Back in time for TV: 1982 

11 March 2020 tbs.pm/69926

INDEX

Among the big television news at the start of 1982 was the changes to the ITV franchises. The last time this happened was 1968 and this had a significant impact on where my programmes were coming from and who made them. The changes on screen don’t feel quite so big this time. In the Midlands, ATV has been renamed Central. In the South and South East, Southern Television has been replaced by Television South (TVS). In the South West, Westward has changed over to Television South West (TSW).

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

 

19th August
Horizon ‘The Race to Ruin’
BBC-1

This cracking documentary looked at both the space race and that for nuclear weapons between the US and the USSR. I had previously seen an episode of Horizon when I watched programmes from BBC-2’s first year and it was interesting to see the similar style. Again, we don’t always see an interviewer and again, we jump straight into the programme with no introduction. I found the brief history of the space race very interesting and there were good clips. The Cold War has always been there, but television has generally shown it in an espionage context, providing plots in shows like Danger Man, Callan and The Sandbaggers. I’ve always regarded it as a background threat and have struggled to comprehend a nuclear war as something people lived in genuine fear of. Horizon here depicts the Cold War as starting to hot up, following years of it being relatively stable.

 


 

Sapphire and Steel ‘Assignment Six’
Central

This is the first episode of Sapphire and Steel’s final story from ATV, simply known as ‘Assignment Six’. I’ve seen the first Sapphire and Steel story and had found it very creepy for a children’s series. Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are sort of supernatural beings and from the programme’s titles we gather that there are others, all representing different elements.

In this episode, the partners appear at a petrol garage with a diner-style café attached. A man and a woman have turned up and, along with their car, appear to have travelled there from the 1940s. Sapphire and Steel meet another man there, who I guessed was another element like them. They begin investigating, trying to discover who these people are. They seem to be stuck in a time loop, with all the clocks stuttering, forever repeating the same second. Bits of the past bleed through as they briefly see the ghostly figure of a man who clearly once worked at the garage years before.

As with the previous episodes I’d watched, I was gripped by Sapphire and Steel due to its intriguing plot. It’s a bizarre mystery, with the couple themselves acting shiftily, and it feels like we have nowhere near enough information to guess at anything yet. There is a lot of silence in it, which added to the tension and I found myself constantly on edge, waiting for something to happen, even though I had no idea what it might be. For a children’s series, it seems quite scary. The series’ tone is so well done, and I was impressed last time because the puzzle and intrigue continued throughout the story’s numerous episodes.

Besides excellent storytelling, I also remain curious about Sapphire and Steel themselves. Sapphire is an elegant blonde in a blue dress. She can sense the age of items and seems more sensitive than Steel, whose demeanour matches his name. He wears a grey suit, his face is often stony and he has come across as cold. Having last seen David McCallum as Ilya Kuryakin in a 1968 episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I thought McCallum’s now middle-aged face was an interesting one. But I find both Sapphire and Steel equally captivating and they are wonderfully cast.

I was desperate to see the next episode. In our on-demand world of the present day, the cliffhanger’s conclusion is rarely more than a few seconds away. It’s been a long time since I was so drawn in by a mystery and I can’t wait to see more.

 

20th August
Cagney and Lacey ‘Better Than Equal’
BBC-1

I’ve seen a range of US cop shows during my time travelling. Starting with Highway Patrol back in 1960, I progressed to Burke’s Law, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak and then most recently to Starsky and Hutch. At some point someone finally went – hey, why has no one put any women in these shows? I had overestimated how swiftly attitudes to women changed during the 1970s – by the end of the decade it still felt like we had moved painfully slow. I was getting a bit impatient because although I had been content to roll my eyes and dismiss it as, “well, it was the 1970s,” I had started to become worried about how long this would drag into the 1980s – or beyond.

While I would have liked our heroes to simply crack on with being awesome cops, it actually seems much more realistic that Cagney and Lacey do encounter problems with being women in a male-dominated job. In this episode, the partners are assigned to protect a controversial politician who has been receiving threatening phone calls. The female politician is not happy when the two women show up and tries to get some male cops instead. This was an interesting idea to present with a very conservative character.

