Back in time for TV: 1970 

15 September 2018


It’s 1970! This is my first year in full, glorious colour! Except it isn’t. Not everyone can get colour programmes yet and as explained previously, costs are preventing the majority of the population from receiving it for a while yet. If this wasn’t enough, the companies are clearly trying to eek out more from older shows as this week there are at least a couple of late night black and white repeats.

This week my ITV programmes are coming from Anglia and LWT.

6th August
Anglia (Nederlandse Televisie Stichting)

This is a Dutch import dubbed into English about a gnome who lives in a tree. In the episode I could find, a unicorn has been sighted and Paulus’s friend, an owl called Koo-Roo, knows how much Paulus wants to see a real unicorn so directs the unicorn to Paulus’s house. Unfortunately, a bad raven then directs the unicorn the wrong way, towards a witch’s house. The witch is called Eucalypta and she is undoubtedly evil because she is terrifying. I’ve never been more disturbed by a puppet. Her voice is reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Waiting for the unicorn, she flings a knife at the doorway. This is brutal stuff for a young children’s puppet show. I can’t believe anyone thought this was a good idea. She definitely haunted children’s nightmares.

I can’t find much about the English voice dubbing – only that Arthur Lowe narrated, so perhaps he did all the voices too. However, Paulus sounds slightly like The Goon Show‘s Bluebottle and Koo-Roo reminds me of Eccles.

The Herbs
BBC-1 (FilmFair)

The Watch with Mother strand has been here throughout my time travelling and has continued to evolve. Compared to Paulus, this is much more comfortable territory. The Herbs is about the goings on of a herb garden in the country estate of Basil, a rather incompetent owner. In this episode he manages to accidentally shoot off the tail of Parsley, a lion. Parsley is lovely and has his own song. Like Andy Pandy and Tales of the Riverbank, The Herbs is wonderfully relaxing. It feels nice and safe and overall I am very pleased with this update to Watch with Mother.

The Prisoner ‘Arrival’
Anglia (Everyman Films/ITC for ATV)

Starting tonight, Anglia are repeating The Prisoner, which had first been broadcast in 1967. It is difficult to sum up a series in words when its magnificent title sequence, quite possibly the best, manages it perfectly in a minute or so of pictures. A man resigns from his job and is kidnapped. When he wakes up, he is trapped in a village. The Village is idyllic – why would anyone ever want to leave? Precisely because they cannot. We do not even know where the Village is. Who can you trust in the Village? Is everyone here really a fellow captive? Can anyone escape? Why did he resign? I can guarantee that every episode of The Prisoner will provide more questions than answers. It therefore feels appropriate that one of the first sayings we encounter in the Village is ‘questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself’.

The Prisoner was among the programmes featured on ITV’s 50 Greatest Shows in 2005, as part of ITV’s 50th anniversary. I’d been fascinated by the clips and Patrick McGoohan’s voice ringing out “I am not a number – I am a free man!” had stayed with me. Five years later, I finally got to see it so this is far from my first visit to the Village.

‘Arrival’ puts in place most of the essential elements of the Village. As well as visiting most of the soon-to-be-familiar buildings and features, we establish that the telephones and taxis only operate locally, that there are no names in the Village – only numbers, that Number Two’s identity changes regularly, that the Village forces propaganda on its citizens, that everyone can be watched everywhere, that inhabitants are drugged, that there are no friends, you can trust no one, and that even when you think you’ve escaped, you haven’t, because the Village is always in control.

I consider The Prisoner to be one of the finest television series ever produced. It veers off completely from ITC’s usual formula and is like nothing else before. Yet it still attracted ITC’s usual raft of guest stars and we get to see memorable faces like Derren Nesbitt, Peter Wyngarde, Peter Bowles and Donald Sinden. As with other one-man-band ITC series like The Saint, Man in a Suitcase and Patrick McGoohan’s previous show, Danger Man, the guests all ensure consistently good, entertaining performances. Here, the high quality is especially needed as McGoohan is wonderful in the role of a relentlessly fascinating character, known only as Number Six.

