31 May 2009

1983: Changes In Coronation Street...

Coronation Street had lost long-established regular characters Jack Walker (Arthur Leslie), Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant) and Jerry Booth (Graham Haberfield) from the cast in the '70s. Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix) had left for around three years and then returned. The Street's production team were well aware that the old order was subject to change. 1980 saw the final appearance of Ena Sharples. Violet Carson had appeared less and less frequently during the ten years leading up to her farewell.

When Ena left
The Street, bound for her old friend Mr Foster's house at Lytham St Anne's, nobody knew that she would never return. Ena made it known that she was somewhat cheesed off with Weatherfield, but that was nothing new!

In 1983, a few months short of Violet Carson's death, the
Daily Mirror was carrying an article entitled "I'll Be Back Vows Ena".

1983 saw The Street entering stormy waters indeed - the year saw the final appearances of Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) and the newly-wed Eddie (Geoffrey Hughes) and Marion Yeats (Veronica Doran), who had met so romantically over the CB airwaves in 1982, and short-stayer Chalkie Whiteley (Teddy Turner). Actually, it wasn't quite Eddie's final appearance as he popped back to see "Mrs O" (Jean Alexander) in 1987.

Before the end of '83, we knew that 1984 would see us bidding farewell to Elsie Tanner again. And, as it turned out, '84 would see the deaths of Albert Tatlock (Jack Howarth), Bert Tilsley (Peter Dudley) and Stan Ogden (Bernard Youens).

1983 did have its up-side: the Duckworths moved into No 9. Vera Duckworth (Liz Dawn) had been a character in the show for years, although never a resident of The Street. In November 1979, we first met her husband Jack (William Tarmey), who was developed into a fully fledged character during various short stints in the show in the early 1980s.

In 1977, Vera had entered a glamorous granny contest at the community centre. But in 1983, as she at last moved into The Street, the writers gave some attention to her family background, did away with the granny concept, and introduced a crafty, cynical son, Terry (Nigel Pivaro), born in the mid-1960s.

One of the people most horrified to see the Duck Eggs move into Coronation Street was Annie Walker (Doris Speed), landlady of The Rovers Return. But sadly she wouldn't have to put up with them for long. Doris Speed fell ill in late 1983 and was never well enough to appear in the show again.

From the Sun, 1/10/1983:

Crisis-torn Coronation Street has been rocked yet again - by the collapse of actress Doris Speed in the TV studios.

Last night, as she recovered at home after three days treatment, she said: "I was very brave. I battled right through to the end and managed to get all my lines out."

It was hoped that Doris would be well enough to return to the show, but by early 1984 it was evident she probably wouldn't. So, Annie's retirement was announced on-screen, and son Billy (Kenneth Farrington) returned to run his mother's old empire. Billy's short tenure at the pub was stormy, and soon the Walker era at The Rovers was history.

But not quite. It was never part of an episode, but Doris/Annie did appear behind the bar at The Rovers again. In 1987/88, a large cheque was offered for charity if Doris would step back behind the bar as part of an ITV Telethon. She agreed.

This was a very different Rovers to her old domain - burnt down in 1986. But there was no doubt that the new bar suited her and there was also no doubt that Annie was in charge - I seem to remember Bet (Julie Goodyear) and Alec Gilroy (Roy Barraclough) standing respectfully behind her as she accepted the cheque for charity from the benefactor ("That should buy you a very large drink!") and operated the new beer pump, commenting with typical Doris Speed wit that the old pumps had required more effort and were better at developing the cleavage!

Does anybody have a copy of this Telethon footage? I would love to see it again!

The tabloids made much of the Street "Crisis"! Inside the Sun carrying the news of Doris Speed's sudden departure from the studios was the article pictured above:

Coronation Street, Britain's best-loved soap opera, has been rocked by crisis after crisis in the last few weeks.

The star cast has been drastically slashed as one after another of the big names have been axed or decided to move out of The Street.

In the next two months we will say goodbye to Elsie Tanner, Len Fairclough, Eddie Yeats and Marion Willis. Bert Tilsley has already been written out.

And the future for Stan Ogden, Annie Walker and Albert Tatlock must mean smaller and smaller parts as they battle ill health and old age.

For Coronation Street addicts, it will be almost like moving house, with a whole new set of neighbours to get used to.

Characters who have had little more to do than lean on the bar at The Rovers will find themselves on The Street to stardom as scriptwriters expand their stories to fill the gaps.

Who will be the second generation of Coronation Street stars?

The Sun has been looking at the young characters now in the series, and working out how their parts could be developed.

Most of the characters listed are long forgotten! Do you remember Pamela Mitchell or Don Watkins? I do remember Roy Valentine, who seemed set to become The Street's first regular black character:

From the Sun:

Roy Valentine, Len Fairclough's odd-job boy, played by Tony Marshall.

