I normally try to keep topics apart but I want to finish my final coverage of television, started in the last blog,  ‘Evening, All.’ Just to recap, after several blogs about Television, from its origins and Children’s Television and some early heroes and a whole list of famous characters from television and radio I still had a few people and television programmes that I couldn’t fit them into  Yarroo. Here are the rest, still fairly random in no particular order. I am going to finish my list so this one may still be very long!
Dad’s Army was a television sitcom about the British Home Guard during the Second World War. It was broadcast from 1968 to 1977, running for nine series – plus a radio version based on the television scripts, a feature film and a stage show. The Home Guard were local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service, either because of age or by being in professions exempt from conscription. This series dealt almost exclusively with over age men, and featured older British actors, including Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier. Younger cast members included Ian Lavender, Clive Dunn (who played the oldest guardsman, Lance Corporal Jones), Frank Williams and air raid warden Bill Pertwee.
It came very high in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, and has influenced popular culture, with the series’ catchphrases and characters being well known.
Juke Box Jury ran on BBC television from 1959 to 1967, a panel show based on a similar American programme. It was chaired by David Jacobs who first played records about to be released before asking a panel of four to comment on them. The jury would then vote each tune a ‘hit’ or ‘miss.’ As an early Saturday evening programme it attracted high viewing figures. (There were revivals in the late seventies and eighties.) Generally one of the performers would be hidden behind a screen and emerge after the verdict.
The panel, generally two men and two women, varied from week to week but often included the disc jockeys Pete Murray, Jimmy Savile, Alan Freeman and Simon Dee. Also fairly common were Katie Boyle, Lulu, Cilla Black and Eric Sykes. [I am fairly sure that the picture above has Frankie Vaughan, Lady Isobel Barnet, Pete Murray and Barbara Kelly.]
The Six-Five Special (which started at 6:05 every Saturday evening) started in 1957, soon after the start of rock ‘n roll music. It was presented by Josephine Douglas and Pete Murray. It opened with film of a steam train accompanied by the theme song, played and sung by the Frantic Five, which began with the words “The Six-Five Special’s comin’ down the line, The Six-Five Special’s right on time …”
It was shown live with a studio filled with performers and audience, running to an impromptu format with live music.
Top of the Pops was a weekly television programme shown on BBC One from 1964 (continuing until the Twenty-first Century.) It was traditionally shown every Thursday evening, except for a short period on Fridays. Each weekly programme consisted of performances from some of that week’s best-selling popular music artists, with a rundown of that week’s singles chart. For the first three years Alan Freeman, David Jacobs, Pete Murray and Jimmy Savile rotated as presenters.
It featured live music (although it was never quite clear how much of it was mimed.) It always ended with the number one record, which was the only record that could appear in consecutive weeks. The show would include the highest new entry and (if not featured in the previous week) the highest climber on the charts, and omit any song going down in the chart.
When I was at University in the late sixties, Top of the Pops was the one television programme guaranteed to fill the Common Room with students watching its communal television set. (In those days this was the only way we could see television at University.) One reason was our love of pop music but another feature which attracted the all-male audience was the one song almost every week presented to the accompaniment of some vigorous dancing by Pan’s People. They replaced an earlier group, The Go-Jos, and danced to the only song where the singers were not in the studio.
[By modern standards, Pan’s People would not raise an eyebrow. But in the sixties and seventies the opportunity to see scantily clad young ladies on television were few and far between. As students we were sometimes disappointed when they kept to more voluminous clothing. In later programmes they were replaced by other dancing girls, such as Legs & Co in the late seventies.]
[Yes, I know, there is absolutely no reason to include the above picture as it’s far too late for my blog.]
