executive Reggie sees himself as past it. This seems so strange to modern ears, but my eyes have always told me that people certainly used to look older. My time travelling journey has featured many 40-somethings looking much more like the 50-somethings of today. Maybe they all felt it too? Regardless of what the individuals thought, the world apparently saw the lives of the over 40s as on a downward trajectory.

It’s not something that Jerry and Margot, nor Tom and Barbara for that matter, indulge in. They are both childless couples in their forties, living comfortably and happily with their respective lifestyles. For the most part, episodes end on a positive note and tonight Jerry leaps at the chance to crawl back into Sir’s good books.

 

17th March
Going Straight ‘Going to Work’
BBC-2

 

While I know Porridge well, I had never seen its sequel. After career criminal Norman Fletcher has done another stretch for burglary, he’s decided to hang up his crowbar and go straight. His cellmate Lenny Godber also joins the show from Porridge, along with Fletch’s daughter, Ingrid, who had previously made a few appearances and had begun a relationship with Lenny.

In ‘Going to Work’ Fletch meets with his probation officer and is fairly cynical about finding a job, having never had a legitimate one. He is given a chance by the manager of a hotel though and offered a job as a night porter.

Seeing Fletch on the outside seems like it could be interesting, but Going Straight only lasted one series and I think it’s for the best, as I don’t think there is much to be sustained. So much of Porridge is about the characters being stuck together in one place, trying to find ways to beat the system. Yet Fletch is now actively trying to work with the system so all the humour that came from that conflict is lost. Having two of the main characters from the original show seems like a good idea to start off, but there is little reason for them to share too many scenes now. Godber is a long-distance lorry driver and is still seeing Ingrid, so he’s much more likely to share scenes with her. In Porridge, Fletch had a wife, but there was no mention of her here. Fletch had a good relationship with her so perhaps the writers decided she might hinder the set up.

Really, Fletch needs another character on the outside. I imagine an old friend would have worked, perhaps a fellow thief who keeps trying to cut him in on the latest bit of skulduggery. Fletch’s conversations with his probation officer don’t seem too formal but my hopes that the character would feature more prominently were dashed.

It’s impossible not to compare Going Straight with Porridge and it is the worst thing to do because there is little resemblance. I think Porridge is a brilliant sitcom, but Going Straight is still an acceptable one. It is a sitcom about a committed criminal who has spent half his life in jail, missed most of his kids’ childhoods, and never done a proper day’s work in his life. Going Straight couldn’t have done that without a character that the audience already knew and loved, although it still seems a brave choice of topic for a comedy.

In ‘Going to Work’ Fletch really struggles as he begins to doubt himself and doesn’t think he will manage to keep a proper job. It reflects the difficulties faced by people with a criminal record, as Fletch finds himself judged by the hotel receptionist. Public Eye did a fantastic job at exploring the serious side of this in its fourth series in 1969 and occasionally touched on it in its later years, but taking this on with a more light-hearted approach seems like a greater challenge. I enjoyed this episode and look forward to more.

 

Mind Your Language ‘How’s Your Father’
LWT

 

Mind Your Language doesn’t have the best reputation, although any accusations of racism never seem to have been flung as hard as for Love Thy Neighbour. I have a vague memory of being shown an episode when studying A-Level Media Studies while we were examining depictions of race. All I really remember was that I didn’t find it very funny at the time.

The sitcom is set in an adult education college and Jeremy Brown teaches what I know today as TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. His class contains a wide range of nationalities. The students’ struggles with the English language and the various misinterpretations they produce form the basis of most of the comedy within the classroom. Jeremy seems to be permanently exasperated by much of this and I felt it made him quite a dull and miserable character within those walls.

I didn’t find the programme’s language particularly racist, but I felt my eyes rolling at the extent to which the characters are based on stereotypes. Mind Your Language‘s problem is that there are so many characters in the class – possibly around 20 – and the writers have decided that every single one of them must get a few lines. It’s a huge mistake because it gives no time to establish any fully-formed characters. Instead we get people like the lusty Italian man and a Chinese woman rattling off the Little Red Book. It would have been better to halve the number of characters and give prominence to three of four at most per episode.

