"...And This Is Our Two Hundredth Edition!"
Well, it looks like this is the two hundredth post on this blog. And to celebrate, I've put together something rather special...
Back in the sixties and seventies, especially in the throes of the year-round 'as-live' black and white era, TV shows reaching their two hundredth episode were ten a penny (or, in old money, two hundred a twenty pence, or, in actual old money, 6s 6d). Unfortunately, due to this very same timeframe and turnaround, most of these two hundredth episodes are long since lost, wiped back when nobody thought that they had any cultural or monetary value beyond the following Wednesday. From Episode Three of Doctor Who And The Fury From The Deep, which might actually exist in some huffy prat's lockup, to the two hundredth edition of Ready Steady Go!, which also might actually exist but Dave Clark's too busy telling us how he was more famous than Julie Christie, Worcestershire Sauce and The Waltham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association combined to have time for anything so trivial as telling anyone which tapes are actually in his possession, they're... not very good examples really, are they? Still, there are many, many more that were seen once or at a push twice and that was it, and nobody has the faintest idea of what might have happened in them, or even if they were marked as the two hundredth episode in any way. And, you guessed it, I'm now trying to get the faintest idea of what might have happened in five of the longest lost yet most prominent examples. Starting with...
Play School (BBC2, 25th January 1965)
In an example of the aforementioned as-live black and white high turnaround so textbook that they might as well have shown a film about it through the Square Window, Play School was only a little over six months old when it clocked up its two hundredth edition, doubtless to the accompaniment of that weird tick tocking clarinet music. And not only is this long gone from the archives, it quite probably wasn't seen by very many people in the first place; at that point, the newly-launched higher definition second BBC channel was only available in a couple of transmitter regions, and even then few viewers owned the expensive new sets required to receive it, and BBC1 had yet to start repeating the show in the afternoons. So we've already got our work cut out for us here, though those few scant details that are available are actually much more useful than they might appear on face value.
For starters, this went out back when Play School still employed a daily 'themed' structure; as this was Tuesday it will have been 'Dressing Up Day', and therefore will have opened with the presenters standing next to a prop coat rack and picking out what bits of costume they needed for that day's stories and songs. The presenters in question were long-serving camera-blur-provoking high-speed hyperactive headcase Julie Stevens and short-stay four week wonder Paul Danquah - a noted 'kitchen sink drama' actor and patron of the arts who was one of surprisingly many ethnically diverse presenters used by Play School in the early years (and also openly gay, though few would have been aware of that at the time) - so it's safe to say that whatever those songs and stories might have been, they'll have been delivered in a somewhat boisterous fashion. Paul and Julie were joined for this edition by storyteller Enid Lorimer (also a regular on Jackanory around this time, of which more in a moment), presumably reading one of her self-penned children's stories, and by a slightly different line-up of toys, with Humpty, Jemima and Hamble (the first two in earlier and noticeably more 'sixties' designs) joined by original lone one-size-fits-all 'Teddy', whose tenure on the show came to an abrupt end when he was stolen during a recording break. So, all in all, this would have been a slightly yet significantly different take on the familiar format. The kind of missing piece of the jigsaw that makes you wish they really had just kept everything after all.
Late Night Line-Up (BBC2, 5th April 1965)
BBC2's daily late night open-ended swivel chair-mounted arts'n'culture proto-Parsons squabblefest clocked up its two hundredth episode only days before the channel itself celebrated the first anniversary of its technically shambolic launch, so it's likely that any actual in-show celebrations were held over to the 20th April. That said, it's impossible to say this for certain on the basis of the Radio Times billing; to be honest they didn't always bother printing much for Late Night Line-Up beyond the title and time, sometimes not even bothering with the latter and opting for 'NEWS followed by...' instead, so frankly the fact that this one reveals that the show was at least scheduled to be presented by Denis Tuohy, Michael Dean, Nicholas Tresilian and Philip Jenkinson is more of a starting point than might normally have been expected. For this edition came just after Jenkinson had been brought in to talk about films, just before Joan Bakewell arrived to lend a dash of mid-sixties pop-art intellectualism to proceedings, and while the show was still staying very much within its initial remit of discussing that day's output on BBC2, so it's fair to say that a quick look around elsewhere in that same Radio Times should give something of an idea of what they might have talked about.
Assuming that they didn't bother with Play School, the first item on the agenda would doubtless have been that night's edition of Humphrey Burton-helmed high arts hoedown Workshop, which featured renowned operatic types Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart performing excerpts from some of their favourite pieces and discussing their interpretations of them, to the accompaniment of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mario Bernadri (who appeared 'by arrangement with Sadler's Wells Opera Company'). As it had been picked out as a highlight on the previous page, written up in a jaunty 'you thickos can like Don Giovanni too' style approach, it's likely that the brow-furrowing trio would have found considerable mileage in it. 'The Pen', the third episode of Francis Durbridge Presents... A Man Called Harry Brent, which starred Gerald Harper, Brian Wilde, Anna Wing, Edward Brayshaw, Judy Parfitt and one Brian Cant (and, Doctor Who fans, Story Edited by John Wiles and Produced And Directed by Alan Bromly), was also deemed worthy of a preview and so doubtless would also have found its way into their opinionated nattering. Elsewhere, the winningly-named Gadzooks! It's All Happening featured top pop sounds from The Animals, Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated and, erm, The Three Bells, HM The Queen was still watching The Virginian, and Gay Byrne challenged Katie Boyle, Thelma Ruby, Charlie Chester and David Healy to Pick The Winner. Well, they had to give Philip Jenkinson something to talk about.
