Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Goodies: It Might As Well Be String

Remaining in the 1970s (terribly modern by by standards), we come to another episode of The Goodies. I see that the boxed set of the whole BBC series is out at a huge price, and I might get it when it comes down a bit. I also have several double disc sets as it is, so I'm not sure what to do, especially as I sometimes find having everything can be a bit wearing. After all the best bits are selected for selection boxes.
One of the best things about this episode is not to do with string at all. It is the spoofs of UK brand advertising at the time. The brands include Mr Kipling's cakes (notorious for its cosy olde worlde adverts for its mass produced cakes) and Birdseye fish fingers. Not only are fish fingers the world's weirdest food in my humber opinion, but I'm glad I'm not the only one who found Captain Birdseye frankly rather creepy. On one level the advertising part of this episode is as much social commentary as it is humour.
Reading around people's thoughts on the internet, the nature of the social commentary gives way more trouble now than it probably would have done then. The sexy cigar adverts of the time are parodied in a segment in which Tim Brooke Taylor (TBT) is offered a piece of string in a cigar box by a woman in a wet t-shirt. At one point one of the characters (sorry I forget which and can't find that bit now) gives this sensuous description of a woman's body in a wet t-shirt, which I think was supposed to parody the sexual element of much advertising at the time. Flake chocolate, for example, was advertised (well before the watershed) by a woman eating it suggestively and then a bath overflowing. This was, after all, the 1970s when pretty much anything went, despite a concurrent backlash from second wave feminists about the objectification of women's bodies. The fact that men's bodies are actually more exposed (Raymond Baxter appears in wet string underwear at one point) didn't seem to be a problem at the time, except that of course they weren't objectified. So the sexual mores of the time are giving trouble, as are the racial attitudes portrayed at various points. I know I tend to bang on about this, but the other major problem of 1970s TV, that the stars have tended to go on to get criminal records for their sexual proclivities, is also present.
Not only is the show spoofing the adverts of the time, but also the TV, particularly Tomorrow's World. I wrote recently about the dangers of depicting the future in television: unless your show is wiped, if you pick a date in the near future people will be able to see how wrong you got it, and of course this was the main difficulty that Tomorrow's World had. In retrospect the show now looks so old-fashioned and has been parodied more than once, including in the show Look Around You. Here, as a result of the Goodies' advertising of string, the show does an episode all about how string is the material of the future. The point is that everything is made of string, and of course it's not useful for many things, such as hip replacements. Ironically string actually is very useful and has a scientific use in the sort of underwear shown in the show. Like old-fashioned cellular blankets it traps air between the cells and keeps you warmer in the winter. In summer a string vest is wonderfully cool - I like them myself.
Leaving aside the difficulties caused by changes in attitudes in the past 40 years, this show was plainly intended to be a lot of fun, and looks as if it was a lot of fun to make. The final madcap sequence includes quite a bit of messy stuff and manages to get in more spoof advertisements, this time for Dulux paint, Hai Karate and Heinz baked beans (in the face, of course). It's probably very old school but there is nothing like a bit of slapstick. If you're having trouble keeping something amusing, get messy or drop your trousers.
My conclusion is that this show is a lot of fun while managing to include social commentary of the time. It is handicapped by showing the social attitudes of the time, and so you have to forget all that if you want to enjoy it as it was intended. On the other hand, if you want to discover the social attitudes of the time, it might also be perfect!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Target: Blow Out

I have previously commented that the rock on which Target floundered was the amount of violence it depicted, and I suspect this was one of the episodes which most shocked people.
There are two occasions in the episode. One is where a jewel robber gets burned in the face by an oxyacetylene torch. One of his companions comments that they might as well finish the job, but they kindly dump what's left of him outside a hospital. The other occasion is where the escaped convict throws boiling water over his wife who has been cheating on him while he has been in prison, and whom he has caught in flagrante delicto.
Personally I feel the violence in this episode isn't out of what can be expected for a show designed to depict the criminal underworld, but of course that is only a personal opinion. And this episode shows the working of a gang of jewel thieves rather well.
What I do think is shocking is the way Hackett reveals his wife's whereabouts to the criminal they enlist to help with their enquiries, and which leads to him taking the revenge on her described above. The police give him an extra ten weeks' remission and this is the result. This is far worse in my opinion than any of the dodgy things done by police in The Sweeney. Hackett turns a blind eye when his colleague beats the boiling water man up. Hackett rightly gets a dressing down for his actions in this case.
This episode of Target is vulnerable to my personal criticism that shows of the sixties and seventies use a lot of the same actors so that you end up wondering who the actors are, rather than following the show. Ron Pember (who was good at playing baddies), for example, plays the released prisoner with the cheating wife. Christopher Benjamin, who payed J J Hooter in the Avengers episode How to Succeed at Murder, plays a chap who owns a string of jewellery shops. I  also think that unless you happen to like this sort of show, Target will not appeal to you: the plot, such as it is, is a bit thin. The episode is rather a series of scenes depicting the workings of the force and frankly the connection between them can be difficult to see.
If you particularly want a moral to take home from this episode it is that there is no honour among thieves. Personally I'd already sussed that one - I'm just surprised Hackett didn't!
Illustration courtesy of IMDB.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Adam Adamant Lives: Sing a Song of Murder

