30 December, 2007

Absent friends

It's hard to recall a year like this, where so many stars of a particular generation passed away. Fate and misfortune robbed the world of a battery of celebrities who for many will always and only be associated with growing up. They were ubiquitous faces on the TV and voices on the radio during childhood and all the way through teenagehood. Folk that shaped, overtly and indirectly, your formative years. Bits of your own past, now gone forever.

Over there's Mike Reid, leaning on shabby punchlines and propping up an equally grotty bar. Next to him is George Melly, his hat at a suitably rakish angle, spouting surrealist nonsense and hollering jazz. Holding forth with similar volume at a nearby table is Nigel Dempster, enthusiastically sharing a bit of gossip with Alan Coren. In an adjacent alcove sits Ned Sherrin, ruefully dispensing anecdotage of five decades' vintage. Listening in is David Hatch, judiciously nodding in agreement and adding his own one-liners with aplomb. Magnus Magnusson interjects from time to time to correct the speakers' grammar. Somewhere in the background, Ronnie Hazelhurst coaxes jewel-encrusted tunes from an upright piano.

Through the swing door and in the snug rests Ian Richardson, cooking up conspiracies and bringing down governments between sips of dry sherry. Gareth Hunt eavesdrops with awe. Lois Maxwell hangs on every word. Tony Wilson and Kevin Greening man the jukebox. Verity Lambert settles the bill. And by the window, in the fading light, Ingmar Bergman captures it all through a glass darkly.

28 December, 2007

Talking heads '77

The latest annual batch of secret papers declassified under the 30-Year Rule* makes, as ever, for great reading.

They always do, by virtue of being 30 years old in the first place, and for originally being considered so desperately important as to be hushed up for so long. But given we're now deep into Cream territory, the revelations have that much more potency than those being released, say, 10 years ago, when all the talk was of mid-60s George Brown and gigatrons.

For one thing, this year's dose, from 1977, reek of particular kinds of crises you just don't get anymore; crises that threatened the way people went about their lives day to day, not abstract crises involving sub-prime mortgages and bluetongue disease.

Windscale, Grunwick, the Lib-Lab pact, sterling, prices (of course)... yup, Britain in the late 70s was a far more hands-on, gritty, grubby place, where the stuff they talked about in Parliament actually affected the cost of a loaf of bread or whether you'd be able to afford to fill the car with petrol before pay day.

Tony Benn pops up a few times, almost getting sacked, flogging reactors to the Middle East and refusing to switch on the spotlights outside London's public buildings during the Jubilee because it wasted energy.

Again, you don't get these kinds of folk anymore: career politicos, if you like, who don't hold especially high ranking jobs but are in the Government and who become national talking points. Peter Shore, Merlyn Rees, Eric Varley, Albert Booth, Fred Mulley: all ministers, and all - you'd think - figures likely to provoke an instant reaction among the population at the time. Fast forward today and, well, the rest of this sentence writes itself.

Special mention for the obligatory would-you-credit-it story, this year involving Thatcher getting stuck in the loo. Still, at least for once she couldn't go around blaming the cistern ((C) Janet Brown).

*Something that still sounds like a relic from a rejected Yes, Minister storyline.

24 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 24

And a very merry Christmas to all of you at home...

23 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 23

This month's Word magazine contains ostensibly definitive inventories of both the best and worst Christmas songs of all time. But as usual Fairytale Of New York is in the wrong list.

Why this wretched dirge of a tune - "two drunks shouting", in the words of Neil Tennant - repeatedly fails to not be nominated as one of greatest festive anthems ever is a mystery. You can't hear the words. Both vocalists compete in a grisly battle to outdo each other in terms of ear-shredding histrionics. It was covered by Ronan Keating. And it goes on for about half an hour.

Where Word has got it right, though, is placing War Is Over* by Johnandyokonolennon in the 'bad' list. Nobody wants to be lectured at over a mince pie**.

*(No It Isn't)
**Macca's sublime Wonderful Christmastime, however, doesn't make it into either chart, despite being effortlessly hummable, deceptively simple, and not having any choirs of kids or the missus wailing in the background.