7th August
Lost in Space ‘The Toymaker’
Anglia (Irwin Allen Productions for CBS)

This strange show followed some humans travelling in space. Based on the title, I’m going to presume they are lost. Among them are a young lad, Will, and an older fellow, Dr Smith. We seem to be following on from a cliffhanger at the end of the previous episode as we are straight into action. Along with their robot, they have come across a machine that can make any toy you want appear, which was obviously going to end disastrously. The machine goes wrong and Dr Smith gets trapped inside it. Will manages to get himself in the machine too so he can try to get Dr Smith out. He encounters a toymaker who is convinced Dr Smith and Will are toys. They must try to get out before he ships them to another planet where there are other toy-ordering machines.

I really enjoyed the scenes featuring Dr Smith. He seems to vary between being camp and quite childlike. When the Toymaker tells him he would suit a planet where the children like animatronic toys, Mr Smith looks as though he might cry as he exclaims, “But I’m too big to be a toy!”

It Takes a Thief ‘The Family’
Anglia (Universal for ABC)

I loved the episode of It Takes a Thief I saw in 1969 so was keen to see another, hoping it would intrigue me in the series more. This goes out at 7pm and I think it’s great to have a drama go out so early in the evening. Having grown up with this timeslot filled primarily by soaps or light entertainment shows, I tend to associate it as filling the gap between daytime, children’s and the news, before we get to the proper evening’s drama.

While it felt like the previous episode I watched had many locations, this one is entirely contained within a single house and its grounds. The security services have got Al into the house of a businessman who is shipping oil behind the Iron Curtain and they want to find out why. Al ends up getting some help from the man’s young granddaughter, who is slightly sharper than the rest of the household.

I was surprised to discover that Al’s full name is Alexander. I had presumed it would be Albert or Alfred so he must have really disliked Alexander. I continue to enjoy watching the character and his easy, laid-back style, so remain keen to see more episodes.

8th August
Garrison’s Gorillas ‘The Great Crime Wave’
LWT (Selmer Productions for ABC)

I’d never heard of this before but was desperately rooting through the schedules to find something I could watch that was in colo(u)r, and something about the name intrigued me. Garrison’s Gorillas follows a group of thieves brought together under a U.S. Lieutenant during World War Two to work behind the German lines, covertly fighting the Nazis.

In tonight’s episode, the gang initiate a crime wave in a small German town – “I want you to take that town the way Capone took Chicago”. The ultimate aim is to convince the bank that it is no longer safe and to move its gold bars into a nearby underground torpedo factory. Except the gang will swap some of the bars for bombs.

They spend the episode stealing cars, machine-gunning buildings, robbing stores, homes, and little old ladies. There are some hiccups along the way, like when one of them gets arrested, but for the most part the local Polizei seem to be fairly incompetent as the gang all walk around brazenly committing any theft they can. They also bicker among themselves, being all rather greedy, but, as the only straight man among them, the Lieutenant, nicknamed Warder, quickly quashes any disputes.

The others are referred to only as Actor, Chief, Casino and Goniff. I’d like to see the first episode to find out how they all came together. It’s all the more intriguing because Actor is German. In this episode someone asks, “Why do you work for the Allies?” and after a pause he responds, “Just keeping in shape for the duration.”

There is a lot of German spoken throughout the episode. We cut to the overwhelmed German police station several times, there are people conversing in shops, and, as the thieves themselves are hoping to be mistook for escaped German convicts, they all speak German while committing their crimes. It’s spoken well and the Polizei in particular speak very quickly, convincing me that some of the actors may have been German or else spoke it well already. It helps add a good deal of authenticity to a show that has chosen not to shove lots of Nazi symbols in the viewer’s faces.

Fights, machine guns, shoot-outs, tanks, robberies, a dash of humour, World War Two and Nazis – this is right up my street.