My preferred scenes were actually those away from the classroom. Having already revealed to the class that he was left on the steps of an orphanage, Jeremy then learns from Sidney, the caretaker, that he had left a baby on the steps of the same orphanage. The well-spoken Jeremy is stunned and does not seem altogether thrilled at discovering that broad-Cockney and implied ne’er-do-well Sidney could be his father. I liked Sidney and felt Jeremy’s presumptions were a bit harsh. But perhaps Jeremy knows Sidney better.

Jeremy seems a more interesting character with better comedic reactions when he’s having proper conversations with characters like Sidney and the college’s principal. The ‘conversations’ is what is key as the setup of the series in the classroom really limits those. There is no decent rapport between the characters and I feel as though I could watch all four series of Mind Your Language without learning much about any of the students. I think I would consider watching more episodes, so long as I skipped the classroom scenes.

 

The Professionals ‘Looking After Annie’
LWT

 

Its regular presence in ITV4’s schedule for many years means I have been able to spend a lot of time with the growing perms, plots and fun of The Professionals. Following the exploits of CI5, a government department that handles big, rough and dirty jobs, The Professionals features two agents screeching cars around, flinging punches and occasionally knocking bullets into terrorists, assassins and other persistent troublemakers.

Although The Professionals was actually conceived as a replacement for The New Avengers, it has always seemed more like the natural successor to Thames Television’s The Sweeney. Its two leading men, Bodie and Doyle, exchange slightly more banter than DI Regan and DS Carter and it helps that they are on an equal footing, but the basic idea of a double act investigating bad guys with plenty of action scenes is there. However, while The Sweeney was confined to their remit of chasing armed blaggers with the occasional kidnap or murder, The Professionals really increases the sense of scale to operations.

Bodie and Doyle are part-spies, part-police officers, and occasionally part-mercenary. Their boss, George Cowley, is a much more prominent character in the series than The Sweeney‘s DCI Frank Haskins. Cowley regularly has interactions with high-ranking government officials and CI5’s aims can be seen as less about upholding the law and more about protecting the present British government’s interests.

‘Looking After Annie’ sees the boys tasked with protecting a controversial politician. She had previously been touring the US when there was an assassination attempt and thus is now deemed to need protection for a tour in the UK. Cowley often seems to have a great deal of authority and that’s evident in this episode when it is implied that he himself decided on CI5’s involvement, as Annie is an old flame. Despite the fact that CI5 is shown to have only a very small team, Cowley clearly still has feelings for Annie, displaying the kind of affection he has previously only been known to demonstrate towards malt whisky, and chooses to spend the department’s meagre personnel resources on something that could easily have been delegated to the likes of Special Branch.

For me, ‘Looking After Annie’ is a mixed episode. It lacks the scale and excitement of many others. As the time of Annie’s speech draws closer, news footage of crowds is used and while some of it blends, most of it sticks it out badly. We discover that the assassination attempt is being planned by her campaign organiser, but he lacks any real motivation other than wanting to lead the party, which doesn’t even have any proper political power.

But there are some good things to pull out. Bodie and Doyle have fun mocking their boss during some driving scenes and enjoy trying to make each other guffaw. Martin Shaw gives Doyle a lovely filthy laugh as they imagine Cowley’s attempts at intimacy. We also see them hanging around the CI5 staffroom, playing cards, drinking cuppas and flicking through the paper, like they are a couple of normal working blokes, instead of trained killers. In another scene, Bodie’s even got his feet up in the office with a copy of Knave magazine, a ‘gentleman’s magazine’ that marketed itself at the slightly more sophisticated end of the top shelf.

The climatic scenes towards the end of the episode reflect the greater realism being brought into drama series. Doyle is hit with a metal pipe in a fight scene. The pain is instant, he’s sure his arm is broken, and once they have the thugs covered with a gun he tells Bodie he thinks he might pass out. Many of our previous hero-characters would brush off such encounters and tended to merely get knocked out or perhaps appear in a hospital bed at the end of an episode. The Professionals generally still shows the two guys to be pretty invincible – they never suffer anything life threatening – but they are at least no longer the supermen previously given to us. An earlier episode, ‘Close Quarters’, even starts with Bodie on leave, having injured his hand.