22 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 22

This is more like it: the official BBC group publicity shot for Christmas 1991, with everyone's favourite Santa - Clive James - surrounded by a none-more-early-90s ensemble of Bill Owen, Alan Cumming, Ernie Wise, Mike Smith, Lenny Henry, Mike Reid, Kirsten Cooke, Carmen Silvera and Danniella Westbrook. "Please Santa, all I want for Christmas is...another joke about Yasmin Arafat."

21 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 21

A solitary question today. Where - precisely - does snow have to fall for it to be officially classed as a white Christmas in the United Kingdom?

20 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 20

It's more than high time for an appearance from Sir Bob Monkhouse:

December 1995
"What a peculiar year it's been. Tory Party Chairman Brian Mawhinney had paint lobbed over him by protestors and was overcome with emulsion. During a flight to Saudi Arabia, BA managed to lose a coffin - it's bad enough waiting at the carousel when your suitcase doesn't come round. Liz Hurley announced her plans to star in an 007 James Bond spoof and there was a part for Hugh Grant, a sort of cross between Blofeld and Oddjob. That's right, he's called Oddfeld. And J. Howard Marshall died at the age of ninety. He was the multi-billionaire who was, for the last eighteen months of his life, married to the amply curved Anna Nicole Smith. The only man to die and leave heaven."

19 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 19

It's guess the ident time (you knew it was coming). Can you match the logo with the correct Christmas? The years to choose from are:

1) 1979
2) 1982
3) 1994
4) 1996





18 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 18

Someone's in for a surprise at the Thames Television Christmas lunch.

17 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 17

Just one question today:

Who, in the history of television, has starred in the most number of Christmas specials?

16 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 16

And you thought John Tusa talking about drug addicts was depressing. Here's the worst Christmas Day line-up of programmes mustered by BBC2, or indeed any channel, ever. Take your pick from some "spectacular photography" of Hawaii, a "subtitled version" of the Queen's speech, an Italian film, or five hours of the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert.

"It's good to have your company today," avows the continuity announcer, bravely.

15 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 15

Here's the front cover of the best Christmas single ever released. Three points, as Simon Mayo used to say, to anybody who can identify it.

14 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 14

It's Christmas on BBC2. Cary Grant is "not going back to Yale." "Not geing beck?" replies his posh compadre. It's the first in a season of his greatest hits.

And then...it's Newsnight's December! Not Newsnight. No. Newsnight's December. With John Tusa, apparently sitting in a comfy chair his own home, sporting a stripey blazer. "Welcome to another of our monthly programmes," he intones pompously, featuring some of Newsnight's "more notable films...or that you may have missed."

But wait. He has some particularly cheery Christmas fare for us. "One of the most worrying social problems of all: drug addiction." Humbug!

13 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 13

Pretty much everything from the 1950s isn't worth remembering, which is why TV Cream has little to do with it. The same goes for 1950s Christmas number ones which, rather spectacularly, nobody seems to remember at all. Ever.

Indeed, discussion of seminal festive chart-toppers tends to begin in 1973 with Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody, wisely omitting the number one of 12 months previously (Long Haired Lover From Liverpool) but cruelly overlooking that of 1971 (Ernie The Fastest Milkman In The West), 1970 (I Hear You Knocking) and, yes, Two Little Boys in 1969.

The Beatles had four Xmas number ones which nobody has beaten - hooray - and all of them are, quite rightly, superb.

However when you spool all the way back to that grisly decade that seemed to consist entirely of woman opening brand new refrigerators, old men with handkerchiefs on their head on Blackpool pier, hotel signs reading NO COLOUREDS and jivers standing by hissing coffee machines, there's not even a Rolf or a Benny for solace.

1956 has to hold the record for the most out-and-out miserable Christmas number one: Walking In The Rain by Johnny Ray. A decent enough song, sure, but not really in keeping with the season.

Harry Belafonte's Mary's Boy Child (1957) and Dickie Valentine's Christmas Alphabet (1955) are, respectively, just a touch too sacred and slapdash ("and 'A' is for the angels who make up the Christmas list" - since when?).

It's Only Make Believe by Conway Twitty (1958) is a dirge while What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For? by Emile Ford and the Checkmates (1959) sounds like it's being sung into a giant plughole.