DEBUT: March, 1983.

A cheeky charmer out to better himself. He isn't going to let his colour stop him getting on in life or getting off with the girls.


Six out of ten. He'll be teaching the regulars how to reggae down at the new disco. And he could set the lace curtains twitching when he walks down the street with his first girlfriend.

Sadly, the departure of Len Fairclough meant the end of Roy Valentine.

Then there was:

Curly Watts, Eddie Yeats' new partner on the bins, played by Kevin Kennedy.

Debut: August, 1983.

He's single but goofy, yucky and downright plain. Still he's got the sort of cheeky Northern wit that goes down well with a pint.


Four out of ten. This spindly lad with the John Lennon specs certainly doesn't look like a heart-throb but neither did Eddie. Maybe he'll be able to laugh his way into the arms of some girl.

Of course, for the more discerning viewer, there was Victor Pendlebury:

Mavis' one and only love, played by Christopher Coll.

Debut: October, 1982.

He may have a boring job at the local council, but at heart he is a passionate poet.

He nurtured more than just Mavis' writing skills when they penned a racy short story together. Then Mavis refused to live in sin.


Six out of ten. The Street needs another married couple and Victor could be the man to save Mavis from becoming an old maid.

And what about Des Foster?

Councillor played by Neil Phillips.

Debut: July, 1983.

He's a married man with an eye for busty barmaids. Bet Lynch's earrings started quivering the moment he walked into the Rovers and fixed her with his big blue eyes. She pulled his pint and he pulled her.

But his wife in the wings made even Bet lose her bottle and she gave him the heave-ho.


Nine out of ten. He could be the cad every woman loves to hate, a natural rival for rogue romeo Mike Baldwin.

If he ditches his wife, his return to the Rovers would give Bet's big heart a flutter - and he would be fair game for any other footloose and fancy free regulars.

This young lady got ten out of ten from the Sun...

Sharon Gaskell, Len Fairclough's wayward foster daughter, played by Tracie Bennett.

Debut: March, 1982.

The best news to hit The Street for years, a real naughty girl.

Sexy Sharon had her own fan club within a month of moving into The Street.


Ten out of ten. She's only young but she's the only female around with enough sex appeal to step into Elsie Tanner's stilettos. She'll leave a lot of broken hearts - and even broken marriages - behind her before she settles down.

Of course, The Street weathered its losses. And things didn't turn out quite as the Sun envisaged!

28 May 2009

Channel 4

The notion of a second commercial TV channel had been around for at least a couple of decades. Finally, the Broadcasting Act 1980 set the wheels in motion to make that notion a reality.

Looking tremendously cutting edge, Channel Four debuted on 2 November 1982 and it was a huge national event. We only had three telly channels back then, and BBC 2 was rarely watched in households round my way - we thought its content was far too highbrow about 99.9% of the time.

We feared Channel Four might be the same, but "gave it a go" anyway...

When I saw the colourful shapes whirling across the screen, I yelped: "Oh no - not another Rubik's puzzle!" I was just getting over being defeated by the Cube and bitten by the Snake...

Thankfully, the shapes simply assembled themselves as Channel Four's logo. I breathed a sigh of relief - although I still thought that it had strong Rubikian (?!) influences!

The logo was designed in 1982 by the Robinson Lambie-Nairn company.

Appraised of the facts about the new channel-to-be, Lambie-Nairn decided to play on the fact that Channel 4 would be buying all its programmes in, so would be a kind of patchwork.

The idea they came up with was to try and illustrate the various elements which would make up Channel 4 coming together.

With the logo created, Lambie Nairn used a computer to animate the outlines of the blocks to the final freeze. The movements were then hand coloured and shot, but it didn't work - what was lacking was shadow and lighting.

Lambie-Nairn went to Bo Gehring Aviation in Los Angeles, USA. The company specialised in computer animation and Lambie-Nairn ordered differing sequences of the same basic symbol to be made entirely on computer. At that time, nobody provided that service in the UK.

The result, of course, was the familiar Channel 4 logo seen on the opening night and for years afterwards - a very cutting edge design and animating technique in 1982.

But would Channel 4 be a cutting edge TV station?

From the Daily Mirror, 4/9/1982.

Will ITV's Channel Four be a big turn-off?

You will soon be able to switch on to a brand new TV channel.

ITV's Channel Four goes on the air early in November.

But whether viewers will like what they see is another matter. The new channel is aiming to be experimental in content with a large output of educational and minority programmes.

In fact more like BBC-2 than ITV.

And in some quarters of the ITV companies fears are growing that this could be the recipe for a ratings disaster. For a start there'll be hardly any sport. What little there is will come mainly from America - basketball and grid-iron football, for instance.

Then each weekday night at the peak viewing time of seven, the channel plans an hour-long news programme.

