Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Bognor: Deadline

There isn't very much about this show on the internet so I hope I will achieve writing about a show Mitchell Hadley hasn't heard of again.

I have had this box set for some time. The reason I have rather avoided writing about it is that it is a show which repays attentive viewing, and that it also takes some understanding. It is based on a series of books by Tim Heald in which Simon Bognor is a special investigator for the Board of Trade. I'm not going to lie, I find it slightly confusing how the apparent remit of the Board of Trade could require lengthy investigations spilling over into investigating such things as murder! Because the show is adapting whole novels, an adventure lasts several episodes and the two series only adapted the first four novels of the series of books. The show therefore operates in a way which benefits from extended viewing and is not that good for dipping in and out.

I suppose that TV series based on series of books, unless based on phenomenally popular works or great classics, depend for their popularity on the popularity of the original series. The only other series in a similar position to Bognor, would, I think, be Murder Most English, which may also appear here at some point, and dramatises the Flaxborough novels of Colin Watson. I feel the rather low-key popularity of this show reflects the popularity of the books.

While Flaxborough looks backwards in time, one of the greatest charms of Bognor is that it is very much of the 1980s. You will have noticed that 1980s TV rarely gets mentioned here, and that is simply because I think an awful lot of 1980s TV isn't much cop. A lot of the TV I remember also isn't set in the 1980s. In retrospect the decade was in many ways a bizarre time, but I personally prefer to remember it as a happy time - probably reflecting the age I was. One of the things I associate with the time, rightly or wrongly, is the relationship between the press and other bodies being somewhat troublesome. Deadline, the second book dramatised for the series, is set in a newspaper office after the gossip columnist is murdered. As Bognor says, the murderer could have been pretty much anyone in the country! It also features a trade union of the time, a sort which is now extinct, to the loss of every worker. You get to see into many homes in this one, and I know for a fact that if I had set foot in those homes in the eighties I would have thought their residents very sophisticated. I suppose I am acknowledging a totally personal reason for liking this show!

Deadline, which I have focused on here is the whole of the second adventure over six episodes. I like to focus on one episode of a thing usually, simply because even if I don't blog about the whole thing I have something to come back to in the future if the mood takes me. In this instance I thought that one episode alone wouldn't really provide enough meat. This is not a criticism because the show is not designed to move snappily, but if you like your TV at a fast pace you'll be bitterly disappointed. As I say it is a matter of design, but I think the action could have easily been got into four episodes. I do have one criticism which I would like to get out of the way, though. Bognor is supposed to be an investigator for some such body as the board of trade. Yet he gets involved in matters, such as murder, which are clearly CID business. I am, however feeling a little confused about this, because I have read in some reviews that the Board of Trade job is a cover for an actual job investigating this sort of thing. This is the fourth or fifth time I have watched through the series and I haven't noticed any mention of his nominal job being a cover. It is not impossible that I have missed it or that that fact appears in the books. However if a worker who is supposed to investigate business is investigating murder and not either protesting or walking out, it leaves a real problem of credibility. He also has a knack of getting duffed up in the course of his investigation which makes it even less watertight.

The characterisation of this show is superb. Characters leap off the screen fully developed and sympathetic. The conflicts within the newspaper are also very clearly described. I find David Horovitch's performance very interesting. Regular readers will be familiar with my dislike of intrusive faces who appear in lots of TV shows. I only realised when I read it that Horovitch also plays the inspector in Joan Hickson's Marple. He comes across as quite a different personality here, which I think an exemplar of how to do it and a Hallmark of good acting.

The plot gets complex as the episodes go on, although there is a unifying theme of the effect of the dead man on other people. Come to think of it, this complexity may be such that it needs the whole six episodes, but I'm not fixed in this view or my previous one.

There is just one thing I keep thinking, which is that this show would be better for being watched all in one go. Watching one a week as intended would be very confusing. Overall I think you would either like this show or not, but you will know!

Monday, 21 June 2021

The Tomorrow People Master Post

 You will see from my existing two posts about The Tomorrow People that while I set out to write about all of the adventures in the original series, a mere two posts in I have made a colossal jump. I have noticed that the series tends to have an effect on me that I just cannot get it in order in my head, plus I got the discs confused. I am also not sure that I can usefully say much about some of the adventures. For example the one where pre-pubescent kids are put in slave outfits while Mike Holoway does an impression of Jimmy Savile - that is literally all I have to say about that one.

This 'master' post is therefore predominantly an attempt to get a grasp on the amorphous mass of the series in my own head and keep track of what I have already written about. One of the difficulties that have stopped me writing about this show is that it is basically a different show from beginning to end, and is at best patchy. Additionally as said above some of the things on the show would not appear in TV today and I can't begin to think what they were thinking. If I have some personal rude remarks to say about an episode which don't deserve a full post, I may put them here.

