Take Five Really Swings!


Hello! If you're wondering why things have been a bit quiet around here, that's because I've got a brand new website, the front page of which can be found here. Please update bookmarks and links on your own blog accordingly.

There's a few new articles up there already, including a look at why television producers in the eighties insisted on using Dave Brubeck tracks as the theme music for utterly terrible programmes, which you can find here.

62-39 Was His Number


According to Smash Hits, Elvis Presley made about three million films, all of which were called either Elvis Has A Kiss-Up In Hawaii or Elvis Says It's Swinging, Pops. And, if you watched BBC1 during the school holidays, didn't you just know it.

Presumably as much on account of their cheapness and indeed sheer volume as it was due to tweedy old shirts behind desks thinking that Elvis was what 'young people' liked, Double Trouble, Fun In Acapulco, Girls! Girls! Girls! and all two thousand nine hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety seven others of them, some of which Elvis probably didn't even realise he'd actually made, rolled round again and again and again alongside Why Don't You...?, The Monkees, King Of The Rocket Men and all of the other decidedly convenient holiday morning entertainment staples. Oh and Play Chess.

You'd be forgiven for assuming that youngsters came to resent this hip-swivelling intrusion into the schedules where the cheap swines could at least have put on Help!... It's The Hair Bear Bunch! or something, but actually they proved quite popular; hardly surprising when you consider that the movies had the same sort of combination of pop-fuelled hi-jinks and exotic retro allure as The Monkees and The Banana Splits. They were of course especially prevalent around the Christmas holidays, to the extend that an entire generation now associate sleigh bells and tinsel with a glorious technicolor Elvis in a loud Hawaiian shirt even by Hawaiian shirt standards being comforted by some youngsters on the stairs after momentarily losing the girl of his dreams.

There was, however, one very notable exception to this. Jailhouse Rock never seemed to find its way into these repeat seasons, presumably due to a combination of its black and white nature (not that this ever stopped them flinging out endless Edgar Kennedy 'shorts' nobody asked for), the slightly violent theme underpinning the storyline, and the fact that it was somehow seen as more serious and 'worthy', and the preserve of brow-furrowed Whistle Test spin-off 'Rock Goes To The Movies' theme nights. As absurd as it may sound, you usually had to ask to 'stay up' to watch Elvis Presley's most famous film.


Now, however, you can just roll up to the cinema to see it. Jailhouse Rock is a staggering sixty years old - although, weirdly, now seeming far less culturally remote than it did back when Elvis films were a school holidays staple - and to mark this occasion has just been re-released in a restored and staggeringly high quality print which makes those crumbly photocopy-esque bits of footage they used to use in things like The Rock'n'Roll Years feel like they came from another film entirely. What's more, you can get an authentic flavour of those tabloid-alarming dancing-in-the-aisles times by watching it in a packed auditorium full of so many over-excited first-time-around Elvis fans that you start to worry that you're about to see a re-enactment of Monty Python's 'Hell's Grannies' sketch; fortunately there were no vicious gangs of Keep Left signs to go with them, but at least they might keep bloody quiet during the film.

Jailhouse Rock is a film that stands up far better than anyone might not unreasonably have expected it to. It may well have been a quick production-line effort rushed out to cash in on the international success of someone who said 'well' a lot whilst TV cameras studiously avoided showing anything south of his shirt buttons, but those are just the literal specifics of its circumstances. It's tightly directed with convincing sets, is underpinned with a rock-solid script where the numerous musical numbers actually form part of the storyline (and for different reasons each time too), and despite essentially playing an even more exaggerated version of his stage persona at the time, Elvis acquits himself well as an actor, to the extent that you sometimes lose sight of the fact that you're actually watching an Elvis Presley vehicle rather than simply a good film from the time. It's also worth considering the fact that it runs to an economical yet packed ninety minutes, and that the main plot is set up in less than three minutes; something to bear in mind the next time you're covertly looking at your watch while waiting for the latest film that everyone says you 'have to see' to actually get started.

There were funnier, weirder and more socially aware pop movies to come. There was a brutally effective inversion of the upbeat music biz shenanigans it explores in Slade In Flame, which is in many respects a much more interesting film. And there was Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter, which people still think you're making up if you try explaining it to them. Jailhouse Rock, however, remains a potent and effective - and surprisingly mature - effort from the very dawn of both pop music and youth cinema which probably few at the time would have expected anyone to care about even six years later, let alone sixty. Yeah, see you at the re-release of The Wayward Bus, then.

Of course, Elvis wasn't alone in those schedules, and there was also a similarly unending procession of George Formby films on hand for the schedulers to fill time with. It's no wonder Play Chess seemed so comparatively tolerable.