Here's a run-down of what you will (or may not want to) be watching when Channel 4 flickers into life on Tuesday, November 2 at 4.45 pm.

COMEDY: From Australia, Paul Hogan. Top comedian Down Under and highly thought of by Channel 4 bosses who have bought twenty-six of his shows.

"The Optimist", a silent comedy starring up-and-coming English actor Enn Reitel and filmed in Hollywood.

And Peter Bowles stars in "The Irish RM", a six-parter based on the classic comedy stories of an Irish magistrate and set in the 1890s.

SOAP OPERA: "Brookside", an up-market "Coronation Street" set on an estate where most people own their own homes.

LIGHT ENTERTAINMENT: The Brazilian-made "Fantastico", reputedly one of the world's most spectacular song and dance shows, will run for twenty weeks at least.

NOSTALGIA: Hit American series of the Sixties such as "I Love Lucy", "The Munsters" and "Get Smart".

BLOCKBUSTER: "Nicholas Nickleby". The hit stage production of the Charles Dickens classic by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

FILMS: The silent version of "Napoleon", with a music track added, runs for six hours. Otherwise you'll be seeing golden oldies such as the 1930s gangster film "Scarface"; Eddie Cantor movies including "Whoopee".

Midnight movies on Friday and Saturday nights will run up to 2am, with a hint there will be some X-rated films.

DRAMA: Two plays ready for screening have down beat themes. "The Disappearance of Harry" stars Annette Crosbie as the wife of a man who leaves for work one morning and never returns. "Angel" is the story of a young saxophone player facing violence and death.

Channel 4's chief executive, Jeremy Isaacs, says: "it will be responsive to its audience's changing needs, lively, concerned, useful - and fun."

The target figure is a nightly audience of five million.

Will Channel 4 ever manage to attract that many viewers? Wait and see.

And so we waited. And we saw.

On 2 November 1982, after a welcome from presenter Paul Coia and a look at goodies to come, we settled back for the first of Channel Four's programmes - and it was "anyone for anagrams?" with Countdown.

You can see Richard Whiteley above and Carol Vorderman below as they appeared in the very first show.

Early Channel 4 was short of adverts, due to an industrial dispute: should actors appearing in ads on channels like TV-am (which was due to start in February 1983) and Channel 4, both envisaged as attracting lower audiences than the main ITV regional channels, be paid less? It took some time to sort that one out, so, in the early days of Channel 4, we got to know pictures with captions like "Brookside follows shortly" very well indeed!

The "Sun", January 20, 1983: TV critic Margaret Forwood comments on the lack of adverts and adds a few of her thoughts on Channel Four in general...

From the "Sun", February 2, 1982. Actually the provisional title for this show, which turned out to be "Brookside", was "Meadowcroft", not "Meadowcraft" and the creator was Phil Redmond not Redmund! Still, "Coronation Street" producer Bill Podmore's confident attitude is worth noting: "I enjoy competition... especially when we are going to win."

I remember watching the very first episode of Brookside and loving the electronic theme tune. But I wasn't too sure about the characters or setting. Would it take off? It all seemed a bit too real...

We couldn't have guessed on the first night, but with its gritty plots and set of real houses, Brookside would drag soap away from the cosy story lines, tight perms and brightly lit studio sets of Crossroads and Coronation Street, both fixtures on ITV since the 1960s, into the 1980s.

The characters - the moved-up-in the world Grant family, moved-down-in the world Collins family, and young urban professionals Roger and Heather Huntington, were uncompromisingly non-cosy. The language used in the early episodes was considered a little too real and had to be toned-down, but early Brookside, thought by many to be far too subversive to be a soap opera, was great. Well, OK, maybe this anti-Thatcher dog was a bit too darned shaggy. As a poor, working class geezer, I don't recall real life in the 1980s being anywhere near as grim as in Brookside, but for those of us who detested Thatcher at the time it was sheer bloody brilliance.

Gordon Collins, played by Mark Burgess, was the first regular gay character in English TV soaps; Tracy Corkhill (Justine Kerrigan) got into trouble with telephone chatlines, parents, teachers, you name it; Annabelle Collins (Doreen Sloane) faced a move down in status from the leafy Wirral to rough and tumble Brookside; but for working class mum Sheila Grant, played by Sue Johnston, the Close marked a move up in the world from a grotty council estate.

I believe that Brookside was, at least partly, responsible for some new (to most of us) slang words over the next few years. Before the 1980s, I recall nobody in my area calling Christmas "Chrimbo" and electricity "'leccy", but, post November 1982, both gradually seeped into usage.

They seemed to originate from Brookside "Scouse speak".

Sainsbury's, of course, became "Sainsboe's"!