Jackanory - The Little House In The Big Woods 2: 'Out In The Dark' (BBC1, 25th October 1966)
In later years Jackanory would go bonkersly overboard at the merest suggestion of an anniversary - even sometimes if it wasn't their own - and commission all manner of week-long celebratory 'special readings' and what have you. Which is why it's a little strange to see that the two hundredth edition rolled around so quickly that they seemingly just put out a regular scheduled edition without any hint of an acknowledgement. This was the second part of the mysterious Red Shiveley's reading of The Little House In The Big Woods, the first in Laura Ingalls Wilder's long series of backwoods frontier days memoirs (described by Radio Times as "an American children's classic; it is a true story of family life a hundred years ago in the lonely and often dangerous backwoods of Wisconsin") that would ultimately give rise to a certain ceaseless drone of televisual tedium of end titles tumblage infamy. Unusually, there was no photo accompanying any of that week's editions in Radio Times, either of 'Red' or a generic scribbled woodcabin, so instead from the adjoining page here's a rare alternate edit of one of those 'Tea and TV' ads we were talking about recently:
Unlike a signifcant number of early Jackanory stories this one was never repeated, and perhaps unsurprisingly it's not amongst the dozen or so sixties editions that are still around, but some impression of what it might have been like can be gleaned from the credits; particularly under the tutelage of original showrunner Joy Whitby, Jackanory always attempted to give each week of stories its own distinct stylistic flavour, and these log-chop-centric adaptations came accompanied by illustrations from the BBC's prog album cover-anticipating in-house graphic designer Mina Martinez, violin from jazz fiddler and occasional Beatle collaborator Jack Fallon, and songs from Play School presenter and part-time singer-songwriter (and future Yoffy) Rick Jones. Pure speculation here but given the timing and the overall 'home on the range' ambience of the story, he could easily have been heard performing his proto-Acid Folk jangler The Flowers Are Mine, released as a single only weeks later. So, all in all, rather a low key and olde worlde muted sort of a way in which to mark such a notable milestone. Still, given that the one hundredth episode had featured a story about 'Golliwogg', this could have been a lot worse.
Top Of The Pops (BBC1, 9th November 1967)
Well, we've immediately got a problem here. And it's a problem that doesn't so much present itself as leap out brandishing a cigar shouting 'eueureurgh' and demanding that we keep in mind that it's got us a lot of machines. Yes, as you'd probably already guessed, the two hundredth edition of Top Of The Pops was presented by TV's Scrawny Old Bastard himself, and as such the fact that it no longer exists is entirely academic; if it did, it would have been locked away by now anyway, Savile-free pop performances and all. No, really - that's the ridiculous extent that they're now going to in the name of 'compliance', and recently, an archive music documentary was prevented from using a clip of The Faces on the basis that it came from a Savile-helmed Light Entertainment show. We have to tread a bit carefully here, but it's time to get on a soapbox, then sort of step off it and half back on again. While the BBC obviously has its reputation and pre-emptively defending itself against pillocks like Grant Shapps to think of, not to mention the feelings of victims and the risk of prejudicing ongoing investigations, and in any case nobody should be bowing to the moanings of entitled archive TV prats who want to see any and every Top Of The Pops repeated in full just because they feel like demanding it and anyway Simon Cowell something something, at the same time it has to be said that nobody is protecting anybody by preventing us from seeing a mimed music performance without a single second of Sir James in shot, and that there's a case for arguing that pretending that he just didn't happen is actually kind of similar to how he was able to get away with whatever he did get away with in the first place. So, with this in mind, here's a screengrab from another extant Savile-fronted Top Of The Pops that in no way presents a bleakly ironic metaphor for how the establishment might have drawn a discreet veil over his activities to suit their own ends:
Mind you, whichever side of the 'he's not yet been found legally guilty in any legal court of law!!' fence you fall on, there can be little doubt that his links would have consisted of little more than a handful of repeated catchphrases and putting his arm around young girls in the audience in a worryingly forceful fashion, so we're not really missing much there. What's more interesting are the actual missing performances, though some of them are perhaps not as missing as all that. The repeated footage of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky Mick & Titch performing their proto-psychedelic gibberish World Music mantra Zabadak is presumably the same performance that does still exist from another edition, which is good news for all fans of girls with big hair doing that shimmering arms dance in a manner that suggests they may have 'had something', while Donovan's Zen-explaining There Is A Mountain was represented by an official promo film which is presumably still sitting in a record company vault somewhere. The Who's similarly repeated rattle through I Can See For Miles may be gone but their undoubtedly more thrilling performance on Twice A Fortnight still exists, Gene Pitney and The Kinks did Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart and Autumn Almanac on plenty of other shows that managed to dodge the big magnet, and while this was a different performance of Baby Now That I've Found You by The Foundations to the one that shows up on Top Of The Pops 2 every three seconds, you can be fairly certain that it wasn't THAT different.