In the 1980s, the US experienced a backlash against the equal rights movement from women who disagreed with it and felt their voices had been drowned out. More conservative voices began speaking out, arguing that not all women wanted the things the equal rights movement had been fighting for. While those in favour of equal rights argued that it was about giving women the same choices as men, the anti- side thought women would feel pressured into, for example, having to work full-time once they had children.

Though broadly positive, Cagney and Lacey’s male colleagues have a mixture of attitudes. Even when the show seems to be trying to make gains, it doesn’t always sit quite right. When the politician rings the police station up, demanding to speak to a man, Cagney’s boss refuses and makes her take the call. Grand? Well, yes, but he only does it because he’s too engrossed in the boxing on TV, which Cagney’s watching too.

I really liked both Cagney and Lacey, but it was especially great to see Lacey’s home life. When I was travelling through the 1970s, I touched on the fact that this was something that had been absent in 1960s’ police series and was only beginning to develop in the 1970s. This isn’t about isolated moments or odd scenes anymore though as we see Lacey’s family throughout the episode. These characters feel like actual people, not just police officers. Lacey telephones her husband, we see him at home with the kids, and she makes anniversary plans that she ultimately ends up missing – the latter feeling a pretty standard plot point for many men on television, but less so for women. He seems to be a house husband, having given up his job so Lacey could pursue her career. Men are still often assumed to be the main breadwinner in the present day, so I imagine this would have been very rare at the start of the 1980s. The emphasis on Lacey’s family means we don’t have time to find out about Cagney’s but I got the impression she doesn’t have kids, so I’d be curious to see how her personal life is presented.

Cagney and Lacey is set in New York, which I previously visited with Kojak. It was not a nice place in the 1970s and it still isn’t in the 1980s. The amount of violent crime would start to rise higher than ever towards the end of the 1980s. I’ve seen mid-1980s’ New York in The Equalizer, which I’ll be watching as part of Back in Time For TV in a few years time. I was struck that in Cagney and Lacey the police station itself seemed fairly calm compared to those depicted in The Equalizer, where the police seem overwhelmed by sheer volume. On further reflection though, this could just come down to the fact that Cagney and Lacey is a cop show and, based on this episode, presents the police in a broadly positive light. This representation is markedly different to The Equalizer, a programme about the man who gets called when the police either can’t or won’t help, and offers a more mixed portrayal of the police. I’ve experienced only a tiny sample of US police series so I’d be curious whether any have been at all critical of the police.

 

21st August
Family Fortunes
LWT

Tonight’s episode wasn’t available for me so I’m watching one from a couple of weeks ago. ATV/Central’s Family Fortunes was a long-running show that was later followed up by a celebrity ‘All Star’ version, so I have seen later episodes and was familiar with the format from when it was fronted by Les Dennis. Two families compete for prizes by trying to guess the top answers provided by 100 members of the public to categories such as: What do old friends talk about when they haven’t met for a long time?; name a writer of books for children; name the biggest hit on television.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Family Fortunes ended up being one of my favourite programmes this week. This can mostly be explained in two words: Bob Monkhouse. It’s very clear that Bob is a performer and this means he isn’t ever just presenting. It makes a big difference. I’d only previously seen clips of Bob Monkhouse presenting so it was great to finally see a full show.

While Bob was a big attraction, the other, perhaps obvious, aspect is that viewers can play along at home. It doesn’t take long before you’re yelling, “FAMILY!”, “ENID BLYTON!”, and “DALLAS! DALLAS! C’MON – SOMEONE SAY ‘DALLAS’!” You can also criticise the poor choices of the contestants. I gave a pitiful look to the gentleman who reckoned the biggest hit on television was the news. Bad luck to those who thought the same question might be rigged – Family Fortunes itself did not feature in the top 5 answers, which were Coronation Street, Dallas, Crossroads, Top of the Pops, and Roots.

Having watched repeats of other 1980s’ gameshows, I find myself immensely drawn in by the prizes. Modern programmes don’t seem to have proper prizes anymore – it’s all about the cash for most shows. One explanation for this is that so many of the prizes are either electronics or white goods that have since become much more affordable. Among the prizes from tonight’s episode were a food mixer, a tabletop dishwasher, and a combined radio/cassette player with built-in television set – ooooh! I’m not sure whether they would all be considered ‘luxuries’ exactly, but they are certainly non-essential items and nice extras for the home.