The Professionals is in many ways simply a development from the earlier adventure series in which we watched the likes of John Steed, Simon Templar, McGill, Jeff Randall, and Brett and Danny all run around, often in cool cars, fighting bad guys with fists and guns. Yet these series were always very light in tone and most avoided showing guns unless truly necessary. Certainly by the time we reached The Persuaders! and Jason King this frivolity had become somewhat camp and you had to be willing to buy into the often ludicrous escapism – and that is by no way a criticism, just a reflection of their changing nature. The Professionals feels a long way off as it attempts to be darker and takes itself very seriously, perhaps too seriously. While Bodie and Doyle enjoy tennis games of wit amid schoolboy sniggering, they aren’t ever going to be throwing quips at guerrillas or terrorists planting a nuclear bomb. In some ways, the enormous fun of those invincible supermen is outdated because as television viewers became more au fait with the format, they, without even realising it, became more worldly viewers, more cynical, and started to demand greater realism. That has a price, and the price is that our adventure heroes became hard men. They moved to being Regan and Carter, who could drink away their problems by the next morning, and finally emerged as Bodie and Doyle, rougher, tougher and considerably more trigger-happy.

These men are different to most of their earlier television counterparts as they are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and are largely unquestioning of their taskmaster. They take the piss but nonetheless revere the great and honourable Major George Cowley. As stated above, CI5 are tasked with carrying out the requests of the government, and seem content to be at the behest of whichever way those will swing. While this may seem like the obvious position of government employees, it is different to the slightly hesitant Haggerty I saw in Special Branch and a complete contrast to the suspicious and interrogatory personality of David Callan. Regan’s reputation was similarly built on questioning authority. The difference is even more stark when Bodie and Doyle are held up against the independent adventurers. The Saint had his own moral code and usually sought to restore favour to the good and ‘godly’. Even someone like Man in a Suitcase‘s McGill, who was forced to be fairly monetarily-focussed and therefore took on a variety of cases, never held his tongue when it came to his latest employer’s faults, as well as being willing to turn down jobs he didn’t like. But while far from being mindless thugs, Bodie and Doyle are action men through and through. They have the odd moan yet these aren’t great protests and they still always tend to get on with the job.

On a different note, The Professionals is firmly planted in its period in a variety of ways. Considering some of the prejudices often present in the show, it’s a little surprising that there is no spoken comment in this episode about a black man and a white women being in a relationship. But women tend to be sidelined. One of the most apparent things about the show is that there is usually no room for girls – The Professionals is strictly a boys’ playground. And they do play, with a variety of Ford cars mostly – a Granada and Capri both feature in ‘Looking After Annie’, but Escorts were also given the chance to tear around, often all being given a hell of a ride. The British car industry was in decline while US-based Ford was happy to offer the production team several toys to perform handbrake turns with.

There is an abundance, especially in these early episodes, of enormous collars and the guest cast tends to draw the attention. The lads themselves often make more practical fashion choices, yet CI5 seems to have an unclear and hazily-defined policy on work attire. It leads to occasions like the final scenes of this episode in which Doyle arrives to the office in jeans, a leather jacket and one of his trademark checked shirts, while Bodie has left his oft-sported turtleneck at home and is wearing a more formal light grey suit and tie.

This was the final episode of the first series to be shown, although it was not intended to be. Fairly late on (so late that it had been filmed and edited, ready to be broadcast), LWT decided to pull the series’ final episode, ‘Klansmen’, as they were concerned about its potentially-offensive plot that involved a great deal of racism. This makes ‘Looking After Annie’ the last time most viewers will see the show’s original title sequence. In repeats, it has generally been replaced by the second version. After several weeks of being timed by Cowley as they run around an obstacle course before jumping into a car, next time we see CI5’s top men a car will smash through glass doors before Bodie and Doyle begin walking and running around London in an imposing manner, meeting with Cowley, ready to take on even greater threats.

 

18th March
Enemy at the Door ‘The Jerrybag’
LWT

 

Having seen a few episodes before, I was apprehensive about watching Enemy at the Door. What I had initially expected to be a nice, quiet Sunday evening-type drama is nothing of the sort. The show is set on the island of Guernsey, during its occupation by the Nazis during the Second World War. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be invaded by the Nazis and prior to watching the series I knew almost nothing about it.

