Feeling My Age

Getting older has its drawbacks – but it's a lot better than the alternative.

Posts Tagged ‘ TV ’

One of the more memorable TV advertising slogans of the last 20 years came from Murphy’s Irish Stout – whose main rival back in the 1990s was the hugely popular, though more bitter-tasting, Guinness brand.

Murphys brewery in Cork had been taken over by the Dutch giant Heineken, whose own lager famously “refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach”. Heineken commissioned a series of 30 second vignettes set in Irish pubs starring a handsome young actor recovering from a series of humorous misfortunes with a comforting pint.

“Like the Murphys,” he would say, “I’m not bitter.” Take that, Guinness! The ads were launched during Channel Four’s Father Ted Christmas Special in 1996.But just who was this suave, twinkly-eyed star of all three ads, and why haven’t we seen more of him since then? It’s been extraordinarily hard to find out… [More]

The Iron Duke

April 9, 2012 Feeling My Age Comments

Duke Of Wellington playing cards

Phot taken with Instagram

In view of his huge national popularity following the battle of Waterloo, the Duke Of Wellington was pressed to accept the post of Prime Minister. After his first cabinet meeting, somebody asked him how it had gone.  “It was the most extraordinary thing” said Wellesley. in genuine puzzlement. “I gave them their orders. then all of them wanted to talk about it.”

When a friend told me this anecdote today it reminded of the Spitting Image sketch where The Iron Lady takes her cabinet out to a restaurant:

Waitress: Would you like to order, sir?
Thatcher: Yes. I will have the steak.
Waitress: How would you like it?
Thatcher: Oh, raw, please.
Waitress: And what about the Vegetables?
Thatcher: Oh, they’ll have the same as me!

Laramie ws an American Western television series by NBC that was shown on BBC TV from 1959 to 1963. It originally starred John Smith as Slim Sherman, Robert Fuller as Jess Harper, Hoagy Carmichael as Jonesy and Robert Crawford, Jr. as Andy Sherman. YouTube shows the credits here in colour, though of course we only ever saw them in blurry black and white…

Although Hoagy Carmichael was dropped after the first series, I never forgot having first seen him on telly as the raddled-looking Jonesy. It was astonishing to later learn that he’d been a glamorous composer earlier in the century, responsible for hits like “Stardust”, “Two Sleepy People” and in particular the superb “Georgia On My Mind”.

Hoagy Carmichael

Starring Ty Hardin, Bronco was a US import to the BBC in the laste 50s/early 60s and had one of the more memorable theme songs of the era with its chorus about “tearing across the Texas plain”…

Unfortunately at that time the UK also had a brand of hard glossy lavatory paper with the same name. As a result, my chums and I used to think it was terribly funny to change the words of the chorus to: “Bronco… Bronco… Tearing down the dotted line”. My, how we laughed.

Bronco toilet paper – and the rival brand Izal usually found school lavatories – were f**king awful to wipe your arse with. Whoever dreamed up the idea of selling us non-absorbant toilet paper that was hard and shiny on one side – and fibrous and rough on the other- deserved to go out of business. Oh, hold on – they did.

Read more about it on the Science Museum Website.

Bronco toilet paper

Harry Worth’s shop window routine – from the opening credits of his TV series “Here’s Harry” – was justly famous and of course we all tried it for ourselves at the time. The uncredited theme music was Comedy Hour by Ivor Slaney. Until searching for him on YouTube this morning I’d forgotten how genuinely likeable he was. But this clip advertising a compilation DVD of his later work brought it all back…

Previous TV Themes Of The Week:
Top Cat
Dixon Of Dock Green
Steptoe & Son
That Was The Week That Was
Z Cars

Mulligan & O'Hare
My Rose Has Left Me by Mulligan & O’Hare

My Rose has left me, I’m in a mood,
She’s gone to Kenya with the bloke from Allied Carpets.
She wasn’t immunised – and that’s a legal requirement,
She’s increasingly slapdash since we bought that new hearthrug.
We couldn’t have children – but that didn’t stop us from trying,
We were turned down for adoption because of her bizarre appearance.
Oh, Rose how we loved you – but where are you now?
Alone with your salesman, you adulterous cow.

With grateful acknowledgement to mousehands.co.uk for audio.