Ready, Steady Go was the early ITV pop show on Friday evenings from 1963 to 1966. It was live, initially just broadcast in the London area but later shown nationally. It show went out early on Friday evenings with the line “The weekend starts here!”, and was introduced by the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out”, later by Manfred Mann’s “5-4-3-2-1” and later still two other tunes. It was more youth-orientated and informal than Top of the Pops and was notable for featuring the audience as dancers and for the interaction of artists and audience. The producers chose the audience in London clubs, picking out the best or the most fashionably dressed dancers.
Initially, most performances were mimed but by the mid-sixties some performed live and the show switched to all-live performances in 1965. The programme was never broadcast in the United States, perhaps because it was still in black and white.
The best known presenters were Keith Fordyce and Cathy McGowan, though early shows were introduced by Dusty Springfield.
[There will be more about pop music in a later blog.]
A Diversion about Soft Skin
Lady Saunders (born Caterina Irene Elena Maria Imperiali di Francavilla) better known as Katie Boyle was an Italian-born British actress, television personality, and game-show panelist, a former agony aunt, best known for two things. She presented the Eurovision Song Contest (of which more in a minute) in the sixties and seventies. And she featured in a long-running series of adverts for Camay Soap, always presented as a luxury soap with a rich, creamy lather. (Too expensive for us!) She did also appear often in What’s My Line and Juke Box Jury.
Eurovision Song Contest
I haven’t included this annual extravaganza within Pop Music because I’m not sure it used to be really anything like UK pop music. It has been broadcast every year since 1956. Early programmes were fraught with technical difficulties – at a time when television rarely ventured outside its studios in London. (It continues now as one of the most watched non-sport events in the World.)
I remember it from 1959 with Sing Little Birdie by Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson. In the late sixties Sandie Shaw (Puppet on a String,) Cliff Richard (Congratulations) and Lulu (Boom Bang-a-Bang) were more memorable.
Each country sings its entry to the competition in a live television show. After the performance of each song, there is a long process of voting for the winner that used to be much slower and more complicated. Now we have telephone voting. Back in the sixties each country had a panel of musical experts in their own country deciding on the votes. So we needed international telephone calls to each country – at a time when telephones had difficulty making connections over just a few miles. Often lines were unobtainable and so they went to the next country and came back later.
Now they read out just the top few entries. Then, they would list them all, with each being repeated, slowly and clearly, in English and French. Our compere when the programme came from England was Katie Boyle, always impressive in her multi-lingual conversations. She provided television commentary for the annual Eurovision BBC programme through the sixties until Terry Wogan took over.
In the early years singers always had to use their native language for the competition – but winners often had an English language version ready for release the next day!
I said it was going to be random. We come to Science Fiction next and in particular, Doctor Who. For its first incarnation it ran for 26 seasons from 1963 to 1989, usually in stories which ran to about six episodes. It ran early on Saturday evenings, was aimed at younger viewers with the intention of being educational. It alternated between stories about the past and others about the future or in outer space. For the first series the Doctor’s companions were a science teacher, a history teacher and his own granddaughter. (He has always been ‘The Doctor.’ In spite of the name of the programme his name is never Doctor Who!)
I never liked the historical episodes and gradually they have become more Science Fiction in nature.
Sadly in the late sixties and early seventies large amounts of early BBC recorded programmes were lost or wiped and much of Doctor Who from the first two Doctors, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, has been lost.
I can remember a much more low profile Doctor without his now ubiquitous sonic screwdriver but there was also amazing cliff-hangers at the end of each episode, leaving the fate of the World on a knife edge. But something always turned up at the beginning of the next episode!
The concept of regeneration was a masterstroke of invention, enabling the recasting of the main character, first prompted by William Hartnell’s poor health. (The term “regeneration” was not initially conceived of until the Doctor’s third on-screen regeneration however; the first Doctor had a “renewal,” and the Second Doctor underwent a “change of appearance”.) It allowed the older Doctor to be replaced by characters with different personalities. He also managed to keep a constant stream of changing companions. I don’t think they ever explained why the Doctor abandoned his granddaughter or how he came to have one in the first place.