In the early episodes that I have seen, the invasion has just happened and the tone of the episodes is quite grim. The Nazis are determined to lay down the law and the locals quickly realise just how serious the consequences for disobedience can be. Despite this, at first, depressing tone, I have found the way the series depicts very human stories to be excellent.

This episode gives us the story of a young woman, Betty, who begins a relationship with a German soldier, Eric. Previous episodes have already shown us that this is not a good idea as many of the locals consider such behaviour to be disgraceful. But they soon seem much in love and it is disappointing when, with Betty pregnant, Eric is told by the Major that he cannot marry her because it is against the rules. They are determined to keep in touch and marry after the war. However, after the baby is born, Betty hears that Erich has been killed on the Eastern Front. Compared to other episodes, this one feels like a more upbeat ending as, after some deliberation, she decides to keep the baby instead of giving it up for adoption.

What I have most enjoyed so far about Enemy at the Door is the way in which it humanises the German soldiers. Erich is a pleasant young man, who liked being a soldier but was looking forward to returning to his parents’ farm after the war. Young men away from home who want to meet young women is a recurring topic in the programme. It makes the behaviour towards Betty from the locals seem vile, with children singing “Jerrybag!” and shopkeepers refusing to serve her. The island community where everyone knows everyone makes the situation all the more difficult. The end of their story is left slightly open, as Betty is unsure whether or not her letters ever reached Erich, or if he ignored them, perhaps having changed his mind about marrying her.

There is balance as not all the German soldiers are shown to be good men and they do sometimes try to take advantage of the power they have over the islanders. I found one scene in this episode rather frightening as a soldier wrenches Betty’s baby from her arms as another goes to try to rape her. It’s something the programme hasn’t completely shied away from before and the serious issues it is willing to address continues to surprise me.

In numerous drama series of the 1960s and early 1970s, when Nazis are used as the baddies it is often in a simplified manner – they are first and foremost villains because they are Nazis. Enemy at the Door actually tries to build substantial characters, which is a fair challenge in 50 minutes as the episodes are often fairly self-contained, but it allows us to judge for ourselves whether each of these individual men is truly evil.

This series has a few regular characters, one of whom is Major Richter, played by Alfred Burke, who is effectively now the commander of the island. Initially appearing as someone for the islanders to rile against, he’s a character I haven’t completely made my mind up on as sometimes he comes across as reasonable and on other occasions he won’t budge. I was hopeful he would allow Erich to marry Betty but in the end he refused to bend the regulations. Overall, he does seem to be trying to do a fair job of governing the island. He doesn’t want an uprising but he still desires to impose the rule of his superiors.

It’s now been over thirty years since the war has ended but that’s still not long at all. Choosing to depict the enemy in a sympathetic manner seems a courageous decision for a series. Many of the islanders who lived through the occupation would still have been alive.

 

19th March
All Creatures Great and Small ‘The Last Furlong’
BBC-1

 

Set in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s and based on the memoirs of a vet, All Creatures Great and Small is such a lovely series, interspersed with both humour and poignancy. I have happy memories of watching repeats after school and feel like I know it well.

In this first series, James Herriot has recently taken up his first position as a vet at a practice run by Siegfried Farnon. He has been getting to grips with both Siegfried’s eccentricities and those of the local Yorkshire folk. He’s also fallen for a farmer’s daughter, Helen, and they marry at the end of this episode.

James Herriot’s books were made up of short stories so each episode becomes a combination of various bits. Among the highlights in this one is Siegfried spending the day at the races with some posh friends, hoping to get a vet’s job on the courses. I never used to be keen on Siegfried’s character but over time he’s grown on me as I find his frequent, sudden contradictory outbursts, and the way they frustrate James, rather amusing. At the races, the usually snobby and pretentious Siegfried spots an old university friend and they get absolutely ratted on whisky in the bar. His friends wait for him at the car and upon his return, Siegfried discovers he has lost the keys.

