Back in time for TV: 1972 

6 March 2019


IT’S CHRIIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAAS! I imagine a 1970s’ Christmas to be all glitter, tinsel, sideburns and fire hazards – something for the whole family. Outside of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there is actually very little festive fare. By the time you’re reading this, it will all be long over. But crack open the remaining chocolates and join me to spend Christmas in 1972.

22nd December
The Record Breakers

Is this a children’s show? From the description I couldn’t be at all sure but the studio audience was made up entirely of kids. Nevertheless, I’d say Record Breakers has a certain amount of fun family appeal, with it showing the biggest and the best of all sorts of things, as well as trying to create some new world records.

The new record attempt in this episode is very studio-friendly as several entrants try to beat the fastest time to score 180 on a darts board. There’s quite a lot of content to the show as each section gets whizzed through quickly. Despite this, I had plenty of time to enjoy Roy Castle’s presenting style – he’s kind of like a fun uncle. This is only the second episode of the programme but Record Breakers’ appeal was certainly great enough as it ran until 2001.

UFO ‘Confetti Check A OK’

I saw a trailer for repeats of UFO last year and thought it looked amazing. I was immediately blown away by the title sequence, which makes it look like one of the most exciting things ever. Made by Century 21, this was Gerry Anderson’s first live action television programme. There’s undoubtedly great appeal for youngsters with exciting explosions reminiscent of Thunderbirds, which are also thrilling to this not-quite-so-young viewer, yet the show’s tone feels more serious and adult.

I’ve still only seen a handful of episodes but I’ve been impressed so far. Everything about UFO screams WE’RE IN THE FUTURE. It’s a very ambitious future, considering the show is set only a few years later in 1980. Ed Straker heads up an organisation called SHADO, who defend the earth from any threat from space. SHADO seems to have a cynical outlook as it regards anything not from Earth as a threat and ideally the best thing to do is blow it up as fast as possible. This is unmistakably a 1970s future, with giant computers along the walls, tapes reeling, lots of silver, moonbase employees wearing purple wigs for no discernible reason, smoking permitted in an underground base, and a noticeable number of men checking out young ladies in unnecessarily-tight space uniforms. I bloody love it.

This episode is very different to any others I’ve seen as it takes the form of a flashback. One of the young SHADO employees has become a father and upon offering Colonel Straker a celebratory cigar, Straker is taken back to the build up to his marriage and the birth of his own child, starting with a meeting to discuss the establishment of SHADO.

UFO episodes can be watched out of order as, like many programmes at this time, there is little continuity and most episodes stand alone. However, this episode takes on more poignancy if you’ve watched others that cover Straker’s backstory. It was partly this that enabled me to really enjoy the episode.

23rd December
Mr Benn ‘Clown’

It’s been lovely to see the evolution of the Watch with Mother strand over the years. We’ve gone from Picture Book and Andy Pandy to Trumpton and The Magic Roundabout. We are now nearing the end as within a few months the Watch with Mother title will vanish completely. I’m thrilled to be catching Mr Benn as, while I have childhood memories of some of the earlier Watch with Mother programmes, this is undoubtedly the one I remember best and most fondly. It was still being repeated when I was small and I’ve seen it repeated on the children’s channels in recent years too, so it’s wonderful that the programme has such enduring appeal.

Mr Benn finds a fancy dress shop and upon donning a costume in the dressing room, he discovers that he can pass through a magic door to have adventures based on whatever he is wearing. In this episode he picks what he thinks is the funniest costume in the shop and once in his clown outfit, he heads off to help out a circus. When the adventure is coming to an end, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appears, and ensures Mr Benn returns to his normal life. I often feel that the shopkeeper has turned up a bit too soon and Mr Benn should be allowed to carry on his life as a cowboy, knight or chef just a tiny bit longer.

Mr Benn consists of beautiful hand drawn animation, with little actual movement. A lot is done by camera panning or zooming. It’s full of colourful worlds that contrast well with Mr Benn’s everyday black suit and bowler hat. I also enjoy Ray Brooks’ gentle narration and it is always a marvellous treat to return to one of my favourite childhood programmes.

