23 February 2009

Coronation Street - the 2000th episode, The First Video Release And A New Street...

Coronation Street celebrated its 2,000th episode on 2 June 1980, and TV Times published a souvenir magazine to celebrate.

The landmark occasion was reached on the same day that Elizabeth II celebrated twenty-seven years as Queen. On the cover of the magazine were Ena Sharples (Violet Carson), Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix), Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth), Ken Barlow (William Roache) and Tracy Langton (Christabel Finch). The souvenir included an introduction by Len Fairclough, a copy of the script of the very first episode, street party scenes and photographs of a trip to Singapore, featuring the producer and several cast members.

Ena Sharples made her final appearance in Coronation Street in April 1980. There was no big send-off as Violet Carson did not intend to leave at that point and several long absences during the 1970s had familiarised viewers with lengthy spells without the Hairnetted One.

In the storyline, Ena threatened not to return, but she'd done that before!

Violet had not been in the best of health for years, and had at times seemed somewhat disenchanted with the character of Ena, but I remember reading a newspaper article c. 1983, headed I'll Be Back, Vows Ena, complete with a lovely photograph of Vi at home in Blackpool, revealing her determination to don that famous hairnet again.

Sadly, this was not to be. Violet died on Boxing Day 1983.

Tracy Langton is in the lead in the egg and spoon race - and rules are made to be broken! Look at the blatant egg-gripping going on!

"Ooh, flamin' nora - fellas!!" Party animal Mike Baldwin sleeps it off.

What was happening to Len Fairclough in 1980? Well, the year had begun badly with Rita lambasting him after he'd slipped off to Molly Coggan's New Year party with a few of the lads, leaving Rita high and dry at the Rovers.

Early in 1980, Rita walked out on him, seeking to take up her nightclub singing career again. Len hit her and she left for Blackpool.

Len begged her to return and she did, but she made two things plain - Fairclough's selfish ways and the pig sty they lived in would BOTH have to change. Actually, we thought Rita herself was fairly horrible herself during this - she was no angel herself - and she suddenly seemed to have adopted a self righteous attitude that stank. Puzzling storyline - particularly as Len had collapsed at work in 1979 through overwork. Smelt a bit of misandry.

Other happenings of 1980 included Eddie Yeats moving in with Stan and Hilda Ogden, Renee Roberts meeting a nasty end in a road accident, and Bet Lynch and Elsie Tanner clashing over womanising lorry driver Dan Jackson.

He wasn't worth it.
Talking of Len, here's a newspaper advertisement from 1980. Video technology had been around for yonks, but domestic VCRs only a few years. In 1980, only 5% of UK households possessed a video recorder - they were far from cheap to buy outright at that point, and renting was a financial commitment many could do without in those hard-pressed times. The video revolution had to wait until a bit later in the decade to take hold.

The Magic of Coronation Street, Distant Memories - 1960-64.
The very first Coronation Street video release was dated 1982 and was produced by Granada Video. It contained six full episodes, including the first, and specially filmed sequences with Doris Speed, Pat Phoenix and Peter Adamson in character as Annie Walker, Elsie Tanner and Len Fairclough. My family didn't have a video recorder at the time, but I thought it was the "coming thing", so bought the Coronation Street video. Although dated 1982, I don't remember seeing the video on shop shelves until 1983, so the release date was probably late 1982 or perhaps even 1983.
The Magic of Coronation Street later returned to the shops in different packaging - courtesy of Vestron Video - as two separate releases, each containing three episodes.
This photograph from the Daily Mirror, 27/2/1982, shows an excited Hilda Ogden pointing at the new, under-construction, No 13 Coronation Street.
Hilda had already experienced two new No 13 exteriors. The Ogdens arrived in the programme in 1964 and in those days the Street's exterior set was actually in the studio.
In the late 1960s, an outdoor set was constructed - of lath and board - on the Grape Street lot near the studio. A single English winter played havoc with the flim-flam facade, and permission was granted for the Street's frontage to be built in brick. The back yards were added later.
For reasons of space, the outdoor facade was built far smaller than life size, as had been the case with the original studio set. But few viewers noticed anything wrong as, when seen through the TV cameras, the Street looked much larger.
In 1982, the Street was rebuilt, closer to life-size than it had ever been, and an entry was inserted between the Rovers Return and Albert Tatlock's bay window. For years, viewers had been writing in to say that the Rovers loo doors led directly into Albert's. They did, and the show's producer Bill Podmore used to joke: "Perhaps that's why he's always so grumpy!"
So, with a little bit of extra space for the ladies' and gents' conveniences (though, outside of soap reality, probably not enough), 1982 was a happy year for Albert!
5 May 1982 - and there's some Royal visitors at the Ogdens! The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the new exterior set and met members of the cast and production team.