After William Hartnell for three years we had Patrick Troughton. Then Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker continued into the seventies. Series from the nineties onwards have presented a very different image of the Doctor and his activities aimed at an older audience and with more of an element of horror.
I have to admit that technology of the sixties and seventies was not as it is now. Just as Children’s Television relied on puppets, sometimes with very visible strings, so the prosthetics that made alien creatures from outer space were far from realistic. We knew they were people dressed in complex structures with little ability to show facial expressions but we accepted them as they were.
What was impressive for the times was the opening music produced by Ron Grainger and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It was way ahead of any form of electronic music available at the time when we relied on orchestral instruments. I loved it.
The other Science Fiction from the late sixties was Star Trek and I mean, of course, just what is now known as the Original Series. It was an American television series created by Gene Roddenberry that followed the adventures of the star-ship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) and its crew. I think that programmes were shown in Britain on BBC very soon after their US release.
Each episode started with the spoken introduction: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the star-ship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
It was set in the Milky Way in the relatively near future – so it suffered some of the faults of trying to predict how technology would advance. Their communicators are way behind modern mobile phones but warp speed travel, instant transporters and voice activated food replicators still look far beyond our capabilities.
With low ratings it was cancelled after three seasons but it was repeated often and became a cult classic. (Many years later we had several major Star Trek films and four new series – The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.)
The ship was led by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner); first officer (i.e. second-in-command) and science officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who was half Vulcan; and chief medical officer Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) normally called ‘Bones.’ Other significant crew members were Lieutenant Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, chief engineer and second officer (James Doohan); Communications officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols); helmsman Sulu (George Takei); Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett who also voiced the ship’s computer.)
[While Sulu, Chekov and Uhura had first names that rarely appeared, Spock because he was half-Vulcan only had one name. Female Vulcan characters had names like T’Pau or T’Pol.]
I have to admit to being a Star Trek fan through all of its incarnations although at times the plots are not quite believable. They were never surprised that on all other planets everyone spoke perfect (US) English and the rules of physics would be bent so that any event, even if planet wide would be instantaneous.
I am going to end with some short notes about five more people who deserve a mention. If you know them you will remember them as fondly as I do. I will take two of them together – Frank Muir and Dennis Norden. They worked together from before my time writing for the radio programme Take it From Here (featuring Jimmy Edwards and June Whitfield) and continued to appear together for decades in radio and television programmes together such as My Word! And My Music!
Percy Thrower was a British gardener, horticulturist, broadcaster and writer born, known nationally through presenting various gardening programmes, sometimes described as “Britain’s first celebrity gardener”.
Percy Edwards was an English animal impersonator, ornithologist, and entertainer. He became a household name after his animal imitations in the radio shows Ray’s a Laugh with Ted Ray, and playing Psyche the dog in the radio series A Life of Bliss. It was said that at the height of his career he could accurately imitate over 600 birds, as well as many other animals. Among other things, he provided the voices for the killer whales in Orca (1977), the Reindeer in Santa Claus: The Movie (1985), sheep and bird sounds on Kate Bush’s song The Dreaming, and the alien in the film of the same name. He appeared occasionally on BBC TV’s pre-school series Play School as a storyteller, in 1967 and from 1973 through 1980.
Finally, Stanley Unwin, sometimes billed as “Professor” Stanley Unwin, was a British comedian, actor and comic writer, and the inventor of his own language, “Unwinese”, a corrupted form of English in which many of the words were altered in playful and humorous ways, as in its description of Elvis Presley and his contemporaries as being “wasp-waist and swivel-hippy”. Unwin claimed that the inspiration came from his mother, who once told him that on the way home that she had “falolloped (fallen) over” and “grazed her kneeclabbers”.
I knew this was going to be a long post. I think that’s about all for television … but I may think of some more later. [Although most of this post comes from my memories I have used Wikipedia to check dates and add some background material.]