24th December
Mary, Mungo and Midge ‘The Letter’

More Watch with Mother time and today we are learning about how a letter gets to its recipient. Mary is a small girl with a dog called Mungo and a mouse called Midge. Today Mary is writing a letter to her grandmother. This actually seems like a great thing to educate children (and adults) about because it can seem as though the bit between a letter entering a postbox and being delivered by the postman is rather vague. Midge falls into the post box as the letter is put in, so holds on to go on the entire journey to grandmother. He is particularly excited to discover that the guard on the mail train eats cheese sandwiches. I really am going to miss Watch with Mother because this was lovely.

Milligan in Winter

Having previously seen Milligan in Spring, I was looking forward to this. Spike Milligan’s series is full of sketches, songs, poetry, stories and odd pieces to camera that are all vaguely linked by the season. Sometimes Spike is himself, sometimes he isn’t, and sometimes you can’t be sure. Tonight he is sometimes Father Christmas.

Right at the end, Spike takes his chance to put across what seems a more personal message, telling the audience: “I’d like you to think about being more decent to each other in the new year, and considering planting more trees, conserving life as it should be on this planet.” He adds one more joke though. As White Christmas starts playing in the background, he opens the door to let in three black men.

25th December
Christmas Night With the Stars

After running for a number of Christmasses, this will be the final Christmas Night With the Stars, which featured sketches, dancing and music from a variety of the BBC’s programmes. I’ve seen the first edition from 1958 and thought it was rather good, despite the fact that the only ‘star’ I recognised with Tony Hancock.

This version is very different, although I should mention that I was watching an edited version so that may have made it harder to judge. Being hosted by Ronnies Barker and Corbett, it feels like an edition of their own sketch show, The Two Ronnies, with a few cutaways to other shows. I was happy enough with this though as The Two Ronnies was one of the first comedy shows I started watching repeats of and starting off with their desk made it nicely familiar.

We get lots of short jokes there to start us off. “Did you have a good Christmas, Ronnie?” “Yes it’s been all bunting and frolics… I was advised not to drink before saying that.” Ronnie C tell us, “I got an Enoch Powell chessboard,” before holding up an all white chessboard. It’s been a few years since Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech but things hadn’t changed much in Britain and his influence is still clearly around. I do find it a little weird that the entire programme maintains the pretence that Christmas is done and dusted. They don’t even make it sound like they’re pretending the show is live, it’s more like they’ve come back in the new year to exchange pleasantries.

My favourite sketch from the Ronnies saw Ronnie C as the milkman knocking and waking Ronnie B early one morning, wishing him a happy Christmas. The homeowner does not take the hint and after wishing him a happy Christmas several times, some bigger milkmen appear and force their way in. The milkmen spread out and Ronnie C continues to wish Ronnie B a happy Christmas – “I wouldn’t like to think of you sitting here listening to the radio on Christmas Day because you haven’t got a television set…” “But, but we’ve got a television set…” ☆crash☆ “…because you haven’t got a television set!” When he finally gets the hint, he asks how much they want: “Well just whatever you think I’m worth, guv.” They settle on a packet of fags, a type of tipping I had never come across before.

Cilla Black joins the party for a song before some banter with Ronnie C, then they go into a duet of I Got a Lot of Things For Christmas. The song consists of them singing about the various items they received from celebrity friends before the repeated line of “but all I really wanted was you”. It’s not a great song and it really doesn’t work because it’s clearly meant to be sung by lovers. Their chat beforehand could have been more flirty but what really ruins it is that neither of them look at each other while singing the crucial line. They’re looking down the camera or smiling around at the studio audience, so the idea that Cilla and Ronnie have had some hitherto secret desire for one another is unconvincing to say the least.

Dad’s Army provide a snippet of their Christmas show which sees Captain Mainwaring as John Bull trying to get his rabble to display the glories of Britain. Julius Caesar and William The Conquer feature, even though Sergeant Wilson points out that both those men managed to conquer England.

The Goodies give us a silent sketch as they provide a Victorian-looking street child the chance to see their travelling five minute Christmas show. As you would expect, it’s all very fast and physical.

The guest sketch I most enjoyed was the one from The Liver Birds. I’ve never seen the show but know the sitcom’s setup of two young ladies from Liverpool sharing a flat. I enjoyed what we saw of the flat as they have numerous posters on the wall including a rockstar with a guitar and what looks like John Wayne. We join them watching telly on Boxing Day, completely stuffed with food and discussing their respective Christmas Days.