A number of the household items, which also included a vacuum cleaner, seemed to end up going to the female members of the families. This sexism is totally unnecessary when you consider that all the prizes will ultimately by divided up between the family anyway.

 

22nd August
Off the Record
LWT

I was hoping TVS’s Off the Record would consist of music clips alongside some interviews and behind-the-scenes insight into artists, but it turned out to consist entirely of a half-hour of a Duran Duran concert. I like Duran Duran so it wasn’t an unenjoyable experience and I knew several of the songs. They would have been very fashionable at this time, being the favourite band of Princess Diana, who had had the wedding of the decade only a year ago. The audience mainly seemed to consist of young girls screaming. It’s nice to know this has been a constant with male pop groups since the age of The Beatles, right through to One Direction.

I previously saw a half-hour concert as part of an Old Grey Whistle Test special, but the Rory Gallagher performance felt as though it was filmed far more intimately, while there was more scale to the Duran Duran one in a large arena. We have also moved on in effects as there were far more coloured flashing lights on stage, along with a considerable amount of smoke being generated from a machine. Those further back in the crowd may have struggled to make out their pin-ups through the fog.

Off the Record‘s broadcast on a Sunday certainly feels significant. In the 1960s and for some of the 1970s, Sundays seemed almost entirely dedicated to religious and educational programmes. After all, we wouldn’t want the masses watching fun things on television when they should be at church or otherwise thinking about God. While other genres have slowly crept in, the early-afternoon broadcast of a pop concert would surely have horrified some viewers only a few years before.

 

23rd August
The Man From Atlanta
BBC-2

This documentary’s title is a pun on a drama series The Man From Atlantis. It follows Ted Turner, an American businessman who set up a local TV channel. The programme’s synopsis made me curious, describing Turner as having ‘ pioneered 24-hour cable TV news’. I found the documentary fairly fast-moving and as it went on, the penny dropped and I realised that Ted Turner had launched CNN.

Turner is a big personality and forthright. He came across well on the documentary, though I was amused by his descriptions of several US shows. He criticised Dallas because JR is “not a very ethical businessman” – completely accurate based on the episode I watched in 1980. Turner also felt that The Dukes of Hazzard “glamorises reckless driving and disrespect for the law”. It was difficult to take these comments seriously yet it became plain that he was speaking earnestly.

In August 1982 the UK still only has three television channels and despite some attempts to set up other local services, the country remains a few years off more widespread cable and satellite options. In this context, seeing what was happening in the United States seems extraordinary and exciting. I had never realised that 24-hour news had happened so early. Turner clearly has his eyes on the future.

 

24th August
Hi-de-Hi ‘A Night Not to Remember’
BBC-1

I was interested to see Hi-de-Hi as all I knew was that it was set in a Butlins-style holiday camp in the 1950s. I’d struggled with It Ain’t Half Hot Mum‘s big cast last year, but though it is evident that Hi-de-Hi also has a large regular cast, we only focus on a couple so it was much easier. I felt I got to know them a little and would be happy to see more of the others in other episodes. I think this is the best way to handle programmes with a group of players.

Jeffrey Fairbrother has a management role at the camp, seems a bit stiff-upper-lip, yet wants to show he can be friendly with the others. The result is that after indulging in a couple of drinks, some men take it too far and start spiking his drink with spirits.

Gladys is a young Welsh lady who we meet at the start of the episode when she’s making announcements to the guests over a PA system. She takes Jeffrey back to his chalet and then… well, we don’t see what happens. We next encounter them both at work the next day, with Jeffrey nursing the mother of all hangovers and patchy recall of the evening. But the discovery of Gladys’s bra by the maid and Jeffrey’s surprise at having woken naked tell us enough.

While I liked the episode overall, I found this a very uncomfortable story to watch. Gladys clearly fancies Jeffrey and decided to take advantage of him being drunk, the aftermath of which is played completely for laughs. But from the 21st century we call that rape. The programme wouldn’t have ran the story the same way if the sexes had been the over way around.

The opening PA call is how we discover that the camp has a catchphrase and when the yellowcoats (mirroring Butlins’ redcoated staff) call out, “Hi-de-hi!”, the holidaymakers are expected to shout back, “Ho-de-ho!” While I have never stayed at a 1950s/1960s holiday camp, I am aware of their characteristics, so it was nice to be able to get some of these. It did also remind me of residential school trips in which, much like some of these holiday camps, you find yourself forced into all manner of activities, songs and catchphrases. By the end of the week, you may inevitably find yourself wanting to scream, “I’ll ho your bloody ho in a minute if you say that one more time.”