The "Coronation Street" cast, all dressed in their characters' best clothes, waited to greet the VIP visitors by their respective front doors. Jean Alexander, in Hilda's best frock, was actually curler-less (yes, Hilda would take them out on special occasions!), Stan (Bernard Youens) wore his best cardie and jacket, but Geoffrey Hughes, as Eddie Yeats, was wearing a donkey jacket over his smart suit - as befitted Eddie's role as a binman.

Giggling, gap-toothed Scouser Eddie was a long-term pal of the Oggies, and became their lodger in 1980. He met his true love, Marion Willis (Veronica Doran), in 1982. The couple were caught up in the CB radio craze and carried the "handles" "Slim Jim" and "Stardust Lill". They met over the airwaves. In 1983, Marion and Eddie married and left the Street.

20 February 2009

Saturday Wrestling On The Telly...

Much-loved Big Daddy, aka Shirley Crabtree, advertising Daddies Sauce/Ketchup in 1985.

World of Sport had begun in 1965, with Dickie Davis arriving as anchorman in 1968. The TV Times cutting shown above is from March 1985 - with the show nearing the end of its run.
Most people I knew, regardless of gender, loved the wrestling.
My gran thought it was "better than a trip to the pantomime"; cousin Sue watched to ogle young men like Danny Collins; my mates and I watched " 'cos it was a right larf".
Wrestling continued to crop up on ITV on Saturdays after the end of World of Sport.
So that was all right.

15 February 2009

Victoria Wood - As Seen On TV

Most people I knew took it for granted that Acorn Antiques' Mrs Overall was based on Crossroads' Mavis Hooper in the 1980s. The resemblance immediately had us laughing. 

1985 gave us Victoria Wood As Seen On TV and I woz very happy indeed. Victoria's way of highlighting the daft things people come out with ("my Yale's under my Wincey Willis"), the quirkiness of life, the humdrumness of life, and on one memorable occasion (The Swimmer) the sadness of life, went down an absolute treat with me.

Do you remember I'm Gonna Knock Knock Knock On Your Knocker? To those of us who recall technical breakdowns on telly years back and hastily inserted fill-in footage, this was a rare treat.

I sniggered at the tofu cafe, bellowed along to Shopping and roared with laughter at the spoof documentaries and Acorn Antiques. This last was a spoof soap opera, based largely on Crossroads, and its characters and situations held appeal for Crossroads fans past and present.

I well remembered Tish Hope (Joy Andrews) and Meg Richardson (Noele Gordon) larding it up behind the motel reception desk (Tish first joined Meg there in the late 1960s, and last appeared in 1980. Poor Meg, of course, was finally smoked out in November 1981). Miss Babs and Miss Berta, the proprietors of Acorn Antiques, contained echoes of these characters - well, at least in their managerial roles and dress sense!

Mr Clifford was David Hunter; Trixie was a mixture of peril-stricken Jill Richardson and devious Iris Scott.

In a recent BBC interview, Victoria Wood was asked:

"So, was Mrs Overall based on Noele Gordon from Crossroads?"

She replied:
"No, if it was based on anyone, it was based on Amy Turtle or Mrs Mack from Take The High Road. It was a homage to Crossroads but also to a terrible radio series called Waggoners' Walk which was on then."
But back in the 1980s I heard no comparisons being made between Mrs O and Mrs Turtle or Mrs O and Mrs Mack. Mrs Overall's position as char at the antiques shop may have been based on Amy's old job at the motel, and her name, like Mrs Mack's, was certainly suggestive of an item of clothing, but the character's physical appearance, voice and mannerisms were immediately evocative of Charmian Eyre's Mavis Hooper, the miserable King's Oak boarding house keeper from 1981 to 1985.

She even wore the same type of overall!

As Crossroads moved upmarket in real life, so did Acorn Antiques. As with the motel saga, verticle blinds appeared in the Acorn Antiques opening sequence (they didn't work) and a new health and leisure centre (with sun beds) was built at the shop.

Acorn Antiques also drew inspiration from EastEnders, with Miss Babs apparently warbling a song called Anyone Can Break A Vase, which was (in fiction) released on vinyl. Unfortunately, we never got to hear it!
As Seen on TV was great. Victoria Wood, aided by Celia Imrie, Julie Walters and a host of others, lit up the telly screen for me.

Stars, the lot of 'em.

10 February 2009

Dallas 1985: The Return Of Barbara Bel Geddes

The Sun, May 11, 1985:

When Barbara Bel Geddes hung up her Miss Ellie outfit after a massive heart attack, Dallas fans thought they'd never see her again.

Now she's not only coming back but looking so fit even JR will hardly recognise his dear ol' ma.

In an exclusive interview at her rambling farmhouse in upstate New York, Barbara talked for the first time about her year-long fight to recover after quadruple heart bypass surgery.

She said: "When I left Dallas I just wanted to rest. But now I don't want to retire as much as I thought I did."

