And welcome to your regular weekly Creamguide, which this week has a bit of a newsy theme. We’ve got all your lovely letters too, which you send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
10.30 The Big Match Revisited
Michael Sykes writes about last week’s edition, “Peter Shilton caught unawares by a quick Graham Rix free kick, possibly still groggy from his ‘car accident’ as alluded to by Brian. Unless I’m very much mistaken, the game must have taken place days after Peter was allegedly caught ‘in flagrante’ in a car by a cuckolded hubby, and then crashed into a tree whilst trying to flee the scene. Not sure any of the fans’ chants (‘Shilton Shilton, where’s your wife?’) showed up on the soundtrack. Wish the edit hadn’t kept in the spoiler about the Alan Minter fight though. I’d recorded it and I’ve not got round to watching it yet...”. Yes, the BOXING FLASH was such big news it couldn’t even wait until the match edit had finished, while we also got the excitement of Big Match Classified with its snazzy title sequence featuring all the London clubs (which would have gone down well on HTV and Southern, and indeed in Watford), although in the edit it didn’t seem to be much different to the other news round-up. This week we can catch up on how they’re getting on with that Sainsburys next to Selhurst Park, where Ron Atkinson, always up for a gimmick, joins in the commentary from the dug-out.
BBC Radio 2
13.00 Pick of the Pops
As we suspected, 1966 was a mix of dross and delight with swinging hits and snoozesome ballads, though it was probably more fun than 1986 given Gambo skipped both Holiday Rap and Brother Louie in favour of The Lady In Red plummeting down the chart. 1983 first up this week, followed by 1997 which brings us a record-breaking chart with the biggest ever gap in sales between number one and number two, you can probably work out why, plus Robbie Williams on the cusp of the dumper.
Talking Pictures TV
12.00 The Footage Detectives
12.30 The Hidden Truth
More from Mike and Noel’s curious cubby hole here, where in between Mike’s rather rambling monologues we’re promised some interesting footage of both the West End of London and a Kent village in the fifties. Then it’s seemingly the only existing episode of what seems to be a sixties Silent Witness-esque forensics drama made by Rediffusion in 1964, and happily it’s one with Terence Alexander in it.
21.00 Secret Army
As John Bowman wrote in to remind us, after we discussed Allo Allo a few weeks ago, we’re now getting a repeat run of the drama that famously inspired it, and indeed rather wonderfully has quite a bit of cast crossover. Would be sad if that’s all it’s remembered for, mind, as it was a giant show in its day, a hugely popular programme that ran for three series with the last run on Saturday nights in 1979 getting bumper ratings of up to 22 million during the ITV strike. It’s also been cited as one of the most realistic and thoughtful portrayals of World War II on TV, and its final episode was sufficiently controversial to never be shown for mysterious reasons. We’re assuming we won’t get that one here but we have over forty others to get through first.
New host, new era, but still some familiar aspects on this show, not least some of the specialist subjects that turn up with surprising regularity. But we’re always happy with a round on The Simpsons (albeit we can’t remember much from the last twenty years of it), while we’re sure Rodgers and Hammerstein have been in the spotlight before as well.
21.00 Fever Pitch: The Rise of the Premier League
Last part of this series, which may have glossed over some inconvenient facts in favour of a more compelling narrative but it’s been an entertaining enough jaunt through nineties football, with amusing cameos from the likes of Ralph Dellor and Paul Dempsey. Obviously Man U have dominated proceedings but as we enter the late nineties we have the arrival of Arsene Wenger and the first consistent threat to their domination at the top of the table, along with umpteen foreign imports.
After the sport last week, this week we head to the front pages and surely one of the most debated, most scrutinised and often most controversial programmes of all, which for many years was constantly revamped to find a winning formula. It’s...
