Back in time for TV: 1985 

17 July 2020 tbs.pm/70377

INDEX

I had accepted that I would likely never fully recover from 1984’s Threads, but was still hoping for a more positive outlook from 1985. My week was filled with comedy and kicked-off with a better view of the future.

14th October
Micro Live
BBC-2

 

 

This computing programme was fascinating, although it provided a different sort of attraction for me than for viewers in 1985. I found it a great insight into early computer systems and a good history lesson. The show featured a number of more well-known computers that I knew, like the BBC Micro and Commodore 64, as well as plenty of others.

There is a mixture of news, a demonstration of equipment, and short films. In this edition there is a focus on a crash in the home computer market during 1985. People are still buying software, but not systems, which to me implied that lots of people now have computers and don’t see any reason to upgrade them. The split of ‘home’ and ‘business’ markets stood out to me, in part because at this point ‘computers’ also includes gaming systems. Nowadays, although there are PCs with gaming capabilities, video game consoles have their own separate market. The inclusion of programme items that covered both home and business users left me slightly confused at who Micro Live was aimed at. They seem quite separate markets.

I was surprised upon looking into it that while starting to grow in the 1980s, home computer ownership took off slightly slower than I expected – it took until the 21st century for the majority of homes to have one. I suppose this is partly because although computers were becoming a greater part of everyday life, many people were encountering them at school or in the office. Like television before it, you were more likely to get one at home if you had children.

One good feature demonstrated how a man who couldn’t speak was using a computer to translate his text into speech and could even operate through a telephone system. This seemed extraordinarily advanced for the time. Other items brought in expert opinions, interviewing them on their thoughts about the future, and one of the interviewees from this episode was Bill Gates.

I found Micro Live really enjoyable and would happily watch more as it was so educational, providing a superb insight into the period. It’s interesting to see the beginnings of technology that has become more widespread and easily accessible today.

 


 

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole ‘Episode 5’
Thames

 

 

I was looking forward to Adrian Mole as I’ve read a couple of the books by Sue Townsend and this didn’t disappoint.

I laughed so much. There is lots that reminds me of my own teenage years and just growing up in general. About to go into hospital to have his tonsils removed, Adrian’s father doesn’t see why he needs new pyjamas and dressing gown. 13-year-old Adrian insists it is unreasonable for him to still wear anything adorned with Winnie the Pooh. Later on, it emerges that Adrian has run up a large phone bill, phoning his girlfriend while she was on holiday in Tunisia. After they are finally cut off, Adrian’s mother finds the bill totalling over £200 underneath his mattress, as well as an ‘adult’ magazine. While his mother is berating him for looking at such filth, his father has paid virtually no attention to the magazine and is on the verge of tears over the phone bill.

The other enjoyment from Adrian Mole is being able to see the absurdity of teenage problems, safe in the knowledge that none of it will matter too much. There are also several things that Adrian misinterprets or draws the wrong conclusions from. When his father tells him that he slept in two coal sacks as a child, Adrian is sceptical of this tale of woe so rings his grandmother to check. She informs him that they were actually flour sacks and Adrian brands his father a liar.

Both Adrian and his girlfriend, Pandora, are very earnest and seem far too serious for such young people, yet I remember that desperation to be seen as mature. It does lead to great conversations and there were small things that amused me, like Adrian unnecessarily stating that his hospital appointment is at Greenwich Mean Time. The two of them end up arguing after a conversation about marriage suddenly shows they both have quite different expectations. I was surprised just how conservative Adrian was, telling Pandora that after they had got married and had a child, she could work part time in a cake shop. She’s disgusted at the prospect of having to give up fulltime work – “I want a career!”

I was pleased with how well the books translated to television. The use of a voiceover ensures we see everything from Adrian’s perspective. Many of Adrian’s diary entries are very short and yet the series has connected the incidents enough to make a coherent story. There are a few aspects that are spread out over a longer period but I was still able to understand them from this single episode, like Adrian’s parents’ complicated separation and his friendship with an elderly man called Bert Baxter.

This episode went out at 8pm and I am glad it wasn’t shown during the afternoon with children’s television. While following the life of a teenage boy, there is a lot for adults to enjoy here. On a personal note, I liked seeing a programme set in the Midlands with plenty of broad accents.

 

 

15th October
Galloping Galaxies!
BBC-1

 

 

I didn’t know what to expect from this children’s series, but the title was far too enticing for me to ignore it. I was initially fond of the theme tune, though this joy faded once I had had “Galloping Galaxies!” stuck in my head for several days.

The programme is set on a spaceship with three people. They may have been humans but I’m not entirely sure. One of them has smuggled aboard an alien from the last planet they visited. The alien can shape shift and attempts to hide from the others by turning into various objects like a stool and a table. Among the highlights was that the ship’s computer is voiced by Kenneth Williams, which was unexpected but pleasant. He’s got a bit of an attitude and this suits Williams’ voice well.