Another thing which has always confused me is that although I now have the complete set in one box, region 2 releases have taken two different trajectories, one released in series and the other released in adventures.

Series 1

Slaves of Jedikiah (five episodes) broadcast 30th April to 4th June 1973.

The Medusa Strain (four episodes) broadcast 11th June to 2nd July 1973.

The Vanishing Earth (four episodes) broadcast 9th to 30th July 1973.

Series 2

The Blue and The Green (four episodes) broadcast 4th February to 4th March 1974.

A Rift in Time (four episodes) broadcast 11th March to 1st April 1974

The Doomsday Men (four episodes) broadcast 8th April to 6th May 1974.

Series 3

Secret Weapon (four episodes) broadcast 26th February to 19th March 1975.

Secret Weapon

Worlds Away (three episodes) broadcast 26th March to 9th April 1975.

A Man for Emily (three episodes) broadcast 16th to 30th April 1975.

The Fastest Gun

Revenge of Jedikiah (three episodes, but with such a similar name no wonder I was confused) broadcast 7th to 21st May 1975.

Series 4

One Law (3 episodes) broadcast 21st October to 5th November 1975.

Into the Unknown (four episodes) broadcast 7th to 28th January 1976.

Series 5

The Dirtiest Business (two episodes) broadcast 28th February to 7th March 1977.

A Much Needed Holiday (two episodes) broadcast 14th to 21st March 1977. This is the one with the slave children and the Jimmy Savile impression.

The Heart of Sogguth (two episodes) broadcast 28thMarch to 4th April 1977.

Series 6

The Lost Gods (two episodes) broadcast 15th to 22nd May 1978.

Hitler's Last Secret (two episodes) broadcast 5th to 12th June 1978.

The Thargon Menace (two episodes) broadcast 19th to 26th June 1978.

Series 7

Castle of Fear (two episodes) broadcast 9th to 16th October 1978.

Achilles Heel (two episodes) broadcast 23rd to 30th October 1978.

Living Skins (two episodes) broadcast 6th to 11th November 1978.

Series 8

War of the Empires (four episodes) broadcast 29th January to 19th February 1979.

The reason for my confusion will be readily evident from the names of the different adventures. Some have similar names and others have names similar to other series and fictional works, including H P Lovecraft. The show evidently gave itself an ability to venture into all sorts of subjects and times, real and fictional. Looking at the titles it comes across as a less orderly Dr Who. No wonder I'm confused!

Monday, 14 June 2021

The Tomorrow People: A Man for Emily - The Fastest Gun

This part of the Tomorrow People demonstrates perfectly why I fought shy from blogging about it. The show went on for so long with so many story arcs that it can be difficult to keep hold of.

I think we can truthfully say that A Man for Emily is the point at which it went off the wall. We have the bizarre space family, we have Peter Davison in swimming trunks, we have them make an Earth mission with the only research done in old westerns and we have the Tomorrow People interfering in this.

In plot terms I personally feel this may have been stretching the Tomorrow People slightly further than was a good idea. This is entirely personal because I can well see that the idea of a next evolution in human life would well include interaction with aliens, because this is one of the weird interests of the time. There are also a lot of completely earth-bound concerns dealt with by the show, including racism and ghosts. My own opinion is that this episode gives them too much to do and also raises the question of who gave the Tomorrow People this policing role. It is after all the curse of the advanced and intelligent to be suspected and held back, rather than being given opportunities actually to help the world!

That said, it is worth watching this string of the show purely for the sight of Elmer on earth in his mother's idea of what Earth people wear. I suspect she had seen Dolly Parton, but apparently the reason you never see Dolly Parton out in public is she doesn't wear her wig and dresses more quietly.

The best bit is the scene in the grocers shop. If you watch the women behind the grocer they literally can't keep a straight face, the situation is so ridiculous. That the grocer assumes he is on Candid Camera is a nicely reflexive point about the TV of the time.

I do wonder how this would have gone down at the time, but have not been able to find any contemporary reactions. In general terms as we know the fashions were pretty wild in the seventies but only for those who could afford the fashions. The show is careful to contrast the outlandishness of Elmer with 'ordinary' people dressed much more drably, so I feel it would have been a straightforward reaction that arriving here dressed like that was ridiculous.

I see from the DVD commentary that Peter Davison is very embarrassed about this his first role. Perhaps it is best approached as one of the wilder aspects of the 1970s!

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Not TV: Confessions of a Window Cleaner 1974

I love a 1970s sex comedy, me. Obviously this means I'm deeply superficial but the reason this one is appearing here is because I love it so it deserves one of my rare posts about non-TV subjects.