THE NINE O’CLOCK NEWS (1970-2000)
Although there had been simulcasts of radio bulletins and the Television Newsreel – which didn’t really feature any news at all – the first time there’d been a proper television news bulletin on the BBC was on 5th July 1954, and it was a disaster, first presenter Richard Baker later saying “It got an appalling press, absolutely catastrophic and the public thought it was terrible”, although Baker himself was spared some of the embarrassment as he wasn’t in vision at any point. Because of nerves over the broadcasters showing any kind of personality to detract attention from the news, plus the idea that the Beeb should speak with only one voice, these early bulletins were simply radio news with pictures rather than anything specially made for the medium, and so were generally dull and uninspiring. The arrival of ITN in 1955, with its go-getting, disrespectful reporters and sense of adventure, made it look even worse, and so over the next decade, thanks to both editorial and technical leaps, BBC News sharpened itself up a bit. But they were on the back foot again in 1967 when ITN launched News at Ten, a flagship, extended bulletin at a regular and memorable time each night, while the Beeb’s main news was only fifteen minutes and was booted around the schedules, mostly at the unmemorable time of 8.50. So in September 1970 the news was extended, bolted to nine o’clock and rebranded as, yes, the Nine O’Clock News.
The first presenters of the newly renamed bulletin were Robert Dougall, Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendall, all veterans of the earliest days of TV news, who would each present it for a week at a time. Dougall wasn’t very impressed with the early days, though, finding the set cramped and unpleasant with its “wall of lavatorial-looking carpet tiles” and refusing to wear a badge with the logo on it. The first revamp came in 1972 when, suitably inspired by News at Ten, there were now two newsreaders instead of one, with Toblerones on the desk with their names on. The Beeb also embraced the new opportunities of CSO technology to place them in front of the excitement and buzz of a live newsroom. Unfortunately the limited camera angles and primitive technology meant bizarre shots where the newsreaders seemed to disappear in thin air, and viewers found the backstage activity distracting, so most of the programme was presented in front of distinctly unimpressive backdrops of blinds and empty desks.
This fiddling came to an end in 1976 when editor Alan Protheroe took the whole thing back to basics, getting rid of the fussy CSO backdrops and reverting to a single presenter, on their own in front of a bland woodchip backdrop. The number of items in the bulletin were also chopped down as well to give more time to each one, though Protheroe wasn’t averse to a bit of gimmickry, and said he wanted each programme to have “The Ethel Factor” – that being, the idea that a viewer watching at home would see something that would cause him to shout to his wife “Hey Ethel, come and look at this”. One thing that certainly had The Ethel Factor was the arrival of – gasp! – a woman as a newsreader. Angela Rippon wasn’t the first person to read the news on TV, but was the first to last for more than about two seconds and appear in such a prominent position, and became one of the most famous people on TV.
Angela’s arrival aside, BBC News was still forever in the shadow of ITN. Indeed, the Annan report on the future of broadcasting in the late seventies pointed out that by all measures ITN seemed to have the edge on the Beeb, being more incisive, more authoritative and indeed much more popular. One thing that always helped ITN’s reputation was that rather than newsreaders, they had newscasters, who they would deliberately switch between presenting and reporting to illustrate they were all trained journalists who had made a genuine contribution to gathering and interpreting the news, in contrast to most of the presenters on the Beeb who would simply read someone else’s script (albeit impeccably, of course). So in 1981 some of the more familiar faces like Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendall were confined to teatime and weekends, while nine o’clock was now home to two distinguished BBC correspondents in John Humphrys and John Simpson.
Unfortunately, while John Humphrys managed to move seamlessly from reporting to newsreading, John Simpson really hated it and never took to it, so after a few months he went back to reporting, and a revolving door of other presenters held the fort for the next few years. And despite the much-publicised changes, it still seemed to be some distance behind News at Ten, not least with its tiny and fairly ugly set, while whenever they tried to do something a bit more populist like the And Finally on News at Ten, it came across as a bit tacky and half-hearted.
One piece of news coverage that absolutely did cut through during this period, though, was Michael Buerk’s report from Ethiopia, journalism that can genuinely be said to have changed the world and leading to Band Aid, Live Aid and much else, thanks to Bob Geldof happening to be watching that night.