Hi-de-Hi fits in with a nostalgic trend that I’ve noticed in the 1980s’ schedules so far. The US series Happy Days was also being broadcast in the UK at this time, harking back to the 1950s’ nuclear family and a time that seemed more innocent. There are historical documentaries on the 1960s appearing now. A few repeats of 1960s’ programmes have started to creep into the schedules too. At first, I was just regarding these like any other repeats of shows from the last few years, but then realised that they are actually almost 20 years old now. It will be interesting to see the extent to which this continues.

 

26th August
Sapphire and Steel ‘Assignment Six’
Central

Having waited a whole week for the next episode, I was incredibly excited to sit down with episode two. I had hoped it would clear some things up and I might start to figure out what was going on.

Not a chance. After a fairly lengthy recap of the end of episode one, I spent another episode getting increasingly confused as my mind whirred in an effort to piece things together.

It was pointed out to me that our 1948 man is played by Edward de Souza. His voice is exceptionally posh and I fully believed he was from the 1940s, being a good contender for a job reading the news on radio.

Like Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel is made up of stories that contain several episodes and it seems to have similar limitations on sets. They consist of the forecourt, the cafe, a back office and little else. As the plot is based around people being trapped in one place, it works really well here and the claustrophobia adds to the atmosphere.

By the end of the episode, I felt truly hooked, despite not having the faintest idea what was really going on.

You Say

3 responses to this article

Eddie Hutchinson 13 March 2020 at 1:21 pm

Interesting, you caught series 1 of “Cagney and Lacey” there, with the second of three partners for Tyne Daly. Loretta Swit was in the pilot but couldn’t continue in the role for contractual reasons, and Meg Foster was replaced by Sharon Gless after one series.

AndrewP 13 March 2020 at 8:01 pm

Always lovely to see you looking at documentary programmes and conveying them so effectively. We read so much about narrative programmes – be they comedy or drama – when often a documentary tells us so much about the time from both its content and its presentation style. So, great to see “Horizon” and “The Man from Atlanta” in here.

So pleased that you felt so gripped by “Sapphire & Steel”. This serial was certainly one of my absolute favourites – mainly because there seemed to be some mathematical element to the puzzle which was facing the characters. I also loved Cyril Ornadel’s very striking musical pieces for all the different characters. Stacks of atmosphere and yet so simply executed; the power of good direction.

Particularly interesting to get your perspectives on “Cagney & Lacey” – a series I only caught sporadically at the time and which ideally I’d like to be able watch through fully one day. I wonder if I’d react differently to the gender elements now to how I would have done if I’d tuned in at the time.

“Family Fortunes” was something else which I never saw much of – but you’re absolutely right: the value of the show *was* Bob Monkhouse. He was just brilliant at these sorts of quiz programmes. And prizes *did* feel like prizes back then didn’t they? If you’re ever looking for further examples, Yorkshire’s “3-2-1” is an absolutely surreal joy of gifts to behold; they all *look* so expensive, because the format means that they only had to give one away and the rest could be returned to the shop afterwards.

Interesting episode of “Hi-de-Hi!” for you to pick – and, yes, it’s one to think about, isn’t it? I was never overly taken with the show at the time, and it’s only been in recent years that the BBC Two repeats demonstrated to me that it was actually a very engaging and well-written series with some quite tough character narratives (“Stripes” is one I recall being particularly brutal). Gladys – in the early seasons – was not one whom I found I could sympathise with because of her obsessive predatory nature; her character changes later on with the cast reshuffles. I was never 100% sure that she was a character I was meant to *like* at that stage.

Wonderful stuff! Thanks for bringing back some happy memories and filling in a few gaps in my knowledge.

All the best

Andrew

Agent X 23 March 2020 at 11:11 pm

Ah nice treat. Been looking forward to your next bout of tv viewing.

Just thought I’d mention that “Sapphire and Steel” wasn’t a children’s tv series. It was originally planned to be but during the writing morphed into a show for older teens. Accordingly, it was initially shown in an early evening slot and not a tea-time one.

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