If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more about old films and early pop music in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

We Love TV (But We Don't Love We Love TV!)


Basically, more or less everything about We Love TV was just plain wrong. A light-hearted quiz show about all things televisual, it ran on Friday nights on ITV between 1984 and 1986, and is sometimes described as ITV's 'answer' to Telly Addicts. If it was, then the question must have been 'how can we do a show that's essentially the same as Telly Addicts yet the exact polar opposite in terms of quality, wit, imagination, choice of archive clips and overall enjoyability?'.

We Love TV adopted the same sort of baffling yet widely-accepted 'TV=Fifties' stylistic trappings as Telly Addicts - a conceit that would doubtless appeal to mouth-frothing 'opinion-makers' now, providing they continued to enjoy blissful ignorance of the fact that for most of the fifties television was on for about three hours a day, two hours and fifty nine minutes of which were that London To Brighton On A Potter's Wheel thing followed by about three seconds of Billy Cotton introducing Neddy The Dancing Horse - with opening titles featuring Alexandra Palace-evoking newsreel-esque transmitter-based graphical antics and cut price suspiciously session musician-sounding Beverley Sisters types chirruping "No doubt about it/can't do without it - We Love TV!" over the top. It then promptly dispensed with these trappings entirely by cutting to a none-more-eighties pastel-shaded set and questions with a suspiciously heavy slant towards recent ITV big hitters. It featured two teams of ordinary everyday members of the public paired up with vaguely television-affiliated celebrities of some description, but normally this description could be summed up as 'couldn't really care that much one way or the other about anything that they're being asked questions on', leading to a memorable for all the wrong reasons incident in which a post went-to-Thames-at-the-end Ernie Wise was asked "In The A-Team, what does B.A. stand for?", and spluttered "Big 'Ead" in response. Above all, it was presented by Gloria Hunniford, who would surely have been more at home posing questions about films that are for your eyes.


We Love TV wasn't quite the worst of the surprisingly large volume of eighties entertainment/nostalgia-based quiz shows, but it came close. So, what was the worst? Well, here's a clue courtesy of a certain all-too-familiar public figure, based on a round in Ben Baker's new TV Quiz Book Remotely Interesting (which you can get from here, and which has a foreword and a bonus quiz round by me, if that helps persuade you). Answer at the end of this article...


Surprisingly, but not exactly sadly, there seems to be very little of We Love TV out there on the Internet, although the few rogue clips that have escaped feature such taxing posers as "Do you know what show J.R. was in before Dallas? And what was the surname of The Flintstones' neighbours?". Even on the basis of this fractional amount of evidence, it isn't difficult to see why nobody can really remember anything about it beyond the last couple of bars of the theme song. There is no real interaction or even sometimes correlation between the clips and the actual questions, the uneasy combination of traditional contestant who just wants to be on any game show and celebrity who just wants a couple of quid for not really having to do much results in them not really engaging with the questions or the clips, and although Gloria is a likeable and competent host, her factual summations of the question-inspiring programmes have that distinct aura of someone else's words being read off a card despite not having been written with actually being spoken in mind. More to the point, there's no real form or identity to any of the rounds. Telly Addicts on the other hand carefully selected teams of people who at least showed some competence and aspiration towards wanting to be on there, based questions directly on the fragments of archive footage, relied on quips from Noel Edmonds - both pre-prepared and spontaneous - to enliven the historical detail, and above all else took the actual quiz element entirely seriously whilst not actually taking itself seriously in any way whatsoever. The difference could not have been more marked. There was no doubt about it - we could do without it. We didn't love We Love TV.


Once a regular sight in every bargain bin in every now defunct newsagents chain, the semi-official tie-in quiz book Gloria Hunniford's TV Quiz Challenge, published in 1988 and inviting you to "take on Gloria in a 100-quiz contest of TV-viewing knowledge", was a densely-packed eye-hurting collision of all too obvious questions and weird newsprinty iconographic renderings of the likes of Paul Shane, 'Lofty' from EastEnders and the legs from the end credits of The Bill. Hilariously, you needed to score between 1700 and 2000 to 'outpoint' Gloria, though in all honesty, while probably nobody has ever actually made it all the way through it, this might not be as difficult as all that. For example, there's a round on shows with four main characters that asks you to name all of The A-Team. Well, that's easy - Hannibal, Murdoch, Face and Big Ad.


The answer to the presidential poser was A Question Of Entertainment, a deservedly forgotten BBC1 one-series wonder from 1988 in which a group of severely mismatched celebrities sat on a semi-circular couch and steadfastly refused to acknowledge anything that host Tom O'Connor said to them. If you're looking for a better kind of television quiz, here's that link for Remotely Interesting again...