On the totally lost side, and rather thankfully, there's The Dave Clark Five doing Everybody Knows, which as it was a 'ballad one' probably saw them doing 'meaningful' swaying in lieu of their usual risible trooping onstage routine and then leaning from side to side with their instruments in a manner that suggested anything other than actually playing them. This would normally be the cue for Dave Clark to remind us that they sold almost as many records as The Beatles back in the sixties, but there's a crucial difference; during the course of a handful of years, which they both began and ended as the most famous individuals on the entire planet, The Beatles underwent an astonishing and never-emulated artistic evolution which became an artistic - and social - revolution, fundamentally shifting and redifining the way in which the entire world saw not just music but cinema, literature, art and even class division, religion and drugs, whereas by 1970, The Dave Clark Five were still trotting out inexcusably pedestrian covers of Get Together in the hope that they could score a hit before The Youngbloods had a chance to release their original over here. So, all in all, the only real loss here - and in many ways probably the best performance - is Val Doonican doing If The Whole World Stopped Loving. Sadly, he never did get to do O'Rafferty Went To Cheshire.
So, really, this is the least 'lost' two hundredth edition of all of these, as you could easily recreate it in your own home with the aid of YouTube, a mop, a vomited-up barrage of meaninglessly deployed catchphrases, and the sound of a police car pulling up outside your window.
Pipkins - Snap (ITV, 5th July 1978)
And finally, we have an ITV show. Yes, you did read that right. An ITV show. From 1978.
It always seems to be the BBC who have to dodge the hail of missiles whenever the subject of lost archive TV is brought up, but while they perhaps made some short-sighted decisions during the brief but prolific timeframe when they didn't consider it worth hanging on to anything much of their output, ITV's franchise-based business-driven structure and liking for buyouts and regional reshuffles has meant that, until genuinely very recently, the output of any given ITV company passim was at risk of hand-changing obliteration once Jenkins From Accounts got an eyeful of how much tape storage was costing the new rights holders. Even now some things are still at risk, not least the large volume of TVS programming (including such big hitters as C.A.T.S. Eyes, That's Love, The Boy Who Won The Pools and the UK version of Fraggle Rock) that has ended up in the possession of Disney, who intelligently shredded all of the accompanying paperwork and now as a result can't do anything with any of it, leading to genuine concern that the day might come when Walt's Boys fling it all into a big skip in the car park. The mere possibility of that is arguably reason enough to wallop That Bastard Mouse in the mush with a cryogenic suspension temperature control.
ATV, the entertainment heavyweight headed up by Lew Grade, lost the ITV Midlands franchise in 1981 and the rights to its archive went into owner-hopping freefall, with the unfortunate consequence that material was being binned well into the nineties. Only one episode of Timeslip now survives in colour with the rest in black and white, most of Rushton's Illustrated has vanished into the televisual ether, and most frustratingly of all, Goodbye Again existed on glossy full-colour videotape as late as 1989; now all you'll find are black and white film copies and some audience laughter-free colour inserts. In fact Sapphire & Steel almost went the same way, but you'll have to read my DVD-accompanying book about the show to find out what happened there.
In such exalted company, it's perhaps not surprising that the long-running lunchtime show Pipkins - the one where everyone says "ha ha, the pupats were a rubbesh!!" even though they were supposed to be - should have suffered particularly badly from tape-chuckage, but even so it's a touch staggering that over three hundred of them disappeared over the years with only a handful (if you have giant hands) of master tapes surviving. A couple of dozen more have subsequently turned up as off-airs preserved by various cast members, but this tally does not include the two hundredth episode, Snap, of which TV Times noted "The card game snap is great fun - unless you play it with Hartley. He has become a snap bore and gets close to cheating". And, well, that will have effectively been the entire episode, albeit saturated with sarcasm, surrealism, and frame-defying puppet slapstick. You can probably more or less work out what happened yourself without actually needing to see it, but just in case you needed a bit of extra context; this was in the era when the opening titles featured that blaring brass fanfare and Hartley Hare being flattened by paintings of his puppet co-workers, the show itself featured second human overseer Tom as played by Jonathan Kydd and the redesigned 'jam roll ears' Topov puppet, Tortoise will not yet have acquired his multi-level-harrumph-facilitating dumb waiter, Pig's voice will have been provided by Elizabeth Lindsay, and given how much both were being used around this time, there's a fairly good chance that both Hartley's ruralist Uncle Hare (i.e. the same puppet in a 'bumpkin' hat) and Tom's pal Jo will have featured in the episode. Whether Octavia, Mooney or The Doctor put in one of their seemingly random appearances, however, is anyone's guess.
And now, as an encore, the recently wiped two hundredth episode of The 11 O'Clock Show. What, it's not been wiped yet? OK, wait there, I'll be right back...