What most appealed to me was that they talk and sound like normal people, even if ‘normal’ is relative. It wasn’t just their accents (although television does still seem to feature few accents from outside the South East) but the things they talked about and the way they talked about them. Beryl tells us her Dad spent the morning toasting everyone and everything before passing out after breakfast. They moan about their families and you understand why they decided they needed to get their own place. You sympathise even more when both of their mothers turn up at the flat. We’ve already got an idea of how different the two mothers are. “Did you watch the Queen’s speech?” Beryl asks Sandra. “Of course we did. Me mam puts her hat on for that.” I know not all of The Liver Birds exists but this has made me keen to see those that do.

The one guest sketch I wasn’t able to see was Mike Yarwood’s. This was a real shame as though I know of him as an impressionist, I’ve never seen any of his work and next year his own show will take the place of Christmas Night With the Stars.

The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show

Back in 2018, two rediscovered episodes of The Morecambe and Wise Show were shown over the Christmas period, along with 1971’s Christmas special and the first of a new series, Morecambe and Wise in America, so it’s fair to say that the duo continue to appeal to audiences. The repeats of the various Christmas shows in recent years were how I first started watching them and I’m sure they have brought in plenty of other new fans as well.

I visited Morecambe and Wise as part of Back in Time for TV in 1964 and 1970, but away from this I’ve also since started watching a few more of their shows. I couldn’t visit Christmas Day in the 1970s without watching Morecambe and Wise and as usual I enjoyed them, though hadn’t heard of the singers and didn’t enjoy those. Having now seen Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen regularly in the non-Christmas episodes, I’m finding they’re growing on me and I notice the great joy and enthusiasm Kenny and the rest often display.

One of my highlights was Ernie as a female reindeer with long eyelashes, flirting with Eric’s male reindeer, who keeps threatening to duff up another reindeer, who is unseen but we’re told has a red nose.

It’s interesting that the show includes a similar joke to the Ronnies’. After Ernie wishes people a happy season, Eric looks offstage, asking, “Can he say bunting and frolic?” I wonder if writers were actively borrowing from one another or if there is an ongoing BBC joke I don’t know of. Or perhaps it’s just coincidence.

26th December
Camberwick Green

I’m familiar with Camberwick Green’s opening as it was spoofed in an episode of Life On Mars. I first visited Trumptonshire in 1967 and loved it so I’ve been looking forward to my return. Today we are visiting the baker, whose new recruit is a soldier. Our baker makes the mistake of leaving the soldier alone with fairly simple instructions. You would imagine it is fairly vital for a soldier to know his left from his right but this fellow seems to have been blagging it so far. A small degree of chaos ensues as the soldier sells all the cakes he was meant to be saving for someone else! The baker is remarkably calm about this catastrophe perpetrated by an incompetent soldier that could have ruined his business’s reputation, but rather than reporting this heinous error to the soldier’s superior the baker decides it can be mended and even keeps the lad on. A world in which a serving soldier can be permitted to indulge his passion for cakes with an additional job is a truly wonderful one.

28th December
Colditz ‘Court Martial’

I knew of Colditz, and a series about POWs trying to escape the Nazis seemed right up my street. We lacked any really nasty Nazis so it was a chance to get to know some of the characters. Some are certainly more keen to get out than others and you get the impression they are willing to go to quite desperate lengths.

It’s not clear whether David McCallum’s character knows the full risks of what he’s doing when he repeatedly and deliberately refuses to salute the Nazi officers. He’s hoping it will give him a chance to be transported out for a court martial type disciplinary. Ironically, the first time he deliberately ignores an officer they don’t notice, yet when he’s excitedly running to fetch a parcel from home his salute is missed. Once in court, we discover he’s at risk of execution for disobeying orders. I was astounded by this. Could they really execute POWs? I’ve never heard of this happening so remain intrigued.

As there are quite a few main characters, I’m presuming they will each get the chance for more of the limelight in different episodes. I’d like to get to know more of them, and hopefully see some of them escape.

You Say

1 response to this article

Richard Jones 9 March 2019 at 3:47 pm

I wonder if the SHADO base is still there, under Holby City hospital these days…

Yeah, ok, I’ll be on the naughty step…

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