Autumn View(ing)


Originally invented by Americans as a way of flogging even more cars than usual, the idea of the 'Autumn Season' is deeply embedded in television scheduling culture. Although the BBC never actually had anything to 'sell' (well, unless you count things like the output of their record label), they nonetheless saw it as a good way of drawing viewers in with a largely manufactured sense of new programmes carefully tailored to suit cosy winter-draws-on evenings gathered around the telly. Needless to say, and indeed as you can see from this Dougal-meets-The-Machine-Stops cover, Radio Times was right behind this, although their attempts to construct a 'New... For Autumn!' narrative and fill the requisite amount of pages at the same time often led to desperate flanneling, bewildering leaps of logic and inappropriate levels of excitement about programmes that most viewers could probably take or leave really. And as you can see from these extracts from the Autumn Preview in the Radio Times dated 2nd October 1965, not everything that showed up in the run-up to Christmas was quite as thrilling as Rubber Soul...


You'd have to have had your ears filled in with cavity insulation foam whilst on your way to return your MBE in 'protest' at Ringo Starr having recieved one to have been unaware of the increased prominence, importance and relevance of the ever-amorphous concept of 'The Arts' in the mid-sixties. As this peculiar illustrative mish-mash featuring binoculars, a violin and a Bridget Riley painting calling to mind The Clown off Camberwick Green getting 'cultured' suggests, the BBC were only too aware of and indeed only too keen to reflect this, and Autumn 1965 saw the launch of four new arts programmes - Sunday Night on BBC1 and New Release, Intimations and the proto-aaaaaaaaahhhhh archfest Line-Up Review on BBC2 - which were to all intents and purposes the exact same programme only with a different producer and a marginally different chair.


It was a bumper autumn for Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, with a brand new series of their unprecedented hit Steptoe And Son - seriously, several of the earliest episodes were in the list of top ten most-watched UK television programmes for over a decade - and 'selected' repeats of Hancock's Half Hour at its 1959-to-1960 peak, which Radio Times are careful to emphasise featured Sid James alongside The Lad Himself. There is a bittersweet air to this repeat season and its conspicuous prominence, sat somewhere between celebration of what was even then already evidently a high watermark of the small screen, and a determined distancing from the shambolic mess that followed it. Since their acrimonious split in October 1961, the two hapless writers had systematically trounced the genius comic - well, maybe not with Citizen James, but you can't win them all - on both commercial and artistic terms, and in September 1965 Tony Hancock was hard at work on being 'between projects' while they continued to ride high. Elsewhere there are big-ups for the not exactly unexpected likes of Sykes, Harry Worth, The Benny Hill Show, The Dick Emery Show and Meet The Wife, but only right at the very end do they throw in a mention of Not Only... But Also.... And the series with John Lennon doing his guest-rhyming bit at that. You could probably just about argue that this was possibly intended as the setup for a convoluted 'not only but also' gag that they forgot to actually put in, but either way, small wonder that they wiped them all the second that Peter Cook's back was turned. Meanwhile, the less said about what may or may not be them driving a car at the head of that horse-scoffs-astrakhan-collar 'comedy' procession, the better.


Apparently the BBC were still pushing The Voord from Doctor Who And The Keys Of Marinus as late as 1965, this time as a popular beat combo. Who - sadly - did not get their own series, though fans of pop music could continue to enjoy Top Of The Pops and Juke Box Jury, along with Stramash!, an 'explosive new show' from Scotland with a name that apparently essentially translates as 'riot'. Somehow you can't help but suspect that it may not have lived up to its billing. Folk who like folk get a bit of a cursory brush-off with a vague suggestion that if they like that sort of thing then they might as well try Show Of The Week where they might potentially find the not particularly folky likes of Nina And Frederik, while jazz enthusiasts are casually told that there's so much jazz about that the BBC might as well not bother showing any of it; followed by a throwaway mention of upcoming performances by Thelonius Monk, Oscar Peterson and Jimmy Smith. The reason for this glib disinterest in those pesky styles of music that are popular enough to require deliniation is that anything more serious apparently comes under the simple banner of 'Music', be they 'public concerns or one-act operas specially mounted for BBC-tv at Glyndebourne', the Tortelier Master Class with 'this most televisual of maestros', or a headlining series for the unfortunately appropriately named baritone Tito Gobbi. Yes, well, we'll see how many people are still listening to Catch The Wind and Look Through Any Window half a century later, 'Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra'.