Actually it's not completely unrelated, because this film shows what was going on in the cinematic world outside the more-controlled world of TV. I have commented before about the war which went on at this time about the nature of what is shown in media. Mary Whitehouse's Clean Up TV campaign started in 1964, and while this film is very far from being porn (it depicts boobs and bums and frequent casual sex) the material in this film is clearly a step on from anything you can see in the TV of the time. Given that Mrs Whitehouse already wanted to clean up TV she must have already thought that what it was showing was unacceptable. I must confess to being somewhat mystified that she campaigned against broadcasting footage of the liberation of Belsen (footage she described as filth) and yet praised the BBC's coverage of the Vietnam War as indicating that the BBC was a proponent of pacifism. To me it seems that footage of Belsen would have a similar effect in underlining the dangerous reality of some human behaviour.

And I suppose that is the difference. I never cease banging on about how I like my TV to be unreal - I suppose the important thing is whether you can tell that what you are seeing is not real and if you have values which shape your decisions. Has there ever been a window cleaner who went round shagging? Probably. Has any young man been inspired by this film to become a window cleaner because of the prospect of sex? I would doubt it. What makes me more uncomfortable is that some people think other people shouldn't be seen stuff in case they go out and copy it. To try to control this for adults is just as dodgy to my mind.

Nor was the rest of society in step with Mrs Whitehouse. You might think this film is either filth or very silly, but it's got a cast of some very serious actors indeed, indicating it was relatively mainstream at the time. These include Joan Hickson, Richard Wattis, Dandy Nicols, Antony Booth and John le Mesurier. It was also the top-grossing British film of 1974. The sexual revolution had become mainstream. That said it was not until 1997 it was shown on UK terrestrial television. I honestly don't know what the danger is - even if you relied on these films for your sex education the you would come out with rubbish ideas about sex and would have to learn properly. 

I see that the location for the street scenes was Borehamwood which means it was filmed in Avengerland Central.

While the Confessions films are clearly not real you have to admire the way Robin Askwith has had a whole acting career based on showing his bum. The films are available as a box set and also on Amazon and if you don't want to finance the odious Amazon they are on the internet archive (search for 'adult comedy adventures' but it won't let me link) and YouTube. The Confessions films also came from a whole series of books which have recently been republished.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

The Protectors (the 1964 ABC series): The Bottle Shop

In some ways we are very lucky to be living in the times we are. The current intense polarisation of society allows a quick identification of how you will get on with people. In the US you have it relatively easy, because you just have to ask people who won the election and their response is likely to give you a good idea of the rest of their opinions. Here we tend to do that by their reaction to the word brexit, although now we have the handy indicator of whether they've had the vaccine and the reasons for their decision either way. I have been spending time sitting in the sun recently (pictured below) and yesterday a man started chatting with me who told me quite seriously that Bill Gates was spying on me through the coronavirus vaccine I have had and that this is part of a new world order. I remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere. Apart from anything else, if this was actually happening, a member of our government would have left it on a memory stick on a train by now.

In the 1960s it probably was easier to have realistic fears that you were being spied on or otherwise threatened or infiltrated. Actually spies kept being discovered and the TV of the time was full of shows which at least touched on espionage, crime and security, even before the full-scale spy craze of the mid-sixties. You can be forgiven for getting confused because there are a number of similar shows with similar names, so to avoid confusion, the one I am talking about here is the one broadcast by ABC in 1964 - this one. There is very little comment on the internet about this series, which I suspect is because of the confusion of names. Unusually the Protectors are a private firm of three, who sell security. And their clients are far removed from the private eye's bread and butter divorce cases of the time. In fact it has a real variety of cases. I think if you like the early Avengers and can live without the eccentricity and sexiness, you will like this show. To cut a long story short it has a similar feel to early Avengers.

The subject of this episode is industrial espionage, a familiar theme. The pharmaceutical firm it takes place in is wonderfully drawn as one of these hotbeds of tension and argument which are almost destined to end up having problems! The field they work in is wonderfully dated, because they are planning to start research into Mescaline and LSD. This puts the episode into the context of mind-altering psychiatry of the time and provides a close look at the details which go on behind the scenes to make the scientific paradigm which was so venerated at the time. The fact that the drugs being worked on are psychotropic provides for an interesting climax, following a red herring being set up earlier in the episode.

As you would expect the production values are similar to early Avengers and I'm fact looks quite similar. The Protectors is either completely or almost completely studio bound. Restoration is a very decent job with picture and sound always clear. It moves faster than some sixties shows, with frequent changes of shot and scene. My one criticism would be one I have seen reflected in Amazon reviews that sometimes the episodes' plots can be difficult to follow. Again this may be a matter of taste. There are some familiar sixties faces in this episode - Peter Bowles being the obvious one.

An excellent series. Further reading can be found here where I blogged my initial impressions.