It was immediately clear from the programme’s style that I was watching a children’s series. The acting style, the silliness and the jokes all seemed aimed at a young audience. It reminded me of My Parents Are Aliens and the single episode of Rentaghost I’d seen. This was strange to get used to at first because when I’ve watched programmes in this late afternoon/early evening slot previously, I’ve often been unsure whether the programmes were aimed at children or adults. I did enjoy Galloping Galaxies! though and had fun watching something that embraced absurdity and the unexpected.

 

 

17th October
Up the Elephant and Round the Castle ‘A Taxing Problem’
Thames

 

 

One of the attractions of this programme is the cast as there are a few faces to spot. The main one is Sue Nicholls, best known for her long-running role as Audrey Roberts in Coronation Street. I’ve seen clips of Sue from her earlier time in another soap, Crossroads, but the only other comedy role I know her for is as Reggie’s secretary, Joan, in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. I’d enjoyed her part in that and had assumed she had moved into Coronation Street full time by this point (she soon would) so her appearance was surprising. Sue plays Jim’s neighbour and gets one of the funniest scenes as she attempts to seduce a tax inspector. For me it was one of those things where the longer it goes on, the funnier it gets.

Jim’s dad is played by John Bardon, who had a busy career popping up in many programmes before becoming a regular in EastEnders as Jim Branning. However, I still always first think of him in comedy as the security guard in Only Fools and Horses’ ‘The Longest Night’, which will go out next year.

One more familiar face is Brian Hall, who appeared late on as a barman, and is distinctive to me after appearing as Terry the cook in Fawlty Towers.

Overall I found Up the Elephant an acceptable sitcom, though this episode did start to flounder towards the end.

 

 

18th October
Me and My Girl ‘Forty Years On’
LWT

 

 

Watching a different episode to the one scheduled, I had chosen this sitcom due to the presence of Richard O’Sullivan, who I’d previously seen in Man About the House and one of its sequels, Robin’s Nest. Having mainly watched him chasing young women, trying to entice them closer to his large sideburns, exposed midriff and flares, I was curious to watch him as a father figure.

Simon is a single father raising his teenage daughter, Sam. He appears to run his own events business and his mother-in-law works there too. In this episode he is approached by a man looking for help for a charity. It turns out that Simon’s mother-in-law, Nell, had a brief romantic acquaintance with him. Upon discovering this, Sam decides to play matchmaker.

To some extent it’s a miracle that I even made it to the programme’s opening scene because the titles are so sickly sweet I could puke. With soppy music playing, we see Simon on a beach with Sam, both gradually getting older and there are shots of Simon looking wistfully out to sea. Having no idea of the set up at first, I wasn’t initially sure what was happening. Sam looks quite grown up in some of these shots behind a hat and a pair of sunglasses, so I didn’t realise it was the same person and thought I was witnessing a couple’s love story.

It certainly is a sweet sitcom and it isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes. The dating struggles of the family’s young housekeeper offers a side story and Simon’s secretary, Liz, sets up a double date for them, though we don’t meet the two gentlemen until the end of the episode. Overall this means we have ended up with female characters outnumbering male ones, although with Simon getting most of the screen time it’s still pretty balanced.

With the plot revolving around Nell and her old wartime romance, we don’t see too much of Simon and Sam alone together. They do seem to have a good relationship and I’m curious what other plots the show explores. The last single dad I saw was in How’s Your Father, where Harry Worth was finding his two teenagers more challenging. Is Me and My Girl going for that conflict angle or is it more about mishaps?

I felt Richard O’Sullivan’s presence brought the show up – enough that I’d like to see more. It would be good to see what other guests crop up because Nell’s former flame is played by John “I didn’t get where I am today” Barron.

 

 

19th October
Hill Street Blues ‘Jungle Madness’
Channel 4

 

 

I can’t say too much about this programme as I got bored and lost interest. I want to return to it because it wasn’t what I expected. I was hoping for an action-filled cop show but instead the majority of the episode focussed on conversations between the police officers. I’m afraid I just wanted an American-style Sweeney on this evening, so I need to try again with different expectations. It was a very different type of show for that subject matter, with the relationships between the characters taking priority. There seemed to be a huge number of characters that we cut between so it could be a programme that is worth watching from the beginning.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Jeremy Rogers 19 July 2020 at 7:43 pm

Adrian Mole is set in Leicester and there was a certain amount of location work done there, although more was done nearer to Thames studios. Sadly the accents are wrong for Leicester with most characters speaking a variety of West rather than East Midland accents. The Local paper described this as ‘bonkers’.

Gary Sanders 30 July 2020 at 7:05 pm

In the book, Adrian’s tonsil operation takes place just after the clocks have changed, hence the reference to GMT. Easy to spot if you’re reading a book in diary form, gets a bit lost on TV.

Apparently Sue Townsend didn’t like this adaptation.

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