22 January 2009

Number 73

Heeere's Ethel! Yes, I know she's Sandi Toksvig really!

Children's TV show Number 73, which had debuted in the TVS area in January 1982, was networked in 1983. I wasn't a child at the time, but what the heck. I loved it. When I visited the set for a Friday dress rehearsal in 1983, I was well chuffed!

The show mixed comic fiction - the ups and downs of Miss Ethel Davis, her lodgers, friends and neighbours - with the usual Saturday morning children's magazine fare - interesting features, pop guests, etc.

Ethel's lodgers included dim-but-nice Harry Stern (Nick Staverson) and the up front, good hearted Dawn Lodge (Andrea Arnold), who always seemed to be wearing roller skates!

My favourite No. 73 feature was the quiz.

All together now:

"It's the daring, dazzling, death defyingly dull, devastatingly dangerous, delectable, delicatestable, divinely decadent Sandwich Quiz!"

The Sandwich Quiz patter as recorded in a mid-1980s No. 73 book differed from mine - "delicatessenable" replaced "delicatestable" but I certainly always heard it as the latter, so if I'm wrong, please forgive me!

As with all live shows, there could be problems - and cast and production team had, on occasion, to think on their feet.

In one episode, the screen suddenly went black whilst Sade was performing one of her hits. The song continued to the end, black screen and all, then there was a commercial break. After the break, Ethel was seen sitting on the stairs, apologising because the electric had "gone out" and explaining she'd had to nip out for change for the meter!

Number 73 - 1985. Hey you get ready get on your feet, get into gear and hit the street...

In June 1985, wedding bells were all set to ring out for No. 73 landlady Ethel Davis. She was to marry her bank manager, Frederick Crossfield (Michael Maynard). On the morning of the wedding, No. 73 regular Neil (Neil Buchanan) was surprised to find that Ethel was playing tennis with Junior (Mama Used To Say) Giscombe, and not making any effort to prepare for the ceremony. In fact, she seemed eager to avoid the subject altogether...

Kim (Kim Goody) was another No 73 regular. On the morning of Ethel's Big Day, she came scurrying back from "The Blooming Bride" with the wedding and bridesmaids' dresses.

Something old (the groom), something new (the bride's shoes), something borrowed (the mortgage)... something blue?

Of course, the bathmat was absolutely ideal but, as the morning progressed, Ethel developed a nagging doubt that it was too big. So Kim came up with some blue cheese for her to wear instead. Ethel was quick to reject it - that would have been absurd.

The wedding guests were arriving - including Five Star (Bucks Fizz had brought their latest video to show Harry and, "interestingly", the Red Skins were providing the cellar sounds with some highly "interesting" lyrics about Margaret Thatcher thrown in).

Jimmy Nail - fresh from Auf Wiedersehen Pet added to Ethel's growing ranks of wedding presents...

Well, you can't have too many of these...

... and, adding to the thrill of it all, Paul (Love and Pride) King turned up with his band. Sadly, it was all for nothing. Neither Ethel nor Mr Crossfield could go through with the wedding.

One of at least two "No 73" books which appeared during the run of the series.

"No 73" was regularly featured in the pages of "Look-In", the "junior TV Times".

Kim Goody and Neil Buchanan, who both joined the series after the start, were always referred to by their real names, but Sandi Toksvig, Nick Staverson and Andrea Arnold, who had been with the show from the beginning, played characters with different names to their own. Early on, efforts were made to conceal the fact that Ethel, Harry and Dawn were actually actors but, by the time the Look-In feature above appeared in 1986, the true facts were well known.

Actor/presenter Patrick Doyle, an original member of the cast, played Percy Simmonds in 1982 but became Alec Simmonds in 1983. Viewers were informed that Alec was Percy's "identical cousin" from Scotland. The part of Alec allowed Patrick to drop Percy's English accent and use his own Scottish one! Patrick made his final No. 73 appearance in 1983.
"No. 73" became a popular "Look-In" comic strip.

Hazel (Jeannie Crowther) and Martin (Richard Addison) Edwards from No. 75. Hazel was a popular visitor to No. 73 - warm hearted, practical and a good friend to the gang. Martin had delusions of grandeur and was an interfering, Crossroads-loving, know-it-all - very much the man we loved to hate. Occasionally, just occasionally, we would feel quite sorry for him. I mean, would you fancy living next door to No. 73?!

Hazel and Martin shared very differing views of Sunny Toes Holiday Camp. To Martin, it was heaven on earth; to Hazel, it was sheer hell.

Characters who passed through during the show's run included Fred the postman (Tony Aitken), the conman Tony Deal (Nick Wilton) and the bizarre Frank Sidebottom.

A "No. 73" badge.

Locked out... "TV Times", January 1987...

1986 and 1987 saw the series undergoing several changes, most important of which was the departure of Ethel in 1986. The kindly-but-not-terribly-bright landlady, with the bizarre tendency to occasionally slide into clever Sandi Toksvig style wit, had been, in my humble opinion, the show's pivotal character, and the gap left by her departure was never successfully filled.
Kate Copstick arrived as comic cleaner Maisie McConochie, and the cast altered further with the departure of Jeannie Crowther and Richard Addison as Hazel and Martin Edwards, and the arrival of Julian Callaghan (Jules) and Nadia de Lemeny (Nadia), new lodgers at No. 73. Richard Waites took on the role of Hamilton Dent, tenant of No. 75.