9th August
Tom Grattan’s War ‘The Prisoner’
Anglia (Yorkshire Television)

I was worried this children’s programme might be a bit slow or dull but it surpassed all my expectations completely. Tom is an evacuee in rural Yorkshire during the First World War and it appears he gets to spend his days doing whatever he wants, including roaming the moors. Some POWs have escaped and the army warn the family to stay close to home as the men are dangerous. Tom is having none of that though and convinces local girl Julie to come with him to try to find them.

This was quite tense at times as Julie finds one of the Germans but then helps him hide from Tom. It also ends on a cliffhanger so we’ll have to come back next week. With only half an hour to play with, the action all moves fast and makes the most of every scene. The only point I want to criticise it on is that while the lad playing Tom can get away with looking like a teenager, my imagination is struggling with Julie, who looks more like 25. Maybe she’s had a tough childhood on the moors.

The episode is introduced and at times narrated by a man, played by Richard Warner, standing in a field, for reasons I have yet to deduce. But he’s got a lovely voice for telling a story and his additions are more than welcome.

Hawaii Five-O ‘The Ways of Love’
Anglia (Leonard Freeman Productions for CBS)

I had heard of Hawaii Five-O but knew nothing except that it was a US police show. It turned out to be enormous fun. There’s been an armed robbery. One guy has been caught, one woman has been killed and another bloke is still on the run. To find out more, one of our lead cops, Steve McGarrett, goes undercover to share a cell with Dave, the one they caught. An escape is engineered so Dave can lead them to the loot and his accomplice.

The show has a pre-title sequence and we kick things off with a car chase – what a start! A young lady throws herself from the car being chased. I’m amused by the doctor who is asked what her chances are and simply shakes his head. The production clearly didn’t want to pay him a dollar more. She lies covered in smears of ketchup, then dies an unconvincing death from unspecified causes. I should have been setting my bar a rung lower but I was already drawn in. Then…

WOW. What a theme tune! This is made for action and excitement – and it’s exactly what we get. Steve and Dave jump around the roof of the prison, sprinting across the lawn while the guards shoot after them. They break into an office overnight to draw up fake military papers. We have car chases, shootings, a guy getting beaten up, missing jewellery – I bloody love it.

I’m not sure if James MacArthur’s character is supposed to be on equal billing with Jack Lord’s McGarrett because we don’t see a lot of him this episode. All the action is concentrated on McGarrett and Dave, where the former is marvellous. As he’s in character as a fellow criminal, it’s hard to judge the personality of the actual McGarrett character. Here though, he’s a happy, confident guy, cracking out the lines, everyone’s his ‘pal’, and I really enjoyed him. The episode built to a great climax and I’m delighted to discover this is from the first of twelve seasons of the show.

10th August
Star Trek ‘The Immunity Syndrome’
BBC-1 (Desilu/Paramount for NBC)

It’s been a few years but I have seen several episodes of the original series of Star Trek previously. If you’ve managed to avoid all of pop culture’s references over the last fifty years, the programme sees a team from Earth exploring the universe from their spaceship, the USS Enterprise. Captain Kirk and Mr Spock are our leads but there are a few other characters who get to feature more prominently in episodes. There are some episodes where they leave the spaceship but this was not one of those and I found it a tad dull.

I was always worried I’d find Star Trek too sci-fi and nerdy but it rarely feels that way. While the plots can be marvellously fantastical, it’s the behaviour and interactions of the crew I enjoy. William Shatner gives a very serious performance as Kirk that I find compelling. Although, the series has yet to ever really grab me, it keeps intriguing me enough that I will inevitably return for more and maybe eventually I will fall for it.

The Dustbinmen
Anglia (Granada)

This is one of the most dire sitcoms I have ever seen. The title gives away the situation and I thought the lives of binmen seemed a good enough idea but crikey, I barely tittered in 25 minutes. There has been plenty of comedy I’ve not liked before. It can be quite odd hearing others howl and guffaw while it stirs nothing in your own funny bone. What I had never experienced was an almost silent studio audience and this was even more bizarre.