Adam Adamant is one of my dream series, largely because so much of it was wiped - I particularly would like to see the missing episode where a whole train vanishes, but I doubt that this quintessentially English series was exported, so would be unlikely to turn up in Nigeria, or wherever. My few posts about the show here are among the most popular, which I suspect reflects a lack of coverage on the internet. For that reason alone I have been interested to read Grant's recent posts about this series (including this episode). The post highlights that another possible reason for the series's lack of popularity is the silly price the box set is currently going for, and unfortunately the Dutch-released set I bought much more cheaply also seems to have vanished from the market.
I largely agree with what he says about the annoyance of the repeated dream sequence of Adamant being conked on the head, but I disagree with seemingly everyone - Adamant himself describes it as cacophonous - about the pop song which is the focus of this episode because I think it's wonderful!
The cultural Zeitgeist that this episode picks up on is the contemporary fear of the hidden persuasion of advertising, particularly subliminal messages. In the slower-moving communication world pre-internet, this was in the wake of Vanve Packard's 1957 book, The Hidden Persuaders. This is combined at points with a suspicion of the drug culture and various other aspects of the modern world. The point here, of course, is that because Adamant is uninfluenced by the modern world he can see what is happening from the off. Similar plot devices are used elsewhere in the series, such as washing powder. I suspect this show's account of the modern world would have been incredibly polarising at the time, directly confronting the modern and their fuddy duddy parents.
My absolutely favourite thing about this episode is the so-contemporary dress Georgina Jones wears )my second-favourite thing is the bit where Simms has a go at killing her). Frankly I wonder whether this show is a little too much of its time, so that it becomes difficult for subsequent generations to watch and understand. At the time the simplistic moral that the modern world  is dangerous would probably not have been welcome to the up-to-date young.   A further shortcoming is the repeated playing of the opening of the song, which I suspect was intended to give the hypnotic effect intended in the show, but becomes a bit too much.
My conclusion therefore is that while I love this show, it is open to a number of criticisms. The song is still good though!

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Time as Treated in Some 1970s TV Series

I recently took a leap in the dark and bought the box set of Timeslip, a show I've never really fancied on the basis of its reviews on the internet. Part of the reason for that is that I like my vintage TV to reflect the contemporary world and I have a preference for series beginning in the sixties up to the end of the seventies. Naturally I make arbitrary exceptions to this rule when it suits me. One of the things about mainly sticking with one period of television is that I become familiar with the conventions of the time, and thus it becomes comfort TV.
The world view I find myself banging on about here is the contemporary 'modern 'reverse one of hope in the scientific future, frequently combined with warnings of what could happen in the event that the burgeoning technology gets into the hands of a diabolical mastermind. I am currently in the midst of several shoes which treat time in different ways, so this post will be about several at once.
The first is The Changes, which I haven't watched to the end of yet and am not really in a position to come to a final judgement. The story goes that quite suddenly humans cannot tolerate being surrounded by any technology, so they begin trashing every gadget they can lay their hands on and the series is about the events thereafter for one girl. The Changes is serious quality television, a top-drawer version of the series Survivors, which is about what happens after a virus. This was a major preoccupation of the seventies, and ironically the house the girl lives in at the beginning is decorated in dead seventies fashion, with lots of natural wood and natural wall coverings. I remember a family friend's house being decorated like that, and thinking it very sophisticated. But what if it all comes to an end? ...was not a question I was asking myself at the time. Interestingly the series is contemporary enough to feature a Sikh family as major characters, and they deal with the crisis in true resourceful Sikh style.
I also haven't nearly watched to the end of Sergeant Cork, which readers will doubtless know is set in the nineteenth century. I don't really know but I get the impression there was a fad for Victorian things around this time. Neither have I watched to the end of Timeslip, which both goes into the past and into the future. You would think it would be safer to travel into the future than the past, but I think it's less safe, because you can only imagine what the future would be like.
In the case of Timeslip, the future is awful, resulting in attempts to stop the glimpsed future actually happening. Naturally the future as imagined was not as we actually experienced it in the 1990s, but still comes across as not a bad imagining of the future. Both Timeslip and The Changes are quality shows intended for children, but which are worthy of adult viewing.
Finally I have been watching a show which hasn't worn so well, so perhaps I should stress that it has a permanent place in my collection - Gerry Anderson's UFO. I have a terrible confession to make, which is that I have never got on very well with Gerry Anderson's TV series. I think this is for the unreasonable reason that I had a friend at school who was very much into them. He virtuously avoided sugar, didn't have one filling, and that fact did my head in. I was also irritated by the way Lady Penelope walked. Not the best of reasons, as you can see.
That said I suspect Anderson's output had a disadvantage for my generation. UFO, for example is set in 1980, and as that year approached the show appeared hopelessly optimistic. The future was plainly never going to be as it was shown. In retrospect it was a good go. The red hot dream of the scientific future personified, and of course UFO allows the viewer to dream that he wouldn't be in the part of the world ignorant of the reality of UFOs.
The show manages to appeal on many levels, although probably most to the adolescent boys who would have been the audience of Anderson's other shows. Episodes touch on complex emotional issues including bereavement, so that the show is not merely dealing with sci-fi and gadgetry. I love the buttons in Straker's office to pour various drinks. Where it falls down is probably in the fashions designed by Sylvia Anderson. Synthetic fibres and purple hair abound and perhaps the strangest ones are the string uniforms. To wade into the debate on the internet: the men plainly don't wear anything underneath and the women plainly do! This is another illustration that this show isn't as successful as it could be, because people get distracted into talking about the bizarre uniforms,
As is my policy, all of the shows I write about here are worth watching in my opinion, but the different treatments of the present, past and future mean they are quite different and some have worn better than others.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Cybermen/Cybernauts with Reference to Doctor Who! The Moonbase