Despite the illustration showing what appears to be absolutely nothing being filmed on a blank white set, this was something of a boom time for standalone television drama, with new Dennis Potter, David Turner and N.F. Simpson works in the offing, not to mention The Wednesday Play, Theatre 625 and Thirty-Minute Theatre continuing apace. So much so, in fact, that it's nigh on impossible to come up with any pithy or perceptive observations about any of it. 1965 was slap bang in the middle of a time when everyone involved at every level treated television drama with the utmost seriousness and many believed it would come to be the benchmark by which all other artforms would be judged. Until television was invented by HBO in 1990, that is.


There's something oddly melancholy about seeing the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme proudly announcing their brand new autumnal wares, blissful in their lack of awareness of the fact that they wouldn't really exist for very much longer. Nonetheless, there were some clues that all was not well across the pre-Flowers In The Rain wavelengths, not least the Home Service announcement that longstanding Current Affairs cornerstone The World At One was being replaced by the essentially identical This Time Of Day, accompanied by small print-esque statements about their most popular shows being shunted around the schedules. Things seemed a bit brighter - well, obviously - over on the Light Programme, with the launch of the Andrew Sachs co-penned Dear Girls, a fascinating-sounding daily soap set in the 'happening' world of fashion models and photographers. Over on the Third Programme, heavyweight epic The Thirties In Britain looks at the anxieties and intellectual climate that led up to what they tactfully refer to as 'strife', and considers whether there are any parallels with events in Britain in the early to mid-sixties. There is absolutely no reason to dig this series out of the Sound Archive and give it another airing now, obviously. Meanwhile, while there's no doubt that companion series The Negro In America was well-intentioned... well, it was a different time. Anyway, on a lighter matter, get a load of those illustrations. Radio Times was absolutely full of this sort of throwaway Pop Art/Post-Advertising icon-heavy visual collision, which probably went mostly unnoticed by people looking to see when Hardluck Hall was on, but is the sort of thing that really ought to be collected into one of those big lavish hardback books now.


Following the blockbusting news that the BBC will keep showing Westerns on Saturdays and 'A Film' on Tuesdays, there's more or less the same bafflingly-fanfared lack of innovation on display in sporting coverage, though admittedly the fact that there had never been a fully televised rugby season prior to 1965 does come as something of a surprise. Nature and Science lovers get to look forward to a similarly welcome but hardly thrillingly new line-up boasting the return of Horizon, Tomorrow's World and Look, while Variety boasts the all-new up-and-coming eight millionth series apiece of Billy Cotton's Music Hall, The Good Old Days and the sodding Black And White Minstrel Show. There's also yet another plug for Nina And Frederik on Show Of The Week. Someone must have REALLY been a fan.


Under the bafflingly mismatched Sam-Tyler-Meets-Captain-Zep heading of 'Spies... Cops... Spacemen', and in amongst a head-walloping array of clashing fonts, we get to possibly the most fascinating corner of this Autumn Preview. Alongside the expected likes of Dixon Of Dock Green and Z-Cars, there are three new series that speak volumes about where the UK - and the BBC - had its head 'at' circa 1965; imported procedural drama Arrest And Trial getting yanked over to the main channel after a well-recieved showing on BBC2, Dinsdale Landen fighting the Cold War undercover in the ficititious Soviet state Amalia in The Mask Of Janus, and full-blown paranoia as an electrical engineer gets falsely accused of spying in Moscow in An Enemy Of The State, with only the launch of BBC2 sci-fi anthology series Out Of The Unknown on hand to justify the 'Spacemen' tag. And it didn't even have that many spacemen in. 'The Past' promises a standard array of historical documentaries alongside BBC2 clip show Plunder, which intends to raid the BBC Archive for 'recordings of pre-1955 television programmes'. It's astonishing, frankly, that they'd survived long enough to be trawled for clip shows, and deeply ironic in turn that the clip shows in question have long since been wiped. 'Series' concentrates its efforts on promoting two new, erm, series - Jimmy Hill technically-advised weekly chronicle of the trials and tribulations of a second division football team United!, and city-types-go-rural gritty social issue hard-hitter The Newcomers, both of which ran to hundreds of editions yet only five of the latter now survive, along with absolutely nothing of the former. Unless anyone and their 'lockup' knows different. Finally, as well as a roster of returning Children's Programmes that includes - ha! - Doctor Who, younger viewers can also look forward to 'quirky' American cartoon that wasn't Hector Heathcote, unappealingly titled folk song showcase Dance And Skylark, and the first of approximately eighty four billion Radio Times billings for The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe. They're also the only ones not to get an illustration, which seems a tad unfair given that the 'Series' one is almost as big as the boxout itself.