That just leaves tonsil-troubling crooners Frankie Laine (Answer Me in 1953) and Al Martino (Here In My Heart in 1952), plus ivory-tickling Winifred Atwell with Let's Have Another Party in 1954. This five minute and 19 second marathon party medley comprised plinky out-of-tune* piano renditions of (deep breath):

Another Little Drink
Broken Doll
Bye Bye Blackbird
Honeysuckle And The Bee
I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight
Lily Of Laguna
Nellie Dean
Sheik Of Araby
Somebody Stole My Gal
When The Red Red Robin

...but not a Christmas carol to be seen! For shame! At least the robin got a look in.

Roll on Sir Cliff...

*Why did all 1950s pianos sound like this? Were professional tuners on the ration book, like eggs and preserves?

12 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 12

Ah yes, the Christmas Day comedy special. A chance to wash down the excesses of the day with a dose of light humour and polished laughs. A chance to sit back and relax in the company of shows like...

Get Some In! (1975)
Gags about ration cards, veal and "darkies"? Shhhh, most people will be too pissed to notice.

Two's Company (1976)
Elaine Stritch and Donald Sinden bicker over the bon-bons.

Are You Being Served? (1977)
"Mrs Slocombe, Captain Peacock would like to know if you need someone to give your turkey a stuffing."

George And Mildred (1979)
The last ever episode, called 'The 26 Year Itch'. Spoiler: after four years and five series it was to be left unscratched.

Father's Day (1983)
Channel 4's first and, for a while, only homegrown sitcom, done so cheaply that lead John Alderton had to wear his own clothes.

Hi-De-Hi (1985)
Hmm. Hard to see how this would have leant itself to a Christmas special. The gang stage an out-of-season revue to raise money to buy Mr Partridge a new pair of spectacles? A charity pantomime ends in tears when Spike refuses to play the fairy godmother?

Dear John (1987)
More cheery fare. Though you'd surely take this over My Family any day.

Bread (1988)
Oh dear god. A bunch of people joylessly bickering round the dinner table, shouting insults and blubbing and storming off and coming back and joylessly bickering some more. Cue titles. Cue 69 (count 'em!) more minutes of bickering.

11 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 11

A trio of music-related riddles are clearing their throat behind today's door.

1) Which Christmas number one did journalist David Quantick describe as "the sound of the gods making love"?

2) Who were the only people to appear on both the 1984 and 1989 versions of 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'?

3) Who puzzled over the eternal theological conundrum "black, white, yellow - no-one knows", in front of what distinctive brand of BBC proppery?

10 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 10

Why aren't there TV bosses like this anymore?

09 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 9

Here's Michael Palin, recalling his experiences at the BBC Light Entertainment Christmas Party:

Sunday 19th December, 1976
"Everything in full swing when we arrived, but as I hadn't been since the 1973 party, we went in the wrong entrance and found ourselves in a small ante-room, empty save for Jimmy Savile crouched over a large plate of food. A cheery exchange and we walk through to find a throng of people we once saw so much. Tim Brooke-Taylor and I commiserate over our eternal branding together in John's mind as 'nice' people."

Sunday 18th December, 1977
"The usual lot. Val Doonican and Eric Sykes seem to be still fans - Doonican is especially enthusiastic and towards the end of the evening even Eric Morecambe grasps my hand warmly. 'Great fan,' he says. 'Great fan.' Talk to Richard Beckinsale and Judy Loe, who, with me, Ian Davidson and the Goodies, seem to represent the 'younger generation' in a sea of old and well-established faces."

08 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 8

Where are the quizzes? Right here!

TV Christmas specials is today's theme:

a) What was different about the kind of format Coronation Street adopted to mark Christmas 1975, and then also at Christmas 1987?

b) In the Christmas episode of Yes Minister, what was the central issue of the campaign Jim Hacker used as his bid for Prime Minister?

c) Which never-popular yet endlessly-repeated sitcom mustered a Christmas episode boasting a cameo from David Jacobs?