Brookside was soon more commonly known as "Brookie", and Coronation Street became "Corrie", which, again, I don't recall before the 1980s. Soaps simply weren't trendy enough before the 80s to bother with zippy abbreviations. Brookside influenced other soaps and helped to blast away soap's fuddy-duddy image - making it respectable for youngsters to tune in.

But I digress. Back to what I viewed on that first night on Channel Four...

I remember being depressed by the opening night film - Walter - about a man with "learning disabilities" (the modern day PC phrase - not in use round my way, nor I believe anywhere else, in 1982!) who was subjected to various horrible experiences after his mother died.

Five Go Mad In Dorset was a Comic Strip Presents production, and a merciless mickey take of the Enid Blyton Famous Five books.

The show had a "surprise guest star" - Ronald Allen, David Hunter of Crossroads fame - appearing as Uncle Quentin. Dear Uncle told the children: "I'm a screaming homosexual, you little prigs!"

It was difficult not to see Ronald Allen as his Crossroads character, I don't think I'd ever seen the actor appearing in any other show before, and to hear "David Hunter" coming out with those words left me absolutely breathless with laughter.

At the end of my first taste of Channel Four programmes, I decided that it was different. Definitely different. And worth another look...

See a 1988 article on Channel Four favourite Treasure Hunt

09 May 2009

1986: TV Snacks And Soap Opera Stars...

Here's a nice piece of 1980s kitsch - it's 1986 and from your friendly local newsagent you could buy a copy of this handy little booklet - 90 TV Snacks - Ideas, Recipes And Soap Stars' Favourites.

On the cover was the adorable Angie Watts - Anita Dobson - of EastEnders, with big hair, big shoulder pads, and sparkling pearlies.

EastEnders had first burst on to our screens in February 1985, with Lou Beale (Anna Wing) "doin' her nut" over daughter Pauline (Wendy Richard) and her late-in-life pregnancy, a grim discovery at Reg Cox's place, and a fist through the window at the local boozer, The Queen Vic. English soaps would never be the same again...

The 1980s were an interesting time for snacking: microwave ovens had debuted in the 1960s but were not affordable to the vast majority of people until the 1980s, and the possibilities they opened up (if you weren't terrified by tales of radiation poisoning) were endless. And then there were those natty sandwich toasters. YUM!

So, what did Angie - or Anita - favour in the TV snack line?

"A bag of cheese and onion crisps".

Nice 'n' easy.

And hubby "dirty" Den Watts (Leslie Grantham)? "Mexican Tacos for me, and a glass of good wine."


Coronation Street had debuted on ITV in December 1960, and was going great guns in the 1980s. What TV snacks did two of the regulars from The Rovers favour in 1986? Well, Kevin Webster (Michael Le Vell) was into a cheese or mushroom omelette, whilst Ken Barlow (William Roache) liked "A good salad sandwich - lettuce, cucumber and tomato in granary bread."


As a quick aside, I always thought that mid-'80s Kev had modelled himself on the dark haired bloke from Hall & Oates (see inset pic).

Brookside was the first of the new breed of 1980s subversive soaps, and blasted on to our TV screens in November 1982, on Channel 4's opening night. Asked for her favourite TV snack in 1986, Sandra Maghie (Sheila Grier) went for French bread with cheese or paté and salad, Damon Grant (Simon O'Brien) favoured tuna in oil spread on brown toast, Bobby Grant (Ricky Tomlinson) said "Give me a chip buttie every time", and Sheila Grant (Sue Johnston) opted for home made chicken soup.

Typically original, Brookside sent the character of Damon Grant off into a spin-off (or "soap bubble") in 1987 called Damon and Debbie, which ended with the death of the character.

Crossroads was on our screens from November 1964 to April 1988 - an often mocked but now fondly remembered soap based around life in a Midlands motel. In the mid-to-late 1980s, shortly before its end, the show was revamped but, despite rising ratings, still got the chop.

Jane Rossington as Jill Richardson/Harvey/Chance - or "Jilly" as her hubby Adam (Tony Adams) once called her - starred in the show, with a few breaks, from beginning to end.

Her favourite 1986 TV snack was cheese with slices of apple.

Benny Hawkins (Paul Henry) liked egg and bacon sandwiches.

Me too.

And finally, Dolly Skilbeck (Jean Rogers) of Emmerdale Farm gave us her recipe for tuna and sweetcorn bake. Jean Rogers made her screen debut as Dolly, taking over the role from Katharine Barker, on 1 April 1980.

Emmerdale Farm began as a lunchtime serial in October 1972. The show underwent several momentous changes in the 1980s, dropping its seasonal breaks and being shown nearly all year round from 1985 onwards (it was not shown during the Christmas season until 1988) and being networked - shown on the same day and at the same time across the country - in January 1988.

In November 1989, the show dropped "Farm" from its title, becoming simply Emmerdale.