I have been watching The Moonbase, and I'm liking it very much. Not for the first time it has made me ponder that Cybermen appear in Doctor Who, and Cybernauts appear in The Avengers.
Cyber of course indicates that something pertains to the world of computers, information technology and, nowadays, virtual reality. Much of this was a fond dream in the 1960s but the appearance of this word reflects the contemporary enthusiasm for the brave new world of science, an enthusiasm I have written about here frequently. I have also written about the corresponding fear of what happens when technology gets out of hand, which is of course present in the depiction of both Cybermen and Cybernauts. I had wondered before whether anyone else had made a connection between these two monsters, and of course fandom didn't fail me, see for example here. That link also kindly did my homework for me and revealed that the Cybernauts were first broadcast a full year before the Cybermen made their first appearance in The Tenth Planet in 1966. It also ponders the similarity of the two monsters' chopping motion, which I had made myself, but doesn't follow the connection round full circle to The Avengers. I would like to think that this Who, where the sugar in the coffee is a problem, was influential on the sixth series Avengers episode, False Witness, where the milk in the coffee is the source of the trouble. The Cybernauts look more like the Cybermen in the latter's first appearance than subsequent ones and I see that tellingly the working title for The Moonbase was either The Cybermen or Return of the Cybermen.
I'm afraid I have been forced to come to the conclusion that these coincidences are where the similarities end: the two enemies were dreamt up in the same historical time. It is also clear that the Cybermen are not quite the invention of a single mad genius, although they are sometimes attributed to human invention. The space and time setting of Doctor Who provides a very different setting to the class-bound world of the Avengers, and if you want to read about the Cybernauts interpreted in terms of the British class system, you can read about it here, which page I must also credit for the image above.
I have to confess to a personal bias in these restored Dr Who episodes: my personal preference is for the soundtrack to be put to existing screenshots or even drawn still pictures. This is in no way a criticism of the monumental effort which obviously goes into recreating the missing episodes.
I like The Moonbase a lot. It's a taut story by the standards of many Who adventures of this time, exactly the right length. At this length of time I don't find it frightening, but probably would have done fifty years ago. The DVD has a commentary track and some extras which will help the viewer along.
The Moonbase has a great strength, which is unfortunately also the only weakness I can think of. The sets and Cybermen''s costumes are very effective. This means that the humans' costumes aren't so effective and the base's staff uniforms consist of white T-shirts. On the other hand this makes a clear distinction between the humans and aliens, makes the possibility of actually living on a moon base seem more attainable for the normal person.
Ultimately the point of this Dr Who is exactly the same as that of the Avengers episodes about the Cybernauts: it is that technology can be dangerous and ultimately we are superior to machines. After all we can't be dissolved with nail varnish remover. Because obviously you would need that on a moon base. Oh, and my absolute favourite bit is where Polly asks the doctor if he really is a medical doctor and he says he took his degree in Glasgow in 1888.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Target: Shipment