It’s a marked change as it is normally Siegfried’s younger brother, Tristan, who finds himself the worst for wear. A trainee vet himself, Tristan helps out at the practice during holidays. The brothers frequently argue and despite Tristan being my favourite character, Siegfried’s frequent complaints about his sibling being a lazy drunkard are completely accurate. He is a stereotypical student in that he appears only to reluctantly work for the practice so that he can indulge in his favourite hobby of drinking. ‘Work’ is also a rather loose term as Tristan is frequently to be found sat in the surgery, smoking and reading a newspaper. His other hobby is bell ringing, although we eventually gather his enthusiasm for this is partly down to the pub crawls by coach that they organise. Tristan’s local is the village pub, The Drovers Arms, and it is by far the most basic pub I’ve seen during my time travelling. It essentially consists of wooden tables and chairs, with the landlord dispensing beer from a jug behind the bar.

We don’t see all that much of Helen in this episode, although it is mentioned that the wedding is looming. It’s a swift and simple affair, with their honeymoon plans already disturbed by upcoming practice work. Yet we get to end on a happy note when, as they drive away from the church, James sees a plaque outside the practice, and discovers Siegfried has made him a partner in the business.

 

20th March
Blake’s 7 ‘Deliverance’
BBC-1

 

 

I have known of Blake’s 7 for what feels an incredibly long time. The name often seemed to come up alongside the ‘other television appearances’ for Doctor Who‘s guest actors. This episode was written by Terry Nation, who is credited with creating the Daleks, but I also know him from being engaged on several ITC series. In recent years I have begun to gather that the show features a man called Blake, who travels on a spaceship with some others, and that Jacqueline Pearce wears some extraordinary outfits while playing a character called Servalan, but that’s about it.

Blake’s 7 is currently nearing the end of its first series and there seemed a lot to take in. There are several regular characters and all the names are fantastically short and punchy: Avon, Cally, Jenna, Gan and Vila.

They land on a planet to investigate a crashed spaceship. Jenna is taken captive by some primitive locals on the planet, the landscape of which could also conveniently double for any quarry or wasteland in England. With most of the crew still searching for survivors of the small craft, one of them, Ensor, has been found injured and taken aboard Blake’s ship. After some magnificent over-the-top almost-dying acting, the painkillers enable Ensor to recover enough so that he can force Cally and Blake to leave for another planet at gunpoint. He is desperate to reach his father, who is gravely ill.

Between the scenes on the planet and the ship, we cut to a few elsewhere. It could be another spaceship or a space station. I finally get to meet the imposing figure of Servalan, who I quickly decide must be a villain. She meets with a man named Travis, who seems to have clashed with Blake in the past. Her flowing, silky white dress is a clear contrast to Travis’s all-black leathers. I’m dying to ask how he lost the eye behind his patch, or else discover what’s behind it, but I fear the price may be sacrificing something of my own. Despite his own formidable presence, there are hints that Servalan is the real one to watch. “You’re almost as ruthless as I am,” he tells her. “You underestimate me, Travis,” she replies. “It begins to look that way.”

Her glittering scheming is a delight to watch. Ensor’s father had developed something called Orac. We are never told what it actually is but simply know that it is valuable. Servalan had made a deal with him to buy it, but instead put a bomb on his ship, knowing that his father would die waiting for him to return with medical aid before there was a chance to destroy the Orac. Servalan plans to then move in and take it all.

I was gripped by the episode’s main story but am also intrigued by the background ones that seem like they span the series. I am unsure about Avon as, though he and Blake were split for much of the episode, there seemed to be some tension between them. Servalan is simply delectable and I would happily watch an episode with her in every scene. This layering of stories for a group of regular characters feels very modern.

I was rather impressed by the special effects, as these have been practically non-existent on my screen until now. Though I was excited to see CSO in 1976 for The Tomorrow People, effects are much more prominent in Blake’s 7. The external shots of spaceships seem to be old-fashioned model work, which I still think often looks great. For the ship’s teleport system, they have come up with a way for the people on screen to almost shudder before disappearing. When the crew are unable to bring Jenna back, we just get some white lines appearing instead. There are even aspects that look computer-generated. Servalan has a tiny screen depicting an area of space and we can see a ship slowly moving across it. There are also numerous images on Blake’s ship on the screens, for what I’m going to call the bridge. In other scenes, we see multiple screens with moving graphics. This is in addition to the traditional smoke and explosions used.

