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.

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Looks Unfamiliar is hosted by Podnose.



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You've Got To Fight For What You Want


It’s unusual for a television series to find popularity in two different decades, though some have managed it through judiciously-placed repeats. Finding popularity in two different genres, though, is an entirely different matter, and should be logistically impossible. Yet that’s exactly what happened to The Flashing Blade. So how did the swashbuckling exploits of a French swordsman have audiences on the edge of their seats one minute and falling about with laughter the next? It’s all down to the redubbing. Two different sets of redubbing, in fact.

The Flashing Blade was originally known as Le Chevailer TempĂȘte, a children’s adventure serial filmed early in 1967 as a co-production between Pathe Cinema and the French television company ORTF, with international funding coming from Switzerland and Canada. Written by Andre-Paul Antoine and Pierre-Aristide Breal, and stylishly directed by Yannick Andrei, the storyline was set in 17th century France but, unusually for a serial of this nature, was not actually based on genuine historical events.

The action takes place in 1630, around the besieged Fort Casal on the Savoie Border between the warring France and Spain. The liberation of the castle is the key to the intended truce, and there are those within the opposing ranks – most notably the devious Don Alonso – who will do anything in their power to prevent the agreement from taking place. Unfortunately for them, the French have assigned this mission to dashing young spy Francois, Chevalier de Recci and his loyal servant Guillot, a wisecracking pair who seem to get as much of a thrill from corny jokes as they do swordsmanship. Over the course of the serial they mount a number of plots to rescue the castle, adopt many disguises – including a lengthy spell hiding out with a troupe of travelling players – and stage near-constant daring escapes, whilst Francois becomes involved with a young local noblewoman, Isabelle de Sospel.

The popular costume drama actor Robert Etcheverry took the part of Francois, with Jacques Balutin as Guillot, Mario Pilar as Don Alonso, Genevieve Casile as Isabelle, Jean Martinelli as the Duke de Sospel and Denise Gray as the Comtesse. None of the cast were well known outside of France, despite a considerable list of starring roles on film and television between them – although in an amusing quirk, Balutin later ended up redubbing Paul Michael Glasier’s dialogue for the French language transmissions of Starsky And Hutch.


Le Chevailer Tempete was shown by ORTF in four seventy-five minute episodes in October 1967. The series attracted acclaim for its stylish direction and colourful cinematography - noticeably similar to the style adopted by many historically-based European feature films of the day, not to mention such British efforts as Masque Of The Red Death and Witchfinder General - as well as for scripts that skillfully combined lengthy action set-pieces with comic interludes – the latter perhaps best exemplified by the dashing duo’s attempts to pose as actors. As was common practice at the time, the serial was subsequently offered for adaptation by overseas broadcasters, and the BBC bought the rights during 1968 for transmission in Spring 1969. The four episodes were cut down by into twelve twenty-five-minute instalments, with the adaptation and redubbing overseen by Peggy Miller, who performed similar duties on a number of imported series. Indeed this was common practice for all imported children’s serials, subjected to changes that went anywhere from re-editing to entire rewrites, leading to the credit 'BBC Presentation By …' becoming a familiar sight. While the closing titles of the BBC version also revealed the new soundtrack was recorded at the famous De Lane Lea studios, a venue incongruously favoured by the big progressive rock acts of the day, the identity of the actors performing the English language dialogue was not revealed and remains something of a mystery to this day.

Although the new version of the serial ran to a dozen episodes, most UK viewers have only ever seen eleven of them, as the dubbed print of episode twelve suffered from a technical fault which caused a loss of vision partway through. The BBC attempted to show the episode on a couple of early runs of the series, and indeed once managed to air virtually the entire twenty five minutes with only a slight interruption, but still ran into the same problems each time. As a result, and no doubt to the frustration of those who had followed the long serial over numerous weeks, the final edition was never properly shown, although in response to viewer requests, the conclusion was later featured in the BBC children's clip show Ask Aspel. Fortunately for the BBC, episode eleven acted as an acceptable ending in its own right, with the truce signed, the Castle liberated, and Francois finally seeing off Don Alonso in an epic sword fight. Apart from confirming the wounded Guillot survived the climactic battle, episode twelve had little to do with the story proper, largely set a year after the events of the previous instalment and recounting a very slow reunion between Francoise and Isabelle. As most later showings were simply truncated to eleven, without much really being lost in the way of the storyline, it’s quite possible that many viewers never even noticed.

While Francois could stop a war virtually single-handed, it seems even the miracles of modern technology cannot resolve the same technical fault that first sent BBC1 haywire almost fifty years ago. On a DVD release of the complete English language version of The Flashing Blade, the twelfth episode has been replaced by an appropriate subtitled edit of the original French language version, complete with the original credits and theme music. This may have come as something of a surprise to erstwhile followers of the series, as The Flashing Blade is as well remembered in the UK for its dramatic galloping theme song as it is the swashbuckling exploits of the Chevailer de Recci, or indeed for technical breakdowns at the worst possible moment. Composed by Alex Masters, the theme was popular enough to be released as a single by Phillips, retitled Fight and credited to The Musketeers. Although it stopped some way short of the top forty, the single has subsequently become much sought-after by soundtrack collectors; sadly, the intriguing-sounding b-side Magnifico is in fact a rather ordinary love song that sounds more like a football team’s musical exploits than its more compelling a-side, despite clearly being recorded in the same session.


The adventures of Francois and Guillot would later find an altogether different notoriety when The Flashing Blade was cut up into five-minute segments and comically redubbed for the BBC1 Saturday morning show On The Waterfront in 1988. Written by producer Russell T Davies and voiced by the show’s cast with impressionist John Culshaw, the redubbings were initially very funny and quickly won a cult following – Don Alonso’s grim examination of a local map, for example, was turned into a weather report, and each instalment ended with the assembled cast shouting “Shut up!!” after the first couple of bars of the theme song. Inevitably inspiration soon ran dry – one later instalment consisted of little more than Isabelle singing an interminable song about how “she likes to stitch and sew her clothes” – but all the same it is fondly remembered to this day. In fact, it’s not too great a leap of the imagination to suggest the arrival on BBC2 the following year of The Staggering Stories Of Ferdinand De Bargos – which did much the same thing with genuine historical footage – owed more than a little to this idiosyncratic re-interpretation of The Flashing Blade.

The On The Waterfront inserts proved sufficiently popular to warrant a full (well, apart from episode twelve) re-run of The Flashing Blade in its proper form the following year, the last time to date that it has been shown on terrestrial television. It’s interesting to ponder on the fact none of the things it is best remembered for – the theme song, the redubbed send-up and the notorious technical fault – were ever part of Le Chevalier Tempete, and while two of these may not have been quite in line with what Peggy Miller and company intended for the serial, it does show that there was a lot more to 'BBC Presentation By …' than a simple vanity credit. This and so many other series bought in during the sixties and seventies were to a large extent shaped into almost new programmes, often near unrecognisable from their original form. Then again, few could deny that the straightforward thrill of all those seemingly endless sword fights on staircases had a lot to do with the appeal of The Flashing Blade too.




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.