I try not to do much in the way of description here, because there's a lot of that about on the internet. In the case of Target there isn't any, so here we go.
Hackett arranges a sting because he is informed a strong van is going to be raised. It doesn't happen but he finds his informant has been murdered in his own car. Hackett immediately suspects Maynard, a local respectable luminary of being behind this, and confronts him at the golf club. After twists, threats and intimidation, and much police footwork, the truth about what is happening on the ship, is revealed. I love the glee with which Hackett confronts Maynard at the end.
I commented before that the cars in this show are gorgeous. Hackett is given a mark 3 Ford Cortina to drive after the murder in his original car, a more recent Ford. The flares are also quite something.
Apart from the cars what most strikes me about this show is how old fashioned the police's office looks. The clattering of typewriters dominates everything, and I know this is slightly ridiculous but that really struck me in comparison to modern offices. In addition to the settings on dry land there are also scenes on ships. Again I suspect that things are very different behind the scenes on ships these days. Hackett is quite antagonistic to the chief petty officer, played to sinister effect by (I think) Jack May.
Hackett comes across as a frankly acerbic and rather unlikeable character. I rather like that myself, I don't think you could do his job and not be embittered. Having blithely said there was an absence of sex in this show, of course there is some in this episode. Hackett pursues women in the kind of way you would expect of the protagonist of this kind of show. Unusually for the time Mower himself seems to be the main sex object, with a whole scene wearing only underpants. There is also a joke when he is handed his property from the car in which the murder took place, where he comments that the packet of three items for his own pleasure, are not his size! He does, however, come across as genuinely sympathetic to the murdered informer's widow.
Otherwise this episode of Target is open to the main criticism which can be levelled against the show: it's one-dimensional, violent, and I have seen it described as being like a boy's adventure comic of the time (here which is also my source for the gracious illustration to this post). Personally I don't mind that. Moral depth and philosophical hand-wringing would be out of place in this show, where the police are dealing with some really nasty pieces of work. And long diversions into the characters' love lives would slow it down.
So my verdict is that if you don't think you'll like this, you probably won't, but if you like this sort of thing you'll be in your element.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Target: First Impressions

It gives me great pleasure finally to be writing about Target here, and I'll just give my first impressions because the discs only arrived today and I'm rushing into print.
Target is one of those legendary series of UK television, legendary because nobody has seen it since it was broadcast. Legend has it it was the BBC's answer to the popularity of ITV shows like The Sweeney and The Professionals. It followed a similar formula and perhaps overdid the violence because after a record number of complaints it was pulled after only two series. Basically if you like the other shows you should like Target. I do.
The shows still exist and I have bought series 1 from here. If you send the guy an email he invoices you by email and you pay by PayPal. What you get is three printed DVDs in cardboard sleeves. They have menus but otherwise there's nothing fancy and that's fine by me. Picture quality is acceptable in my opinion, but as usual don't expect HD from a show of this age.
The series uses the by then reliable formula of a particular specialist branch of the police, in this case the Regional Crime Squad of Southampton. It uses the familiar device of the genre of being hard as nails, with some quite graphic violence for the time. When I have written about 1970s shows in the past, I have written about the corrupt reputation of the police of the time, and Target has made me reflect that it's not really any surprise if the police leant on people too heavily when they were pretty much their own closed world. The world depicted in Target is tough all round and clearly creates the sort of environment where police can round up six random Irishmen for the events of 21st November 1974. This is not so much a procedural as a get-by-however-you-can.
At this length of time Target is a visual delight. Those of us who remember the seventies as happy times will reminisce and yet laugh at the same time. The cars are wonderful, the clothes are ridiculous, you can smell the cigarette smoke.
I have just one criticism which is only in light of the comparison with similar shows. The others all rely on two lead characters, and the tension between them. Target makes the mistake of having four people in the team which makes the lead a bit diffused, but in practice Patrick Mower tends to be the strongest character. I'm not sure if that was how it was meant to be - reliable evidence about this show is almost entirely lacking. The actors include a lot of familiar faces in the manner of the time.
It also has doms surprises. I have only just started watching but I am surprised by an almost complete absence of sex in a show of this time. The word that comes to mind is businesslike. I suspect this may touch on the BBC/ITV division, where the BBC was worthy and independent TV was frivolous - exactly the issue in my recent Danger Man post about pirate radio. Target feels more like a worthy drama than the entertainment provided by the Other Side. However this is a personal impression obviously.
But the absolute best thing about Target is the theme, so I'll finish with that: