Monday, 18 May 2015

Charley Says

I have wanted this dvd for some time, but I think I was probably fearful of it bringing back too many memories of my 1970s childhood, which it has, and also that it would be like watching TV with ones maiden aunt, which is exactly the impression it gives. The subtitle to the DVD reads 'More than 280 live and animated classics from the Central Office of Information archives.' Watched back-to-back they certainly do give a strange impression, in fact have unnerved me to the point where I've just nearly turned a lightswitch off with a wet hand. 
This is not something I'm accustomed to doing, and would normally dry my hands or use my elbow. That said, to go by these films, the Britain of the 1970s was full of people who went fishing near overhead lines, drink drove, crossed the road without looking, put lit fireworks in their pockets, didn't wear seatbelts, painted polystyrene ceiling tiles with gloss paint (I can't begin to think how bad a gloss-painted ceiling would look), wedge fire doors open, leave bottles on beaches, and so on. The wonder is there's anyone left at all.
The sad thing is, the world is full of people who do these sorts of things all the time. They're called idiots. And the Central Office of Information failed, in my opinion, to account for the fact that idiots think no harm can ever come to them. Also the simple fact is that public information films tend to be attended to by those of a careful mindset. I'm afraid I'm left with the terrible conclusion that these public information films were a fantastic waste of public money.
Of course the 1970s were one of the points that made a sea change in views of safety here, with the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, which is essentially still in force and smoothed out previous industry-specific laws. In my work place we have a thermometer marked with the Shops and Factories Act of 1961. It has been bought in the past few years, and I'm so pleased the design hasn't changed in all those years. In the 1970s, though, a number of things came together, industrial unrest, change in the law, the assertive trades union activism of the time. So these films focus both on rights and duties or privileges.
It is also interesting to see the different world portrayed. People obviously didn't routinely wear seatbelts. Decimal currency and pelican crossings were things that people had to become accustomed to. There are warnings about lighting a paraffin heater without the room being ventilated – I can't remember the last time I saw a paraffin heater. There is a point at which a film tells you what to do if you have a water leak, and it shows the householder turning off the electricity. The fuse box it shows is one of those old ones with the wire, which were a right royal pain the arse to replace if it blew. Which of course highlights the fact that approaches to safety have changed nowadays – there is a wider acceptance that the world is full of idiots, and safety tends to be built in. The man shown using a power tool with a home-made plug which results in electrocution would have been much safer with a modern fuse box. That said, I have gone to much trouble to find some round-pin plugs for the lighting circuit in my swanky new apartment. My dad would laugh hollowly at me buying 'old' plugs in 2015. My friend in South Africa, though, maintains they are the only normal ones. She doesn't accept that they only have those plugs because SA was electrified by the British, nor does she accept that our modern plugs are both the most painful in the world to tread on and the safest in the world because of their multiple inbuilt safety features.
My point here of course is that a lot of these messages were wasted. Some were just plain wrong, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the 'stranger danger' which dominated government safety films for decades. It's wrong. It's always been wrong. We are all most likely to beabused, beaten, and murdered by someone we know. That is the simple fact of human behaviour. Statistically we are safer with complete strangers! Apart from anything else, paedophiles tend to be cunning, secretive, and convincing.There is one particular advertisement which tells children not to accept lifts from strangers. The paedophiles were too canny for that. In fact, in true chilling 1970s style, the paedophiles were actually making the safety films. Several of them on the DVDs are narrated by Rolf Harris and Jimmy Saville. Saville is dressed respectably in a suit rather than his trademark tracksuit and string vest, but Harris needn't think he's appearing on my blog with a shirt on. (I'm still thinking of calling it Topless on Television). Anyway, if you're a paedophile, public life and a respectable persona of being concerned for da kids is obviously a good way to hide your intentions.
I had also forgotten how fatalistic the 1970s were – I remember them from the time but had forgotten that public information used to tell us what to do in the event of a nuclear strike. I remember my mother having a wardrobe full of hoarded tinned goods just in case. I had forgotten that we were told what to do. I had forgotten I knew that you could come out after two days, and if anyone died in the shelter you should bury them after five days. That was the level of detail we were given in the Protect and Survive series of leaflets and films, and they were widely criticised at the time for the likelihood of their public effect making a nuclear strike more likely.
Of course what we were fearing never happened… exactly. In Europe it waited for the 80s and happened in the Ukraine, at Chernobyl. Modern nuclear reactors are built with safety features which cannot be overridden, but at Chernobyl they thought they would see what would happen if you did exactly what the manual told you not to. This is the real lesson of Charley Says: the world remains full of idiots who can't be trusted to run a bath, let alone run a nuclear reactor!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Catching Up

This post will be in a different format from my usual ones, which are usually focussed on a particular show, period, or theme. I've been away from this blog for a while, but I'm now settled in a new home. It isn't exactly where I wanted to be, but close enough, and was absurdly cheap. So far the only things that don't work are the lights in the oven and cooker hood, so I've come off extremely lightly. The only thing I haven't tried is the Jacuzzi bath – to me this flat is a palace and always will be. 
Of course I haven't stopped watching television; my recent viewing has followed two trends, one of which is well away from the 'mostly British, mainly 1960s' theme of my viewing. The other trend is that I find I return to The Avengers in times of stress: there really is no substitute for joining Steed and Mrs Peel in imagination, drinking tea from bone china in a railway carriage, or drinking champagne in the back of a taxi. I have also diversified somewhat to watch some new-to-me series.
Grantchester has been something of a disappointment to me. Despite my liking for unreality in television, I only appreciate unreality in shows which don't claim to be realistic. The pretty-boy vicar's jazz obsession and burgeoning bromance with the policeman is just too anachronistic for the 1950s. Do period drama or do modern, but the 1950s is just too far away gracefully to receive the projections of modern living.
Grantchester was of course associated with Rupert Brooke and his circle, and may well be intended to create an assonance with the classical world of Barchester portrayed in Trollope's books. I have been watching the BBC dramatisation of these stories with great appreciation. The period approach is faultless, and the pace perfect for books written in a more leisurely age.
I have finally bought a boxed set of Budgie, starring Adam Faith, which I have been wanting to watch for some time. It is famed as the predecessor of Minder, having a strikingly similar premise and plots. I have read criticisms of it that it creaks like an old gate, and I'd have to admit that I can only agree with that verdict. Admittedly, this is after only one viewing, in which I kept finding my attention straying, so that I can't actually remember that much of the plots.
Monty Python is a show which I feel is probably very badly served by many of its DVD releases. Everyone knows certain famous sketches from it, and I feel there is a problem with the fact that many of its releases are focussed on selections from the series. Of course as another show originating pre-video, we could only reproduce how original audiences viewed it by watching it one episode a week at the same time. Even watching episodes back-to-back, though, I'm finding I appreciate it better as a whole series of episodes: comedy in many ways works better with peaks and troughs, and only having peaks over-stimulates.
French and Saunders are a comedy duo I remember very fondly from their original broadcasts in the 1980s (I was never quite so keen on Victoria Wood, and of course there is a symbiosis between French and Saunders and the characters in The Young Ones). Once again, I have been re-watching their shows on a 'Very Best of' DVD, and am now itching to get the whole thing. At the time I thought it was terribly grown-up and sophisticated that the band in the show was called Raw Sex: seeing it again nearly thirty years later, of course I understand the point that Raw Sex are not sophisticated or sexy!
Some seventies shows which I missed while writing about seventies show have also come my way. To The Manor Born is a perennial favourite of mine. I think I probably watched it contemporaneously with Hinge and Bracket in Dear Ladies, and developed a taste for somewhat bitchy posh ladies with sharp tongues!
A seventies show I'd never come across until I found the DVD in the entertainment exchange is Bouquet of Barbed Wire. I started watching it while I was unpacking my boxes in the new flat and am struck by how it completely avoids most of the common themes of 1970s TV, instead focussing on a father's obsession for his daughter.
Get Some In! is a 1970s show set in the RAF in the 1950s. It is very much a classic sit com based on the lads doing national service. Their corporal is played by Tony Selby, familiar from many more underdog roles in 1960s TV. It is in many ways superior to It AInt Half Hot Mum,, more subtle, less crude. I notice that the Amazon reviews focus on old men's reminiscences about their own national service, which may explain why the show is less well-known.
As I'm writing this I am watching Bewitched, a real reminiscence of a show I used to love in my childhood. I've also bought a DVD of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which I haven't watched yet but used to love. His suspense worked better for me in a short time slot: the films build the suspense too slowly so that I tend to fall asleep!
I will no doubt be writing further about these and other shows in the near future, now that my head is in the same place as my body for long enough to get on the keyboard and write some blog posts!