I had questions. How did it end up so bad when it had good names attached? Trevor Bannister would go on to Are You Being Served? as Mr Lucas and Brian Wilde would become well-known as Mr Barrowclough in Porridge.

How had this show had three series in less than one year? I kept waiting for punchlines to appear somewhere – anywhere – but the end titles rolled and I knew I’d lost.

Why had it had three series in under a year? I’m used to seeing programmes get one series per year commissioned. I knew it wasn’t the only sitcom to get this treatment as a few years later Man About the House would manage six series between 1973 and 1976. But then I considered – why not? If your writers and cast can fit the work in and the network is willing to put the show in the schedules twice a year, there seems no good reason to drag episodes out across a few years when you can ride the storm of popularity. I will simply conclude that popularity may not equal everyone’s opinion of quality programming.

11th August
Special Branch ‘Inside’
Anglia (Thames)

This is the first episode of the second series and as a result, star Derren Nesbitt adorns this week’s issue of TV Times. I’ve seen several episodes from the first series of Special Branch so I have already got to know Nesbitt’s Chief Inspector Jordan a little. He’s young and modern, and certainly doesn’t represent the image I would imagine for most policemen at this time. This is the only programme I’ve come across to have half a series in black and white and half in colour. Already from those black and white episodes, I had begun looking forward to seeing Jordan in colour. This episode eventually gave me the chance to see the full vibrancy of his suits and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In this episode, Jordan goes into a prison undercover, something that seems incredibly risky for a police officer. It’s been arranged for him to share a cell with Gillard, a spy who has been convicted of giving secrets to the USSR.

While I’ve seen plenty of adventure series like The Avengers and espionage shows like The Man in Room 17, prior to this, I have not encountered many British police series. No Hiding Place and Gideon’s Way both seem a long time ago and indeed, both finished their original runs a few years ago. From the episodes I’ve seen, they are both rather slow and pedestrian, which was acceptable at the time but just couldn’t go on. Chronologically, my next touchstone for British policing is The Sweeney, yet we’re still several years away from that screeching its way onto our screens.

Special Branch sits nicely between these. Although it doesn’t have The Sweeney‘s levels of action, the plots seem more sophisticated and the pace is a tad faster. Special Branch‘s remit covers spies and terrorism and this means the stakes can be higher, as well as providing a different, wider range of stories. The department lies close to the work of the security services so we often have espionage-type plots. Such series inevitably end up being slightly topical and, with the Cold War in full swing, means the USSR and communists are regularly used as the villains.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus ‘Sex and Violence’

BBC-1 are repeating several episodes of Flying Circus ahead of the start of the second series, which will be on our screens next month. It doesn’t list which five episodes out of the first series’ thirteen were broadcast in this slot so I’ve taken a guess and am sitting down with episode two. The original broadcast was around 10.45 on Sunday nights so this 10pm repeat may fare slightly better.

The first time I saw Flying Circus, I really didn’t get it, which was rather annoying as I’d loved the later Monty Python film, Life of Brian. A couple of years on, I tried again and something clicked. In between the hours of my first weekend job, it became the highlight of my Saturday nights. I haven’t watched any episodes since that first teenage introduction so was excited and a tad nervous, hoping I’d still enjoy it all.

It’s challenging to explain Flying Circus to the uninitiated. Basically, it’s a bunch of blokes doing silly sketches and you can never predict what will happen next. Flying Circus seems like a huge step beyond the comedy I’ve seen during the 1960s. Much of that has been sitcoms so it does feel hard to make comparisons. That Was The Week That Was had some sketches but it was topical and more satire focussed. Morecambe and Wise are already doing well and will have enormous success as the 1970s progresses. Yet it’s very much an entertainment show for all the family so it’s double entendres only please. I don’t know enough else to compare it to, but Flying Circus seems to have few constraints compared to what has gone before. There’s no set theme, they can do location filming, and there’s a relatively large regular cast to draw on so, budget aside, the Pythons can do whatever they can get away with.

There are several aspects to the show that I enjoy. I like how the pace gets thrown off when they decide to end a sketch without a punchline, or to merge into the next sketch. I like their silly voices, particularly the women’s ones when they make little attempt at accurate impersonations. I like when reality falls apart or becomes absurd in ways I would never have expected.

My favourite sketch from this episode is the working class playwright sketch, which turns a familiar dramatical trope – that of the working class son done good in the big city – on its head. Eric Idle plays the son, who has left home for a successful career in mining. Graham Chapman is his playwright father, indignant that his son might now think he is better than them – “Hampstead wasn’t good enough for you, was it? You had to go poncing off to Barnsley!” The young miner challenges him and his mother (Terry Jones) begs him not to anger his father – “You know what he’s like after a few novels!” But the lad presses on.

“You come home every evening reeking of Château Latour – and look what you’ve done to Mother! She’s worn out with meeting film stars, attending premieres and giving gala luncheons!”


12th August
The Ghost & Mrs Muir ‘The Monkey-Puzzle Tree’
Anglia (20th Century Fox for NBC)

I completely got the wrong end of the stick for what this show was as I’d expected a detective series of sorts, perhaps a slightly rubbish, American Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), but ended up with a sitcom. Mrs Muir has moved into a house that formerly belonged to a ship’s captain, who now haunts the home. He’s a stubborn old sod and Mrs Muir is having a nightmare trying to make the place safe and habitable for her young children. The letting agent was ecstatic to find someone who was willing to rent the place.

While the programme was alright, I’m just not drawn in enough by the show’s premise. It feels like each episode could be very predictable with Mrs Muir saying she wants change, the Captain kicking up a fuss, she changes, he makes a massive fuss, they compromise, fin.

The Morecambe and Wise Show

Morecambe and Wise are ‘Show of the Week’ in this week’s Radio Times. I last caught a bit of Morecambe and Wise in 1964. They have moved from ATV to to the BBC since then but they will eventually flip back to the other side under Thames.

As I said in 1964, I’ve mainly seen Morecambe and Wise in their Christmas specials, which, now I think about it, never actually seem particularly Christmassy. Based on this episode, it would appear the Christmas episodes are bigger versions of the regular ones – I’m more likely to have heard of the guest stars. I do particularly struggle with some of the singers they have on as they usually aren’t to my taste. Similarly, when I watched The Two Ronnies as a kid, I found my mind wandering. One of Morecambe and Wise’s regular acts are Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen and I did actually like their performance on this episode, finding their energy quite infectious.

It does certainly seem like a ‘show’ and in parts feels like something transferred from the theatre. The musical interludes would give time to prepare for the next sketch and Eric and Ernie do various bits in front of the curtain, bringing them closer to the studio audience. As well as longer sequences, like those in their flat and the play what Ernie wrote, there are some wonderfully short sketches. Some consist of only a handful of lines or else are entirely visual. For one, a caption appears, reading, ‘SING SOMETHING SIMPLE’, cut to Eric, who simply sings the words ‘Ernie Wise’, cut to ‘END’ caption.

The Morecambe and Wise Show may not be as progressive as Flying Circus but not everything has to be. They have a tried and tested formula that works – television double acts would carry on strong into the 1980s and Eric and Ernie would undoubtedly emerge as the kings throughout the 1970s. I find their shows enormous fun and it’s nice to know I have so many more to look forward to.

Nearest and Dearest ‘The Demon Drink’
Anglia (Granada)

We end the week on my only black and white programme. I’ve seen a single episode of Nearest and Dearest before and it was in colour so I was a little taken back to find this in monochrome. That episode had taken place with the characters visiting hospital and my only memories were of my jaw dropping as they sparked up in the corridor, and not being enamoured with it overall. I enjoyed this episode much more.

Nellie had two very well-to-do ladies round for tea (the drink), hoping to be let into a local business association. Her prospects seem to drop considerably when her drunken brother Eli gets home. It becomes clear that this is not the first time he’s come home absolutely razzled and she convinces him he should give up drinking, something he agrees to with remarkably little protest, although he is hungover at the time.

Drunkenness can be tough to pull off convincingly and I enjoyed Jimmy Jewel’s over the top performance as it suited a sitcom. Throughout, Eli varies from being determined to prove he can manage without to hints that he’ll do anything he can to surreptitiously acquire a drink in order to be sloshed. It’s interesting that Eli is asked to stop drinking completely – forever it would seem. I think if such a plot was being done today, it would see someone giving up for a month.

Eli’s behaviour is supposed to be comical but, several decades on, I found it rather dark. There is a bottle of whisky hidden in the piano. They hint at him possibly drinking cleaning products and aftershave. When he visits the pub, the landlord gives him a cocktail of vodka, soda and lime to take home as it will taste like pop and Nellie won’t be able to smell anything on his breath. This isn’t a man daydreaming about a luscious whisky, a refreshing beer or a beautiful wine – he just likes getting sozzled. Their cousin, Madge, and her husband Walter come round and sit with Nellie, attempting to show Eli that you can enjoy yourself without drinking. Except their evening looks deathly boring and it’s made clear that Walter is one of the dullest men in existence.

While the episode was a lot of fun, it does present an appalling message and I’m not entirely sure there is enough comedy for them to get away with it. It was unexpectedly ‘of its time’. I’m always intrigued by how drinking is depicted but this has been an extraordinary and different sort of snapshot demonstrating just how much society’s attitudes have changed.

What you could have won – missing and unavailable

Here are some of the listings that intrigued me but I was unable to watch this week.

UNAVAILABLE Thirty-Minute Theatre ‘Reparation’ – ‘A Jewish couple wait for a German Appeal Court to hear their claim for compensation for their suffering and loss of property at the hands of the Nazis. To them the case is straightforward and just, until an official raises certain doubts…’ I have begun to realise what a sucker I am for the ellipsis in a programme description. This is a repeat from January and the description carries reviews from the first broadcast, including ‘the author, Robert Lamb, had packed into 30 minutes an extraordinarily comprehensive debate’.

MISSING The Kenny Everett Explosion – I thought Kenny Everett’s contribution to Nice Time in 1968 was excellent so it’s rather gutting that his next appearance in my schedules is missing.

UNAVAILABLE Never Say Die ‘Goodbye Mr Bridge’ – This sitcom lasted one series and I’m mainly intrigued because Wilfred Brambell is among the cast. I can find out very little except it was set in a hospital. The cast are billed as ‘The Inmates’ and ‘The Staff’.

UNKNOWN Christians at War ‘Two Families in Belfast’ – I don’t know a lot about the Troubles in Northern Ireland so am intrigued by this documentary with one film crew living with a Protestant family and another with a nearby Catholic one. The country is described as having ‘lived in a state of virtual Civil War for the last 12 months’.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Simon C 15 September 2018 at 2:53 pm

Sitcoms are very much personal opinion, but I’d say that the earlier episodes of The Dustbinmen are far superior the those in the series shown in 1970. But then you’d be comparing writers Jack Rosenthal and Dave Freeman, which is something of an unfair fight.

Listening to Paulus on YouTube, I’m sure at least some of the voices are Peter Hawkins. One sounds rather like Norman Chappell, but I have a feeling that that’s Hawkins too.

Les 15 September 2018 at 4:58 pm

Paulus was great… i can still sing the theme. We rarely saw the nts logo at the end, as thames slapped theur ‘from thames in colour’ logo over the top.

The prisoner will alwYs be sunday night at 7.25 to me, on atv london. Much follow up discussion at school the next morning.

Lost in space arrived on london screens, when thames took over. The earlier episodes were great, then it got a bit silly withdr smith storylines.

Ghost and mrs muir was one of my favourite american sit come.. the cast were good, and i liked the storylines too.

Dustbinmen. I agree, never liked it.

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