There is just so much done with special effects and a sci-fi series provides the opportunity for them to experiment. Star Wars came out last year and a BBC budget is never going to compete with that but this is a step in the right direction. The series really stands out from other drama shows and overall Blake’s 7 seems like a programme that is looking ahead.

 

A Sharp Intake of Breath ‘The Gas Man Cometh’
ATV

 

I know David Jason very well in his comic roles in Open All Hours and Only Fools and Horses, so I was surprised in recent years to discover he had been in a number of other sitcoms that I had previously never heard of. I feel I am seriously missing where the title of this one has come from, which based on this episode seems to follow a young married couple. In this episode, Peter and Sheila are thinking about getting gas central heating, something that had only recently started to become more affordable for many people.

Seeing Peter and Sheila at home shows them to be a fairly modern couple, with them discussing the decision to get gas together before making a joint decision. The opening scene takes place in the kitchen, where Peter helps Sheila fold the laundry as they talk. It’s something so minor but only a couple of years before in Thick as Thieves the two men did nothing while Annie took it as her lot that she would do the housework after a full day at work. In Man About the House, the very fact that Robin is domesticated at all, cooking and hoovering, continues to be a source of amusement for the audience. As a bachelor sharing with two other young people this was just about acceptable, but seeing a depiction of a married man casually helping out in the home seems quite different. For balance, Peter later has a pop at women drivers.

A pleasant surprise for me was the appearance of Alun Armstrong. I know him best for his 21st century role in police drama New Tricks, though have seen his younger 1970s’ self in The Sweeney and gangster film Get Carter. Here he plays a persistent gas man and I enjoyed his appearance, even finding him acceptable without his nice, native North-Eastern accent. I was intrigued when someone told me that he plays a different character every episode, which seems a great idea and something I haven’t encountered in a standard sitcom before.

Another aspect of note is that Peter breaks the fourth wall during the show. It’s a further element that makes it stand out from the traditional sitcoms of the era. Peter seems to use it to just have a bit of a chat to the audience, almost as though he’s thinking aloud but throwing in a few gags for them. I’m curious to see if the show does anything else with it. I liked A Sharp Intake of Breath and these different elements will help encourage me to see a few more episodes I think.

 

Hazell ‘Hazell and the Maltese Vulture’
Thames

 

Hazell is a London-based private investigator and tonight’s synopsis for the first series’ finale sounded exciting. At the start of the episode he’s looking into a man who is being considered for an important government-related job. Hazell has been following him for almost a week with little of significance to report. He seems an ordinary, dull man, but Hazell is pressed to continue for a bit longer.

We hit the jackpot as Hazell sees the man spend a while in a flat with two young ladies. When Hazell lets himself in for a look around, he discovers what is best described as a sex den, with blow-up dolls and any other toys they could get away with displaying on Thames Television. If this isn’t good enough, the room also has a fancy new toy that some viewers may recognise as a video player. Hitting play, we briefly see the room’s previous three occupants engaging in some kinky fun. A few years ago the most explicit thing we had seen was a brief glimpse of a go-go dancer and a couple of men’s naked chests.

The rest of the episode’s plot forms when a local gangster turns up dead. His girlfriend has disappeared and becomes the prime suspect for the murder. Hazell had previously been tasked to find her by her dad, after she left her home up north for the bright lights of London. While the police are keen for her to help them with their enquiries, Hazell’s own girlfriend is kidnapped and he is blackmailed into finding the missing girl for some unsavoury characters.

Although Hazell himself has a whiff of unscrupulousness about him, we discover that he is actually an ex-copper. Despite this, he has a slightly uneasy relationship with the detective investigating the murder, ‘Choc’ Minty – a wonderfully ridiculous nickname. It is reminiscent of Simon Templar’s dealing with Inspector Teal in The Saint and Jeff Randall’s with Inspector Large in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). It’s a marvel they didn’t ask Ivor Dean to take the role.

I’m sure that other episodes will indulge my curiosity as to why Hazell left the police force, but while this episode misses that, we do get a good insight into Hazell’s thoughts due to the use of voiceover. It comes as little surprise that the series was developed from novels as the voiceover fills that gap left by a narrator. You notice it, but it doesn’t feel overused – he does have friends to interact with too – and I really liked its inclusion.

The episode built to an exciting climax and I was absorbed throughout. It definitely feels like a series ending on a bang and part of me is sceptical – could they manage this every week? Even if not, I was pleased with the casual, wise-cracking character of Hazell. Sticking that personality into such a nasty world is a satisfying contrast.

 

22nd March
Grange Hill ‘Episode Nine’
BBC-1

 

I join Grange Hill at the end of its first series. The children’s school drama would eventually run for thirty years. The only one of the original characters I know is Tucker Jenkins. I was a very casual viewer during my own era with the show, by which time Tucker’s nephew was a pupil.

Today two pupils end up bunking off school, but for very different reasons. Trisha is a quiet girl who is unhappy about having to wear a uniform and is worried about getting in trouble when a letter is sent home. I have little sympathy for her I’m afraid. Most of us didn’t like wearing a uniform but we didn’t all make such a big deal about a bit of nail varnish. Some of us also had the sense to stick our hands in our pockets or pull our shirt cuffs down whenever one of the stricter teachers was around. However, I get the feeling that Trisha was keen to stand out among this rowdy lot. I was interested that Trisha commented on other schools, moaning that some of them didn’t have a uniform. I knew that uniform hadn’t always been standard in primary schools, but I had presumed all secondary schools would have had them for a long time by now.

Meanwhile Benny decides he has had enough of the daily bullying he has been enduring and I don’t blame him. Having to wear jeans to school and being one of what appears to be only a handful of black pupils has drawn the attention of several other boys from his class. Led by one called Doyle, they have been calling him names like ‘golliwog’, teasing him because his family are poor, and knocking the stuffing out of him at every chance. The young boys’ racism must presumably have seemed quite minor and ordinary at the time, but today it is more shocking to hear such words from them. Tucker sticks up for Benny but he has realised that Tucker can’t be there to protect him all the time.

While there are appearances by numerous other pupils, it’s nice that the episode chooses to focus on the stories of just these two and give them the attention they deserve. It minimises the scenes with the adults and the stories are centred around the children’s perspectives.

While Mr Mitchell did write home to Trisha’s parents, he is willing to give her a fresh start when he tracks down both children to the civic centre – clearly they both had no money and couldn’t think of anywhere else nearby to go for free. He gives Trisha the reasons for having a uniform – “some people feel that having a uniform instils a sense of loyalty, a sense of belonging, makes everybody equal”. He also points out that she is choosing to be different, while Benny is not. Yet I was amazed by Mitchell’s attitude to the bullying Benny has suffered: “Look, Benny. You are always going to run into people like Doyle, but hopefully they’ll be far outnumbered by people who are prepared to accept you just for yourself.” Benny is getting racist abuse and a beating every day at school, but his teacher’s advice is “don’t let him needle you.” Thanks, Sir.

You Say

5 responses to this article

Arthur Nibble 24 July 2019 at 6:21 pm

The title of “A Sharp Intake Of Breath” is derived from the sucking in air through pursed lips, and possible shake of the head, when a workman asked to do a job for you is about to give you bad news when responding to a query such as “How much will the repair cost?”.

Trevor Wells 25 July 2019 at 10:35 am

I enjoyed Blake’s 7 it was something to look forward to on a Monday evening.
Sadly many of the actors are now deceased. I have also enjoyed the Big Finish audio plays.

Andrew P 25 July 2019 at 2:43 pm

When we watched “The Good Life” through last – some years ago – we both found ourselves warming more and more to Margo and Jerry *because* of their unstinting support for Tom and Barbara when the chips were down; as such, they were a far more interesting couple than we’d previously considered.

And – yes – people *did* look older. I recall seeing pictures of Nigel Kneale from the mid-1950s where you’d swear he was mid- to late-forties, but in fact he’d only just turned thirty; the fashion and style of the time made people seem more mature. Similarly, we recently saw a 1970s game show where the host chatted to one contestant whom we’d assumed was in her late twenties – whereupon she tells him: “I’m 17 and I’m training to be a dental hygienist.”

I think you’re right about “Going Straight” – my memory is that three were excellent and three were merely okay. Well written, but I’m not sure it had enough for further series – and I think you acutely note why it would have been limited.