Rose's gravestone

In black and white, just like we used to watch it in 1960 – the instantly memorable Top Cat credits. In the UK the name was already being used by a popular pet food brand, so inRadio Times (and a special still placed at the end of these credits) the BBC billed this series as “The Boss Cat” in order to avoid endorsing a commercial company. Perish the thought. ..

The Last Bus

March 13, 2012 Feeling My Age Comments

You’re feeling your age when pop stars, like policemen and doctors, start getting impossibly youthful… @StephenFry tweeted about how much he liked this band Patch William and it’s easy to see why. Here they are playing their lovely yearning song “The Last Bus” at the Glastonbury Festival.

Back in the days when TV was young – say around 1960 – the good news was that on Saturdays the BBC started broadcasting earlier – around lunchtime.

And the bad news ? The programme they transmitted was the interminable, incomprehensible Grandstand. At age 10 I knew nothing and cared less about sport.  An afternoon of horse racing in blurry black and white folllowed by endless match results and league tables was paralysingly dull.

And yet – since it was thge only thing on – I used to watch it: as the old song says, there was fuck-all else to do. The theme music brings all this grisly tedium back in an instant.

It’s called “News Scoop”, was composed by Len Stevens and used by the BBC from the show’s launch in 1958 until the early seventies.


Our First TV

March 10, 2012 Feeling My Age Comments

Bush TV 24 monochrome television set with 12" screen

From Dad’s diary, 31 January 1960
We now have our first television set. It cost the tremendous sum of £5 and is a second-hand Bush with a twelve inch screen. Our neighbour Mr Clitheroe, who has a radio shop, supplied it and I expect the aerial to cost as much as the set.

The thing works very well, apart from a high pitched whistle which I’m told not everyone hears – being above their audible frequencies – and which is inherent in all television sets. This last assertion of Mr Clitheroe’s I rather doubt.

Second hand sets are so cheap because in our Never-Had-It-So-Good society the latest and biggest television set is a status symbol. Also, our set does not receive the commercial programmes – and was rejected by its’ last owner on that account…

The model Dad bought was a TV24, introduced by Bush in 1953 before ITV had even been dreamed of. So it only had the one (BBC) channel  in blurry low-res black and white – to see what was “on telly” you just turned it on and waited for it to warm up.

During the day they broadcast the test card (above) to help installation engineers adjust aerials and picture settings. Actual programmes only started in the afternoons – while at the end of the evening everything stopped and the screen just went dead with a whistle to remind you to turn off the set.

This photo is by Mike Bennett and comes, with grateful acknowledgement, from his TV museum website at oldtechnology.net

The BBC television series Dixon Of Dock Green was adapted from an  low-budget 1949 UK crime film called The Blue Lamp. The TV series was written  by Ted Willis and ran from 1955 to 1976. Like the original film, it starred Jack Warner in the role of George Dixon.

As Susan Sydney-Smith writes on ScreenOnline: “Warner portrayed Dixon as the archetypal British bobby, tackling ordinary, everyday, rather than serious crime. He patrolled a world in which victims of petty theft and larceny were treated to a nice cup of tea and a ‘talk’; viewers were addressed at the beginning of each episode with his best remembered phrase, ‘Evenin’ all’, and wished farewell in homilies to camera concerning the episode just gone.”

“The fact that Warner was near retirement age in 1955 added to the sense that this series was about nostalgia rather than real life. For the next 21 years, despite the arrival of (more realistic police dramas such as)  Z Cars in 1962, Dixon of Dock Green attracted audiences of over 14 million in its heyday. By the time Warner finally retired in 1976, he was over 80 years old… At his funeral in 1981 officers from paddington Green Police Station carried his coffin.”

The earliest episodes of the series apparently had a whistled version of “Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner” but it was quickly replaced by its own iconic tune composed by Jeff Darnell and performed by the Canadian harmonica star Tommy Reilly.

Given the show’s popularity at the time, this theme music was surprisingly hard to find online. There’s a God-awful ‘modernised’ version on YouTube dating from 1970s episodes of the programme.  Worse still, Warner murdered the tune with a later cash-in single called “An Ordinary Copper” – which featured George Warner’s own toe-curling homespun lyrics.

But here’s a downloadable version of the original short TV version of  the theme used in the show’s heyday:

Previous TV Themes Of The Week:
Steptoe & Son
That Was The Week That Was
Z Cars

From 1962 to 1963 That Was The Week That Was became compulsive, in fact almost compulsory, Saturday night viewing in our house. The piss being ripped out of Establishment figures on live television was a spectacle that delighted Dad in his radical forties as much as me in my early teens.  Bernard Levin, Roy Kinnear, Millicent Martin, Lance Percival, William Rushton, Al Mancini, Timothy Birdsall and of course David Frost were people we almost felt we knew personally.

TW3 was the very pinnacle of the UK satire boom. To have seen Beyond The Fringe you would have had to go to the Edinburgh Festival or a London theatre. Even to read Private Eye, I had to hand over my pocket money once a fortnight in Harts – the only newsagent in town not supplied by the WH Smith chain, which had banned it.

By contrast That Was The Week That Was was beamed into living rooms across the UK every Saturday by the BBC’s main, indeed only, TV channel. Nowadays mocking government ministers on TV is merely banal: in 1962 it was quite literally without precedent. Watching these opening credits with their Pop Art graphics and shots of the working studio still brings back my first thrill of amazement that producer Ned Sherrin and his team could actually have got away with this stuff on the BBC.

They didn’t for long, either. With 1964 being an election year, Auntie got cold feet and pulled the plugs.

David Frost accepted an OBE in 1970 and a knighthood in 1993. it’s good to look back and see how genuinely daring and disrepectful he was to the power elite of the day.


Three Legged Man

February 8, 2012 Feeling My Age Comments

Rolf Harris performing his hilarious Jake The Peg routine in 1969.

Over the years Rolf’s got slicker – and better at remembering the words: there’s a more recent version here where he’s got the funny business off to a T.

But he’s also still doing the inexplicable and faintly disturbing cod-Yiddish accent. What’s that all about, eh?

Rupert Davies as Maigret
Rupert Davies as Maigret. BBC publicity shot – from Wikipedia

Our family were late adopters of TV – Dad held out against what he called “the gogglebox” until about 1960. Even then we were a single-channel BBC-only household. He was too frugal – and too highbrow –  to lash out the extra cash for an ITV aerial and tuner.

He only really took to telly with the advent of Maigret that year. It was well written, well acted and above all French in origin – and this more culturally elevating than, say, Steptoe & Son or Z Cars. The series ran for 52 episodes and ended in 1963.

But in fact Dad became an avid fan of Georges Simenon’s “policier” novels, and in his early 80s he was still enjoying them in the original French as his beside reading.

There were plenty of books to get through, too. Simenon was not only phenomenally odd – according to a fascinating appraisal of his life and work by Mark Lawson – but also phenomenally prolific. The 78 full length Maigret novels and 28 short stories were just a fraction of his output.

The great nostlgic power of old TV themes is that once the series ended they were lost forever – if you weren’t alive in the UK between 1960 and 1963 it’s likely this music will mean nothing to you. But it takes me straight back to my late pre-teens in rural Essex.

It was written by Ron Grainer and recorded with Hungarian musicans. Listening to it again for the first time in nearly 50 years I especially love the sharp splanky balalaika thing answering the accordion.


February 1, 2012 Feeling My Age Comments

Milk On The Doorstep

Collecting our four pints from the doorstep the other morning brought to mind a scratchy 1930s recording called Milkman Blues which I haven’t heard for well over 40 years. According to the All Music Guide it seems to have been written by one Cow Cow Davenport.

I ain’t no iceman, I ain’t no iceman’s son
But I can keep you cool baby until that iceman comes

I ain’t no woodchopper, I ain’t not woodchopper’s son,
But I can chop your kindlin baby until that woodchopper comes

Baby, I ain’t no stoveman, I ain’ no stoveman’s son,
But I can keep you heated up, baby util that stoveman comes

Baby, I ain’t no butcher, and I ain’t no butcher’s son,
But I can give you plenty-a meat, baby until that butcher comes

I ain’t no milkman, I ain’t no milkman’s son,
But I can bring you plenty-a cream, baby until that milkman comes

Robin Askwith promo photo for Bottle Boys