And if things go according to plan, no one will think twice about glamorous Donna Reed, who replaced Barbara and has been dumped - with a reported £800,000 pay-off - to make way for her again.

The biggest struggle for 62-year-old Barbara will be commuting between Dallas and New York. Can she stand the strain?

She said: "It'll be harrowing, but it's worth it. I'll have to commute, I hate to be away from here."
The farm is where she lived with her second husband, Broadway producer Windsor Lewis.

And it was there she fought her way through two major crises.

First she watched her husband die of cancer - then learned she had the disease herself and had to have a mastectomy.

She said: "I knew Windsor was going to die, even though he didn't. I had been too concerned about him to think I might have cancer, too. But slowly I battled back to full health and got stronger and stronger. And I never lost touch with any of my friends on Dallas.

"I'd get calls all the time from Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy asking I was all right.

"Then suddenly there was this call asking if I wanted to go back as Miss Ellie.

I told them: 'It's a possibility' - and the next thing they were talking money with my agent."

01 February 2009

Juliet Bravo

Be it London or Lancashire, a life in "the fuzz" (as we used to call the police force back in 1980) wasn't a bowl of cherries for women as Maggie Forbes (Jill Gascoine) and Jean Darblay (Stephanie Turner) proved in two new TV drama series in 1980.

Whilst Maggie (who, as TV critic Hilary Kingsley pointed out, always seemed to be in a bad mood) battled it out in the London manor of Seven Dials in ITV's The Gentle Touch, Jean Darblay, over on the Beeb, faced up to surly, chauvinistic Sergeant Joseph Beck at Hartley Police Station in Lancashire - and a few others who doubted that a woman had what it took to be inspector. And she not only proved her case but was rather less grumpy than Maggie Forbes into the bargain.

By the way, "Juliet Bravo" was Inspector Darblay's call sign.

Back in 1980, when hardly anybody could afford a video recorder (just 5% of UK households had them), almost every TV series was novelised. Sometimes, as was the case with Juliet Bravo, you got a whole series of novels. Great, eh? And the cover of the novel pictured above reveals that the TV series was written by Ian Kennedy Martin, creator of The Sweeney. WOW!

Juliet Bravo was not Sweeney Mark 2 - it was more PC Plod territory, often reflecting the humdrumness of the uniformed copper's lot. Like dear old Dixon of Dock Green.

But this new show was still revolutionary. Jean Darblay was not impossibly glamorous like Police Woman or the heeled and haired ladies of Charlie's Angels. She wasn't infallible, either. She (like grumpy Maggie of Seven Dials and the soon-to-arrive from the States Cagney and Lacey) was far more real. No false eyelashes. No make-up applied with a trowel. No soft-focus camera work. This was definitely progress.

Jean's difficulties in what was a traditionally male career were reflected, but not all her male colleagues were portrayed as being sexist buffoons. And I only recall a couple of occasions when the show succumbed (in my humble male opinion) to naff feminist soap boxing.

Jean, hubby Tom (David Hargreaves) and the lads at Hartley police station were likeable and believable characters.
Then, in 1982, Stephanie Turner decided that her days in uniform were numbered. That year's series was to be her last.
So, what would become of Hartley nick?
From the Daily Mirror, 4/9/1982...

The star of a hit police series is to quit the Force.

Actress Stephanie Turner, who plays Inspector Jean Darblay in "Juliet Bravo" (BBC-1, 7.50) is to quit the series when filming finishes in November. But the show will go on, for they are determined to make further episodes without her.

Stephanie was reluctant to talk about her decision, but as determined as the strong-jawed character she plays to stick to it.

"I feel it's not fair to announce publicly that I'm leaving," she said. "It sounds somehow disloyal.

"But after three years of of total involvement, which I've loved, enough is enough. I want to leave before I stop enjoying it and while I still feel it is a good quality programme.

"I can't talk about my plans yet."

The news has shocked her co-stars and left them depressed about the show's continuing appeal.

I understand that the BBC do not plan to replace her with another woman top cop but to build up the characters of Hartley police station.

Meanwhile life and crime in the small town go on as before. Jean has a new breezy hairstyle and with her husband away on a course of study in Dover she has to cope with the loneliness at the end of the day.

Tonight a soldier newly back from Northern Ireland gets into serious trouble.

The show went on after Stephanie/Jean left. A new broom was appointed for the 1983 season.
The decision was taken to replace the Jean Darblay character with another female inspector. The programme title could then stay the same - the new incumbent could inherit her predecessor's call sign, and the issues of a woman working in what was traditionally a man's world could continue to be explored. 

Experienced actress Anna Carteret took the role of the new inspector, Kate Longton, in 1983, and was at the helm until the series ended in 1985.

Fixtures since episode one, providing some man power at Hartley Nick - Sergeant Joseph Beck (David Ellison) and Sergeant George Parrish (Noel Collins).