I’d agree that “The Professionals” is *definitely* more Regan and Carter than Purdey and Gambit in style… and I think the other ingredient added to the mix is a heavy measure of Starsky and Hutch (and some of the better banter). The boundaries of CI5 do appear to be rather ill-defined in places; early on one gets the clear message that it’s really meant to counter-terrorism… by there’s subsequent territorial creep when necessary to accommodate a good story. Your comments about Bodie and Doyle being a new generation of a type of TV figure compared to what had gone before are also fascinating… and possibly one of the reasons why I instantly liked it at the time.

“Enemy at the Door” has a lot to offer doesn’t it? My wife and I were deeply impressed when we watched it through a few years ago – and the way in which people on both sides of the conflict are depicted is on par with “Colditz”. And Alfred Burke is magnificent as always…

My memories of “All Creatures Great and Small” are *very* vague, so your summary here was very much appreciated. It’s one I’d like to go back and see again when time permits.

Fascinating to see your “cold” reading of the “Blake’s 7” episode “Deliverance”; I know from your other blog that you’re now having a *lot* of fun and enjoyment from the show… which makes me very happy.

“A Sharp Intake of Breath” was something I adored at the time because it was rather surreal (the title referring to those moments when Peter suggests something to an official – usually Alun Armstrong or Richard Wilson – for them to make the required sound of negative response… cue David Jason’s look to camera). I saw a couple of recently but felt they hadn’t travelled well across the years. Maybe time for a revisit…?

“Hazell” had some interesting approaches to the UK private eye scene. They didn’t always work for me, but when they did they were good. I remember enjoying the three original novels a great deal.
I can remember this episode of “Grange Hill” airing originally. They were different times, weren’t they? And emphasised to me that certain aspects of life as depicted on television were *very* different to how they appeared in the real world.

A continually enjoyable blog. Many thanks! A delight to see you getting so much out of these old shows.

All the best

Andrew

H E COOPER 1 August 2019 at 10:32 pm

Thanks for everyone’s comments. It’s good to finally get a handle on the origin of A Sharp Intake of Breath’s title as I was baffled.

This really was a wonderful week to both watch and then write about. Having some familiar favourites in The Good Life and The Professionals was nice. The former is something I don’t tend to rewatch anymore because I seemed to see the repeats so much growing up, but it’s like returning to old friends. Watching The Professionals in context after working my way through the years was great as it gave me a different perspective when comparing to other programmes. Now I’ve moved on to the 1980s I have encountered a Starsky and Hutch repeat and am certainly able to see the similarities.

Since this visit to 1978 I have watched an awful lot of Grange Hill. There are some interesting episodes, I’ve enjoyed seeing more form various characters and at under half an hour, I find it easy to fit them in when I’m pressed for time.

It’s interesting thinking back to when I watched Deliverance that I didn’t instantly fall for Blake’s 7, but yep, there was something there that intrigued me. It took a few episodes before I was completely sold and as you say, I am currently having an absolutely superb time working my way through the first series! It will be intriguing to rewatch Deliverance again.

AndrewP 4 August 2019 at 6:55 am

After posting the above, I actually got “A Sharp Intake of Breath” off the shelf to give it another go. I had such fond memories of the show from its first airing – particularly the escalation plots where a small problem and encounter with officialdom would escalate and escalate to absurd, surreal proportions. Unfortunately, I picked the episode “See You in Court” which really didn’t deliver what I’d been hoping. Always a bit melancholy when you find something from your youth *doesn’t* travel well; still, in recent years I’ve been able to find that things like “Connections” and “The Adventure Game” *did* still pack a punch, and others like “Murder Most English” were even *better* than I’d recalled.

Comparing programmes from similar eras is so much of what is setting your blog apart from many others which I read; they’re good, but they tend to cover just one series in isolation. And I think studying shows in a wider context always gives a more enjoyable read. It’s been a real joy flagging these items up to friends and colleagues of late. Indeed, I’m astounded and impressed at the sheer time that you’re able to put into this and the *vast* range of shows which you seek out to watch.

Oh – and I love the way that you include repeats in your viewing schedule! Absolutely! Repeats often get overlooked in the study of television shows, yet they can be rather interesting to consider – especially if you want to understand the wider patterns of broadcasting.

Thanks again. This stuff is so enjoyable!

All the best

Andrew

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