The mid-eighties were pretty dark days for the Beeb with embattled Director General Alasdair Milne seemingly constantly at war with not just the government but seemingly his own Board of Governors, and endless controversies like Maggie’s Militant Tendency, Real Lives and the battles with Norman Tebbit over its coverage of Libya. Hence the Nine O’Clock News was under greater scrutiny than ever before. Another new look followed in 1985, which in line with current trends saw it return to double-headed presentation, while there was a strident new opening sequence which inevitably became known as the flying fish fingers. Still looks pretty snazzy, though we’re not sure it does much to dispel complaints of the Beeb being London-centric.
Then in 1988 along came John Birt as Deputy Director-General, with a brief to sharpen up and sort out BBC News once and for all. Birt was renowned as a blue-sky thinker, not least for a memorable series of articles in The Times a decade earlier which served as a manifesto for the future of television news, rallying against “a bias against understanding” and how it needed “a mission to explain”. Now Birt had a whole corporation to put those ideas into practice, and that meant more analysis and an army of specialist correspondents, plus another revamped Nine O’Clock News. The biggest change as far as the audience was concerned, though, was the pompous new opening titles and newsroom set which was, inevitably, criticised for being distracting.
But if that revamp was forbidding, worse was to come in 1993, when Birtism was at its height. This saw the introduction of a huge virtual set, with an overblown rearrangement of the theme tune, which made the whole thing look even more remote and forbidding, while Michael Buerk and, from 1994, Peter Sissons shouted the news from behind this giant desk as if it were carved on tablets of stone. Yes, it was certainly authoritative and impressive, a world away from the woodchip backdrops of the seventies and eighties, but it was unbelievably boring and self-important – and The Day Today was not too outrageous a parody.
This carried on for the rest of the nineties, but then news came that the Beeb were looking at a revamp, with much scoffing when it was suggested it was going to be “warmer” and “more relevant to people’s lives”. But given how relentless the current incarnation was, there was certainly something to be said for a little bit of levity, and when we got the new look in 1999, it was a bit more welcoming with a less pompous and pretty radical new theme, while a real set replaced the ludicrous virtual affair. But the biggest news came from the other side, where for all its reputation, ITV were starting to find News at Ten a bit of a pain in the arse in the schedule and in 1999 moved it to eleven. The Beeb started eyeing up ten o’clock for their main news, partly because, with votes in Parliament and the next day’s front pages, it was considered a better time for news, and also partly because it meant shows no longer had to start at 9.30 halfway through a programme on ITV. In John Birt’s BBC that kind of move would have required months of focus groups and policy papers, but when Greg Dyke arrived he announced it would happen in 2001, and then when ITV said News at Ten was coming back, he said it would happen in three weeks. The Head of News had already suggested they make a version of the titles with a ten in it, and the Nine O’Clock News came to an end on 13th October 2000.
And perhaps remarkably the news has now been at ten for over twenty years now, and it was at nine for only thirty years. Seems odd to imagine it not being at ten now, because it’s become so established at that hour, even appropriating the News at Ten title. After struggling to find a winning formula for so long, BBC News seems to have finally managed to combine the warmth that ITN did so well with the Beeb’s credibility, and it’s the nation’s most popular news service by miles. Without any lavatorial-looking carpet tiles in sight.
21.30 Spice Girls: How Girl Power Changed Britain
As someone pointed out on Twitter, a surprising cameo in this programme last week from BBC Director-General Tim Davie, introducing them on stage as part of his former life promoting Pepsi. Given how exciting it was when they burst onto the scene, it was a bit of a shame the Spice Girls rather petered out, and when Geri left there was one more number one, then a long break before a return in 2000 when they released the rather dull Holler which entered at number one but fell out of the chart almost immediately and then that was it. After that were five solo careers of varying degrees of success – Emma and Mel C did alright, Geri did initially but ran out of ideas and Mel B and Victoria didn’t do much – and then numerous comebacks in various combinations, and an interesting legacy that will be examined here.