Anyway, that's Autumn on the BBC, and hopefully you'll have found loads of things that you want to watch. And Nina and Frederik. Incidentally, yes, I did know that the cover at the top of this article dates from 1966. It just looked a bit more eyecatching and in tune with the mood and tone than the genuine article. And if misleading viewers about contents isn't the true spirit of Autumn, then I don't know what is.




If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots about sixties television in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Wrapped Up In Books


It’s something of a recurring theme among the dubbed imported children’s serials shown by the BBC in the sixties and seventies that they went on to find additional fame in another, entirely unrelated and unexpected, manner. The Flashing Blade, for example, later enjoyed a new lease of popularity through a comic redubbing that attained cult status, while Belle And Sebastian, almost by accident, went on to enjoy a cult status of a very different kind.

Born in August 1928, Cécile Aubry was one of France’s first major film stars, noted as much for her commanding screen presence as her striking looks, which saw her gain sufficient popularity with international audiences to appear on the cover of an issue of Life and to star alongside Tyrone Power and Orson Welles in 20th Century Fox's 1950 historical epic The Black Rose. By the end of the decade, claiming that she had only really enjoyed the travel opportunities, Aubry had retired from acting in favour of a career as a novelist. One of her first published works was Poly, a children's novel about the adventures of a youngster and a free-spirited horse; Poly would give rise to several sequels and in 1961 a television adapation by the French station ORTF, which Aubry herself scripted and which would continue to run into the early seventies.

Poly was followed in 1964 by Belle Et Sébastien, a novel about a young boy - loosely based on Aubry's young son - who befriends a stray dog. Aware that this was a familiar thematic device in children's literature, Aubry intentionally gave the pair an unusual combination of a bleakly existential back story and an idyllic yet remote - and challenging from a narrative point of view - setting. Sébastien had become an orphan when his young mother had died, shortly after giving birth, while attempting to cross the border between France and Italy following a night of heavy snowfall. He is rescued by a pair of customs officers and an elderly mountain hunter named Cesar, who offers to raise the boy with his family in a nearby Alpine village. Sébastien struggles to fit in with the locals, until one day a large dog starts to roam the surrounding area after escaping from abusive owners. The local authorities, mistakenly believing the dog to be dangerous, issue instructions to shoot it on sight. Recognising it a fellow misunderstood outsider, Sébastien shelters and befriends the dog, naming her Belle and enjoying a series of adventures, taking in anything from assisting in daring mountain rescues to uncovering a smuggling plot.


No doubt conscious the success of the television version of Poly, Aubry was already in talks about a television adaptation of  Belle Et Sébastien before it had even been published Jointly produced by Gaumont Television and ORTF, and again with scripts by Aubry, Belle Et Sébastien was filmed on location early in 1965 - this timing would lending an extra credibility to the harsh climatic conditions that play a large part in the narrative - and ran for thirteen twenty five-minute episodes from 26th September 1965. ‘Medhi’, the young boy credited with playing Sébastien, was in fact Aubry’s nine-year-old son who had also previously appeared in Poly. Although Medhi's relationship to the scriptwriter clearly had some influence on his casting, it has to be said he was ideally suited to the role; working under his full name Medhi El Glaoui, he would go on to enjoy a distinguished career as both an actor and director. The remainder of the cast were well known to audiences from French television and European cinema, though none of them ever really found international fame, and it is likely international sales of the series and the numerous awards it that it won as a consequence gave them their most significant worldwide exposure.

This level of acclaim and popularity is not difficult to understand. Shot in black and white and taking full advantage of the vast sweeping locations that featured in the plot, Belle Et Sébastien is a moody and atmospheric work that finds poignancy and beauty in both its geographic and conceptual senses of isolation. Visually mesmerising, it has often been likened – and not entirely fancifully – to the films of Ingmar Bergman. Complementing all of this was a haunting acoustic theme song, written by Aubry with composer Daniel White and later released on a soundtrack EP by Phillips.

Like many other European-made long-form children’s serials at the time, Belle Et Sébastien was purchased for broadcast by the BBC early in 1967, with a view to transmission later in the year. As with all of these series, Belle Et Sébastien – or rather Belle And Sebastian – was dubbed for UK transmission, albeit with the French language theme song left intact, and the actual dubbed dialogue kept to an absolute minimum with the bulk of the vocal duties taken by a female narrator with a suitably thick French accent. As usual, none of the voice artists were ever credited and their identity remains a mystery, though eagle-eared viewers may just notice a remarkable similarity between Norbert’s voice and that of Francis Matthews, better known for playing Paul Temple in the television version of the BBC’s long-running radio detective serial, and providing the voice of the lead character in Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons. Belle And Sebastian was first shown by BBC1 in Monday afternoon slot from 2nd October 1967, concluding on New Year’s Day 1968, with the evocative and picturesque setting and unusually melancholy mood doing much to attract young viewers who were not normally that taken with serials featuring children having everyday adventures. This initial transmission was accompanied by a hardback novelisation, published by BBC Books and written by Peggy Miller from her own reworked English language scripts rather than a direct translation of the original novel. With a striking photographic cover, it was primarily aimed at libraries rather than high street bookshops (although a paperback edition was later briefly available), and is now quite difficult to find.