07 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 7

The new edition of Radio Times features, on its cover, the promise that no fewer than six stars have been assembled to "recall Parky's finest hours". Understandably this made for a very slim feature, hence the number of photos shoehorned into the text. Sadly absent, however, is the hitherto undiscovered snapshot reproduced below, of the man playing the part of a miserable old grouch who hates everything new and can't abide being told what to do by anybody under the age of 75 - a role, for the Thames Ditton community centre pantomime production of A Christmas Carol, he took to unsurprisingly easily.

06 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 6

Another promotional launch, this time from 1973. Benny Hill, Black Beauty, Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Danny La Rue, Jack Smethurst and Hughie Green (and a traffic warden). No need to guess which channel.

05 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 5

Half a dozen unlikely festive telly treats from Christmas Days of old.

60 minutes of variety from Miss Fields's place, in reality a Yorkshire Television studio converted into a mock-18th century mansion with the likes of Harry Secombe, Arthur Askey, Lionel Blair and The Mike Sammes Singers "happening" to stop by in a House Party-esque fashion. At least Brucie was on hand, playing the role of "butler".

"Avast ye - do I spy an obligatory pair of elasticated socks?" Whatever this was, it was assuredly the best bit of the gargantuan 105-minute long All Star Comedy Carnival, hosted by Jimmy Tarbuck.

30 minutes of comedy and music with Lennie P and Dianne L, together, according to Radio Times, "for the first time". But they'd had a number one 18 months earlier!

"David Hunter extends an invitation which may prove very embarrassing."

A film so dull that its entire cast list read: "Robinson Crusoe; Friday; A Tiger".

"The film follows Tom's year, from sheep-shearing to lambing...". Nifty counter-scheduling from the Beeb to coincide with the nation's post-Christmas dinner snooze.

04 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 4

Kenneth Williams is waiting behind today's door, ready to share his memories of Christmas 27 years ago...

Tuesday 23rd December 1980
"Saw Louie and we watched the Les Dawson Show. The format is wrong but he continually triumphs. There are endless repetitions of the same joke on TV this year. Son to father (apropos Christmas present) 'I've got my eye on this bike' and the father replies 'Well keep your eye on it cos you ain't getting your arse on it.' Then there is 'Why do they have to have Christmas in December when all the shops are so crowded?' The only thing that did make me laugh was when the Ghost of Christmas asked Dawson 'What about the Cratchits?' and he replied 'They're fine - I think that ointment's done the trick.'"

03 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 3

The quizzery has been axed. At least for today. Instead, lurking behind today's door are...the faces of BBC's 1981 Christmas season! In search of some figgy pudding (and they won't go until they've GOT SOME) are Isla St Clair, John Inman, June Whitfield, Kenny Everett, Dana and, er, Jan Leeming.

02 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 2

Well, judging by the number of responses so far, this advent calendar thing is clearly going to be a thunderously popular feature.

Anyway, here's a trio of festive teasers that, failing to prompt any answers, might at least divert somebody's attention for a few seconds.

a) What song did Peter Duncan perform in the 1986 Blue Peter special Christmas panto edition?

b) What was the name of the special EastEnders spin-off shown on Boxing Day in 1988, and when was it set?

c) From which incredibly exciting location did Keith Chegwin host part of BBC1's New Year's Eve festivities in 1983?

01 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 1

Hello and welcome to this convenient December blog-filling feature.

Every day a seasonal puzzler, photo or pontification will be awaiting your attention, the solution (if there is one) supplied, if and when anybody has a go, via the blog comments tool.

To kick off with, it's a riddle-me-ree that even Noel in his Telly Addicts pomp would surely have welcomed: a Christmas listings magazine covers quiz.

Can you identify the year, and the publication (either Radio Times or TV Times), for these six yuletide tableaux?

1) Jack Smethurst and Rudolph Walker as 'The Black And White Santas'.

2) Roger Moore pushing Janet Brown (in full Mrs T garb) through the snow in a skidoo.

3) Eric, Ern, Brucie and Lulu in a circus ring.

4) Bet Lynch dressed as Santa Claus handing Hilda Ogden a present.

5) A gaudy painting of Charles, Diana and baby decorating a Christmas tree.

6) Eric, Ern, Cilla and Rolf gathered around a table groaning with festive food and gifts.