21.00 28 Up: Millennium Generation
Back in 2000 the Beeb – who had shown the most recent instalment of the original series before ITV claimed it back – decided to start another 7 Up with a new bunch of seven year olds, rather more diverse than the original lot, with former Record Breakers presenter turned acclaimed film maker Julian Farino in the directors’ chair. Sadly it launched at pretty much the exact same time as Child Of Our Time which, although it’s a different concept, seemed a bit too similar, and certainly it’s never caught the public’s imagination in the same way the original did, and it’s always a bit of a surprise when it turns up. But they’ve still caught up with them every seven years, and due to a clerical error it turns out that 2000 was absolutely ages ago and now they’re all 28. On previous occasions they’ve all seemed to be really likeable and well-adjusted individuals, which perhaps hasn’t helped to make it the most compelling series, but it’ll be fascinating to see them all again, and all the previous instalments are on iPlayer as well if you want to catch up.
BBC Radio 4
11.30 What’s Funny About...
Given it was supposed to be an annual event, they’re taking a bloody long time announcing the second Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture. There is still a place on the Beeb for some serious chat about comedy, as Jon Plowman and Peter Fincham, who between them have a pretty stellar comic CV, return with the series examining the genesis of some of the longest running and most influential shows of recent years. This week it’s Have I Got News For You, the subject of a TV doc last Christmas which was pretty entertaining and quite generous to Angus we thought. Ian Hislop and Jimmy Mulville are on hand to discuss its development, or lack of it, over the years and if they can only scratch the service there’s a full hour of their conversation on Radio 4 Extra tomorrow night.
17.00 Blue Peter
Back in the postbag, Eddie Hutchinson writes, “Just loved the way one of those World Of Sport clips showed Brian Moore and Dickie Davies not just in the same matching shirt and tie colour combo, but also in the same livery (and probably material) as the typing paper used by Dickie's, erm, gentle secs.” Meanwhile, our visually impaired correspondent Damon Rose writes, “Back a few weeks ago you seemed to suggest that Countdown’s studio shifted around, am I right? Just checking, last I recall, the letters and numbers happened over on the right hand side of the studio/screen. And the Conundrum I think, happened over on the left? Please don’t tell me it switched cos that means I’ve been imagining it all wrong for about thirty years! I’m just getting over the fact that apparently ambulances are yellow now. When did they stop being white? No one said!”
21.00 Comedy Legends
We seem to be sticking firmly on the other side of the Atlantic in this series at the moment, with another Saturday Night Live alumnus in Tina Fey. We know her best for 30 Rock, which arrived here at the same time as the grand folly that was Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and made that show look even more ridiculously self-important. We always enjoyed it, and there were two added jokes for British viewers as the show-within-a-show was called The Girlie Show, sadly without Wanker of the Week, and later in the run there was a character called Danny Baker.
20.00 Top of the Pops
Amused last week that the Metallica and Amy Grant videos both used the same flickery effect, we wonder if they had the same director. This back-to-basics format has produced some pretty good shows in recent weeks we think, but make the most of it as we’re now in the final month of this era, and it’s also the end of Kylie’s imperial phase as well with her first single to miss the top ten. The other bad news for a sizeable part of social media is that it’s the final appearance of everyone’s dream cool babysitter Jakki Brambles. Incidentally you’ll note that this episode was originally on a Friday, but you’ll be racking your brains for a while to work out why, unless you look at Genome of course – Hospital Watch, every night that week at seven!
20.30 Top of the Pops
And if Jax’s departure was sad enough, this one is the last for the Reverend Mayo (though, like Bruno and Goodiebags, he’ll be back in a few years). One of his predecessors on the breakfast show makes a contribution to this episode as well, because after trying very, very hard for a very, very long time, Mike Read has finally had a hit single by co-writing the theme tune to flop Howard’s Way follow-up Trainer, as performed here by his old mate Cliff.
23.30 The Old Grey Whistle Test
Meanwhile, with Pops just about to go a bit rubbish, there’s a bit of interest later in the evening as BBC4 have started what appears to be a season of Whistle Test repeats. It’s not quite the same, mind, so don’t expect the regular weekly episodes with Bob whispering his way through interviews and tour dates in between sessions and repurposed stock footage, as they’re only alighting on the non-topical special shows devoted to concerts and documentaries. Some of them have been anthologised quite a bit but this one starring Billy Joel in concert at the TV Theatre doesn’t appear to have been shown in full since 1978.
And that's that...
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