Belle Et Sébastien was followed in 1968 by Sébastien Parmi Les Hommes - with a theme song sung by Mehdi - which was shown by the BBC as Belle, Sebastian And The Horses from Monday 16th September 1968. French viewers would get to enjoy another instalment, Sébastien Et La Marie-Morgane, in 1970. The BBC however appeared to think two series’ worth of human-canine antics was quite enough, and declined to purchase this third series. Despite their monochrome nature, both series were regularly repeated, particularly during the school summer holidays, with Belle, Sebastian And The Horses surviving in the schedules through to 1973, and Belle And Sebastian making it all the way up to 1978.

Surprisingly, despite enjoying just as ubiquity as its dubbed contemporaries, Belle And Sebastian is not really as well remembered as the likes of The Flashing Blade, The Singing Ringing Tree or The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe. A significant part of the reason for this may lie in the fact an entire generation associates the title with an entirely different series. Made as a co-production between French and Japanese television in 1981, the sixty four-part Meiken Jolie was to all intents and purposes a loosely interpreted animated version of Belle Et Sébastien, made with the consent of Cécile Aubry but diverting significantly from the original storyline. This was later dubbed into English and retitled Belle And Sebastian, and from 1989 onwards was repeated by the BBC almost as many times – and indeed in roughly the same timeslots – as the original.


Another, perhaps more pertinent reason is the name no longer really ‘belongs’ to the series, and more commonly associated nowadays with a band that drew inspiration from it. Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch had been a fan of the BBC version as a youngster, and although he originally borrowed its name simply for the title of a song, it was later judged appropriate for the name of his group. Though an unusual choice – and one that initially confused a number of radio presenters and journalists who presumed them to be a duo – for those who remembered the series the name fitted well with the band’s pastoral and introspective brand of guitar pop; often, it has to be said, not a million miles away from the actual Belle Et Sébastien theme song. Indeed, many of their early releases featured monochrome photographic covers that recalled the visual feel of their small-screen inspiration. Though the band and their management made several attempts at getting proper permission to use the name, even going as far as to contact Viacom, who had distributed the English language version of Meiken Jolie, no constructive leads were ever forthcoming and contact with Cécile Aubry was not established until their records began to be released in France. Initially, due to the intensely personal nature of the stories, Aubry was unhappy about the matter and reluctant to allow them to continue using it, only relenting after meeting Murdoch and bandmate Isobel Campbell in person to gain assurance of their intentions.

As it turned out, their use of the name was to have a greater benefit for Belle Et Sébastien than perhaps was envisaged during that uneasy meeting. From being scarcely recalled and seldom mentioned by the early nineties, the show went on to be regularly namechecked in articles about the band, cementing hazy memories for some fans and arousing the curiosity of those too young to have seen it. Rescued from obscurity, the English language version of Belle Et Sébastien is now available on DVD and has been a surprisingly consistent seller, doubtless to as many fans of the band as fans of the show itself.




This is adapted from an article featured in my book Well At Least It's Free. You can get Well At Least It's Free in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

There's So Much More In TV Times Part 14: Parky's Perfect Dinner Party


Imagine, if you will, a time when Peter Davison was a widely-loved television star who, in spite of the occasional bit of wishy-washy fence sitting that even in its full context hardly adopts an actual tangible position, was generally seen as being on the right side of right-on and an overall likeable and decent person.

Well, that was approximately four days ago. Cast your mind back, though, to a time before people who don't even sodding watch Doctor Who decided to take a tabloid's word over his, and him out of The Terror Of The Vervoids tried to score a few cheap points and somehow still managed to come off worse. Yes, it's time to travel forwards to the late eighties, a time of huge change for TV Times. There was now an extra commercial channel, outraging the tabloids with Keith Allen swearing at a polish cartoon or something. Home video was luring viewers away from good clean World In Action and The Fear, except for when it wasn't and something about Video Nasties. And throughout it all, Brucie kept on putting on that comedy oversized chef's hat and making something out of 'leftovers', only on slightly better quality paper.


Something that had most definitely not improved with the passage of time was the quality of readers' letters. Here we can see a thoroughly pointless missive from someone who felt sufficiently impressed by a character from The Bill behaving like a character from The Bill to write in to TV Times to congratulate the programme makers on this bold artistic decision. And that's not the last we'll be hearing from Sun Hill's finest, but moving on...


Full-paged posed photos doubling up as putative 'posters' for the terminally barking mad with no discernible sense of design aesthetic were all the rage around TV Times Towers in the eighties, it seems. In the ludicrously small boxout bit that nobody ever read, Gary Wilmot - who, it's staggering to recall, was all over ITV at the time - reveals that he took time out from impersonating whoever it was he did impersonations of to indulge in a spot of proto-green Save The Trees rabble-rousing; something that, much like Timmy Mallett's denunciation of Apartheid for the benefit of Wide Awake Club viewers, suspiciously never seems to get mentioned whenever the ha ha you big rubbish what were we thinking sneering boots up again. He also seems to be wary of the imminent arrival of Ben Kingsley, Clown Union. This is followed by Matthew Kelly making with the ha ha ha hee hee hee's and 'Gnome - For A Laugh!' puns as he introduces us to his good friend Grimble Grumble. There's probably a perfectly sane and rational explanation. If there is, though, it isn't in the boxout.


TV-am's top 'Girls Who Get Britain Up In The Morning' as the tabloids always had it Ulrika Jonsson and Lorraine Kelly kick off the 1990 FIFA World Cup with a bit of posed punch-up hilarity - hardly the most appropriate of analogies at a time when football was desperately trying to restore its yob-tarnished image - in honour of their home nations' imminent Group C clash, in an issue of TV Times that mysteriously 'disappeared' into a million teenage boys' bedrooms the second that that week's Friday Night viewing was over.


Big smash blockbuster miniseries came and went in the eighties, but every Sunday evening on ITV you could find Harry Secombe strolling religiously from region to region and singing about how God made the clouds while standing in the grassy bit in the middle of a dual carriageway. Yes, bizarrely compelling surrealist masterpiece Highway was putting together an album, and they needed your inexplicably typewritten help! Just write to Harry telling him which hymns you would like to see and indeed hear on there, and when he's finished sending his Christmas Cards he'll draw up a tracklisting. Sadly, how many wags voted for He Made This Lovely Anorak is not on record.


Sometimes, on the almost unthinkably rare occasions on which Brucie was not available (or, more likely, they'd simply run out of 'leftovers'), you just had to get someone else in the kitchen to do 'wacky' poses at the top of a recipe you can't help but suspect they'd never actually been within fifteen feet of. Here for example we can see Kenny Everett refuting all accusations of 'wackiness' whilst throwing a zany look at an industrial-strength quantity of spaghetti, followed by Hale And Pace in character as 'Ron' and 'Ron', offering up a Cloret-inviting menu of basic food procedures kitted out with good honest thumping-skewed pun variants on their names, which was presumably food wot you would like otherwise 'Ron' will arrange for you to have some food wot you would not like even more if you get our meaning ur hur hur 'Ron'.


Hang on a minute... Parky? What's he doing here?! Telling us who his ideal dinner party guests would be, that's what. And it will surprise precisely nobody to learn that Billy Connolly is top of the VIP RSVP list, followed only slightly less predictably by the 'anecdote' barrage of Michael Caine, Jonathan Miller, Alistair Cooke, Anthony Burgess, Peter Ustinov, and token 'there are no women allowed on the dock of the bay' exception Shirley Maclaine. Apart from displaying a strange obsession with getting them all to gather round the piano for a sing song, he also pretty much maps out who will talk on what topic and when, and states his intention to treat them all to caviar, Dover sole and fancy ice cream washed down with coffee, cognac, port and a premier cru Chablis, all of which will take place in the Gilbert And Sullivan rooms at the Savoy. "Beat that!", boasts Parky. OK mate, fix me up with Karen Gillan and her off The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt at a Pizza Express and I fucking well will.


One regular feature of TV Times in the eighties was the confusingly titled 'My Top Ten Top Tens', in which stars of the network were asked to list their favourite examples of several 'quirky' genres, resulting in enough text to pad out to a three page spread being crammed into a single page. In this example we see Kevin Kennedy, TV 'Curly' (Coronation Street), expressing his enthusiasm for decidedly unadventurous music, movies, cuisine and lust icons, though he does sneak the somewhat less than predictable Tutti Frutti and Hank Wangford's A-Z Of Country Music into his list of 'TV Gems', which at least wins him some points. Note also how he crowbars a couple of his Corrie mates in where he can, notably Bill Tarmey above John Wayne in 'Greatest Actors'. No mention of Don't Forget The Old Folks At Christmas by Bill Waddington, though.


What I Watch was a regular feature in TV Times throughout the eighties, in which a procession of second-tier celebrites - or in some cases just anyone who actually answered the phone - namechecked a couple of currently popular television shows, primarily with a hefty ITV slant, and revealed absolutely nothing about anything whatsoever. Here, for example, is Kevin Lloyd, street-hardened DC Tosh Lines from The Bill, pretty much listing all of the then-operational ITV detective shows, followed by a plug for the now entirely forgotten massive-in-their-day sitcoms About Face and Surgical Spirit, and a suspiciously sizeable thumbs-up for ITN. It doesn't take Ted Roach to figure out what his 'snouts' had tipped him. This is followed by Brookside head honcho Phil Redmond taking time out from appearing on the front page of the Liverpool Echo holding his fringe back with a 'defeated' look and asking why the 1957 Venezuelan National Games can't be in Liverpool to bore everyone senseless about 'realism' and 'value' before going on about films and some programmes he created himself. And finally, Ian and 'Wee Jimmy' essentially run through an entire day's schedule on ITV from Chain Letters to Taggart, pausing only to admonish sitcoms for being too middle class and not reflecting real life - presumably they needed more 'naughty' schoolboys in outmoded school uniforms getting up to all manner of Forties DC Thompson-style hi-jinks (and, of course, chalking rude words on next door's garden gate) - and, worryingly, confirm that "we liked the Shoot To Kill programme". You'd never have expected that of The Krankies and their strict adherence to wholesome family fun.


Oh for fuck's sake. Still, this will only be a rare lapse on the part of good clean ITV. After, all, it was the boo hiss BBC that 'all knew', and ITV never employed any of that shower at any point ever.


Moving rapidly on...


Time to dance your cares away with Timmy Mallett and Michaela Strachan, and their tried and tested formula of just copying something in the public eye and putting 'Wac' in front of it so nobody would ever suspect a thing, as they teach us how to do the purported 'dance sensation of the summer', The 'Wacbada'. Sadly the issue in which they explained how to bust a move to Pump Up The Jam by Wacnotronic Feat. Jelly was not available. Nor was the Halloween/Bonfire Night issue of Family Circle with Timmy Mallett on the cover. Slightly less sadly.


Grr grr, remember when Ryan Paris and those Eurocrats in Brussells made us change the name of all of our best chocolate and chew bars and there was that hilarious comedy advert with a 'French' woman refusing to buy a Marathon, except it was actually a change enacted to allow more seamless integration with American branding, advertising and manufacture so don't go losing your temper and ramming some chlorinated chicken down Liam Fox's throat or anything etc etc? Well, it wasn't the only thing changing around then, and in 1991 - signposted with a bizarre full-page advert saying 'What's Bob Cryer Doing On The BBC?' - TV Times and Radio Times were finally allowed to run each other's schedules and, well, a little bit of character went out of each. So it's at this point that we leave our collective bafflement at TV Times' eccentricities for now, but there's still the seventies to get through. And more eighties. And there might even be the odd thing or two in Radio Times worth looking at. In fact, you could almost say there was so much more still in it. Sorry.



If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more slightly more serious writing about fifties and sixties television in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Looks Unfamiliar #8: Jem Roberts - ET Is A Definite Thing


Looks Unfamiliar 8 - Jem Roberts

Looks Unfamiliar is a podcast in which writer and occasional broadcaster Tim Worthington talks to a guest about some of the things that they remember that nobody else ever does. Joining Tim this time is comedy historian and storyteller Jem Roberts, who shares his widely-challenged recollections of an advert reuniting Neil and Vyvyan from The Young Ones, ZX Spectrum game Dizzy and its many close relatives, short-lived rave-goes-Charleston sensation Doop by Doop, budget maize snack Wheelz, powdered drink from outer space Alien Juice, and the dim and distant days of Wet Wet Wet Actually Being Any Good. Along the way we'll be finding out the best techniques for constructing a 'sandwich car', learning how not to confuse ET with a gardener, and wondering who smoked 'Rococan' and if they were able to still form sentences afterwards.

Find out more about Jem's fantastic Tales Of Britain project at www.talesofbritain.com.

DOWNLOAD IT HERE - SUBSCRIBE IN ITUNES - RSS





Looks Unfamiliar is hosted by Podnose.



Support Looks Unfamiliar by buying one of Tim's books! Not On Your Telly is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. And there's several other books to choose from here...