Seventies TV: Some Conclusions
I have been absent from here for some weeks. It's all been quite stressful – suffice to say that you can tell my progress across the city by the trail of bruised and bloodied estate agents. I mean, really, some of them are almost determined not to sell anything. The upshot is that while I am in the process of buying a suitable and ridiculously cheap flat (using the one estate agent in this city I've been impressed by: without naming names they have a swanky address in the Jewellery Quarter but which is actually quite tatty when you get there), while also preparing to litigate against the landlords and letting agents of my present flat for their failure to maintain the building. I solemnly swear I don't go around looking for these things, they just happen to me. In one of my local asides, the flat I'm buying is very near a place in the city centre popularly known as Rentboys' Corner. I really don't know whether they still ply their trade there – I would guess not in these days of the interweb, although that said one of my colleagues who was new to Brum wondered why everyone laughed when she told them her address in Edgbaston until one night she was dressed up for a night out and a man stopped in a car to ask her how much.
I have not forgotten about seventies TV, although I've ground to a halt in posting about it. My next projected post was going to be about Reggie Perrin, but after my last posting about Leonard Rossiter I realised I couldn't really face it. Apart from anything else the only thing I really had to say about it was that it seems to me to be based on the perennial tale of there being only one sane person in a certain environment. Certainly Perrin's sanity is proved for me by the way he does increasingly insane things with a view to the applause of those surrounding him.
On the whole I have been pleasantly impressed by the quality of 1970s TV, since I was expecting it to be awful. I would detect a trend towards over-egging the cake in terms of making too many series of shows. It AInt Half Hot Mum would be the perfect example of this – possibly Terry and June and Minder as well. These shows are all based on a fairly simple premise and repeating it ad nauseam does not work.
Some shows have surprised me by how good they are – I remember Some Mothers Do Ave Em as bloody awful: its memory is ruined by the fact that what everyone remembers is Frank's ridiculous sayings and his hopelessness, which overshadow its quality comedy.
Shows I've mentioned elsewhere here but not specifically posted on under the heading of seventies TV would include The New Avengers and The Professionals. Both of these have a distinctively more gritty seventies feel than many of the more unreal 1960s shows which I actually prefer. One of the things this romp through the seventies has done is make me realise how unreal my personal taste in TV actually is! Nor is it as simple as to say that the seventies were the decade when the real took over from the unreal – the earlier Avengers were extremely gritty indeed, so perhaps the unreality was something that happened in the late sixties.
Of course it may simply be that TV of the seventies reflected the grim reality of the world at the time. Bloody awful, it was, and probably escaping into a fantasy Britain would have not been acceptable.
Fantasy in terms of viewing how the other half live is well represented in the decade, though, particularly by two series I haven't got round to blogging about here, and I remember both of them. Two's Company has a superficially simple basis of culture shock and clash, although the chemistry between the actors lifts it into a different territory. I have been interested to read for the first time of Elaine Stritch's struggles with alcoholism and her approach to her diabetes. It is obviously true that actors who have suffered are in a better position to portray depth. The seventies thing of transcontinental sophistication is best represented by this show: the ones I've blogged about so far have tended to emphasise environmental or alternative concerns. Sophistication is also represented, in a more old money way, by To The Manor Born. How I loved that show as a child! In fact I think possibly the reader will get my blog posts best if they are read in an Audrey Forbes-Hamilton voice. Here the old money meets the new money and ultimately they are reconciled.
A superb show I've only just discovered from the seventies is Zodiac. I can even forget that it has Anton Rodgers in, and it represents the alternative mysticism thing of the seventies. I seem to remember Anton Rodgers as good in Murder Most English.
There have been relatively few complete duds in the seventies TV I have been watching. Notable is my intense disappointment with the Tomorrow People. It lacks atmosphere and plot, and thus did almost nothing for me. On the other hand I have also been very impressed by UFO. I was projecting a similar series of posts on eighties and nineties TV (I would feel no need to take it beyond the seventh series of the X-Files), but am afraid that my perception is that the number of duds increased greatly as these decades went on. I have recently tried re-watching Hi de Hi, which I remember as plodding but inoffensive, and was bitterly disappointed. I am not going to tackle any of the other shows featuring a virtually identical cast, and have little to say about Allo Allo. I have therefore changed my mind about this plan.
Instead my present viewing seems to have gone back to my beloved sixties, and two superb series I've only just discovered are Undermind and The Protectors (I mean the ABC series, not any of the other series of the same name). Perhaps it's significant that both of them are ABC series – probably the history of UK independent television would make an interesting essay in itself. I am also still interested in the putative influence of South African apartheid on The Prisoner. My projected conclusion is that it is possible to read The Prisoner as an allegory of apartheid, but as is always the case with that show, it would be impossible to reach a conclusive identification. I have been reading The Apartheid Handbook, and am now armed with a copy of (I'm not making this up) Apartheid – The Lighter side, so have good examples of the sort of ridiculousnesses that went on both under apartheid and in The Village. I'm thinking of dealing with it thematically rather than episode-by-episode, but we shall see. More anon.
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