In Look-In, 3 October 1987, Harry described Nadia as being "beautiful and sophisticated". She hailed from Colorado, USA. Harry described the character of Jules as being a slob: "He's disgusting and smelly! The smell from his bedroom is something else! I thought it was the drains to begin with."

And as for Hamilton Dent...

"Hamilton Dent is our next door neighbour. He's very twitchy and nervous: not the sort of person you'd expect to be a driving instructor..."

The show gained a Sunday morning edition.
In January 1988 the writing was on the wall for No. 73 - Ethel's successor, greedy new landlord JC Birch, had his way and the house was demolished to make way for redevelopment.

So, Harry, Dawn, Neil, Kim and co. went to live on a Wild West theme park (like you do), taking the old front door with them, and applying its distinctive yellow numbers to the saloon-style doors at the park - hence 7T3...

A very rare "7T3" badge. The show did not last long!

Soon, 7T3 was no more, and some of the presenters popped up on a new Saturday morning programme called Motormouth.

What fashions were Motormouth presenters Neil Buchanan, Julian Ballantyne, Andrea Arnold and Tony Gregory into in 1988? A photograph and article from a November TV Times provides a useful insight into some of the fashion trends of that time...

When the four presenters from the weekend children's show "Motormouth" arrive at our studios to model their version of street cred fashions, it's almost as if they're still performing for the television cameras. Such is their dedication to their work that the fast- talking foursome never stop competing to see who can dig out the best one-liners. All, that is, except Tony Gregory who today is doing a passable imitation of the walking dead.

"It was my 21st birthday yesterday and I've got quite a hangover," says the oh-so cool presenter. Even his hair quiff looks a little limp and he spends some anxious moments scowling in front of the mirror with blow-dry lotion and hairspray, coaxing it back into shape. Like all the presenters, he is very image-conscious, and trying to part him from his favourite jeans and leather jacket turns out to be no mean feat. He favours casual clothes and buys from specialist shops in London and home town, Brighton.

Neil Buchanan, in contrast, is a sharp dresser and is in his element trying on countless suits and over-sized jackets. Surprisingly, for an ex-heavy metal guitarist, his taste in clothes is quite conservative, and unlike the other two chaps, he's no label snob. "So long as it looks good together, labels don't matter," he says, rescuing a discarded chain-store sweater from a pile of Julian's rejects. "I reckon that in a year's time, it'll be trendy to buy from somewhere like Marks and Spencer. Kids are fed up with being ripped off by sky-high designer prices."

Julian Ballantyne may not agree with him, but then Julian enjoys minor tiffs. His cheeky Scouse accent and talent for organisation once earned him the title of Entertainments Director for a French ski resort. Now, much chat later, "Motormouth" is the perfect outlet for his personality.

And what about Andrea Arnold, formerly No 73's Dawn Lodge?

"I love to play around with clothes," she says. "Give me some scissors to hack off hems, some fabric to wrap and drape, and I'll be happy for hours."

Motormouth has long departed and I don't even remember it. But, forever fondly recalled, are those Saturday mornings I spent relaxing in bed, often feeling slightly "jaded" (courtesy of the night before), watching Ethel and the gang, and nipping down to the kitchen during the commercial breaks for tea, toast, and bacon sarnies.

Happy days...


Fitzmorgan said...

Sad that Ethel went to Australia. It wasn't the same without her.

ian said...

I have a No 73 coin which was made on the show in 1986, anyone else have one??
email me

Karen said...

I wrote chapter 7 of 'The Number 73 Novel Novel". Roger McGough wrote chapter one and then the 'competition' was for members of the viewing public to write the remaining 11 chapters. Each chapter could only be 73 words long and had to continue on from the chapter before.

For my efforts, I have a copy of "the book", a number 73 badge, a signed photos from Ethel & the team!!

Drew said...

You lucky thing! What brilliant souvenirs of a brilliant show! Those happy Saturday mornings of the 1980s... I remember them well!

tony aitken said...

Great memories, neatly blogged!
BTW I was that Postman...

Drew said...

Wonderful to hear fom you, Tony! I will never forget those Saturday mornings with No 73. Great days.

ker said...

who was the man with the big head and puppet !! cant forget him x

Drew said...

Frank Sidebottom - he's featured elsewhere on '80s Actual - just put the word "sidebottom" in the search box and search! x

Rachel said...

Does anyone know what jules is doing now?

Anonymous said...

I have still got my 7T3 badge myself, brother and sister tried to get one each we got ONE to share

ohnhai said...

I was actually ON #73

I'n the episode 'Hot Hair' Ethel was pranking Martin by trying to persuade him he was [nth] in line to the throne.

One of guests on the show was The Sealed Knot an English Civil War reenactment group... I was the Drummer Boy (14yo).

was a fabulous time as i basically had the run of the studio/set/cameras/sound-booms for three days :)

BTW Martin's garden was basically about 1m wide! just enough for the actor to stand being the fence.. (on a box)

also to come down the cellar stairs you had to go UP the hall stairs and turn right.

to come out of the arches in the Cellar you had to go into the cuboard under the hall stairs :)

Drew said...

What fabulous memories! I recall visiting the set for a Friday dress rehearsal in 1983. I explored and discovered that Hazel and Martin's back wall was actually the back of Ethel's lounge! That was in the days before the cellar. The bathroom (supposedly upstairs) was in a corner of the sudio near the lounge set! Happy times...