26 August 2010

Kate & Allie

American newspaper ad for a brand new comedy series - Kate & Allie, 1984.

Created by Sherry Coben, Kate & Allie was a groundbreaking and tremendously likeable American sitcom, which debuted in the States in 1984 and in England (on Channel 4) in 1986. The show told the story of two women who had first met as kids.

Baby boomers Kate McArdle (Susan Saint James) and Allie Lowell (Jane Curtin) were high school friends, but later drifted apart. Let loose upon the "Peace and Love" scene of the 1960s, Kate became a free wheeling, peace loving, protest marcher - and married an actor. Meanwhile, Allie became a neat suburban housewife - she married a doctor.

In 1984, now both divorced, Kate and Allie merged their two families - comprising Kate's teenage daughter, Emma (Ari Meyers), Allie's teenage daughter, Jennie (Allison Smith), and her younger son, Chip (Frederick Koehler).

Kate's apartment in Greenwich Village, New York, was now home to everybody, and we had an interesting alternative family set-up.

Creator Sherry Coben had been inspired by a high school reunion she had attended, where she observed a couple of unhappy divorcees who found comfort in sharing with each other. One of the most groundbreaking things about Kate & Allie was that the show never became some trendy, issue-led thing, Feminist ideology brainwashing or 'hey - this is hip and happening - let's do it!' garbage - as some previous shows had done. 

The show was character-led, it was based on changing social trends - the rising divorce rate in particular - but not chattering classes' nonsense. The characters were beautifully defined. Perhaps there was one episode towards the end of the run which didn't sit quite right, and an established character was briefly mutated into somebody quite different to suit Feminist ideology, but that's still excellent going for those times.

Allie was tightly buttoned and conservative, but underneath she was insecure and lacking in self respect. Her husband's affair and subsequent remarriage had severely shaken her.

Kate was laid back and happy-go-lucky, able to cope (well, usually!) with Allie's well-ordered suburban ways and occasional hysterical outbursts.

All was not portrayed as eternally peaceful in this alternative family, but Kate and Allie's friendship won through.

Could there be life after marriage for Allie, seen here with her ex-husband, Dr Charles Lowell (Paul Hecht)? She had still to meet Claire (Wendie Malick), the woman Charles had left her for, and when she finally did, the news that Charles and Claire had made love in Allie's marital bed, before the marriage had broken up, on Allie's designer sheets with the motif of little windmills, stunned her. Charles, meanwhile, was unhappy when Claire presented him with a new baby son, Stewart. Wasn't he too old for this? Didn't he deserve some peace and a nicely paced life which suited his age?

A landmark episode in this groundbreaking series, Kate and Allie face a huge rent increase when the landlady discovers that her one family apartment is now occupied by two families. Our heroines seek to wriggle off the hook by claiming to be a lesbian couple, winning the landlady's sympathy as she is herself gay. But the truth finally outs in a thought provoking scene which poses the question: just what constitutes a family? Is it only Mr and Mrs Average and 2.4 kids? The answer is - of course not!

Peace, love and protest were Kate's scene as a student in the 1960s. In the 1980s (just look at those shoulder pads!), she tried to rally her fellow customers at the local bank to protest at the establishment's attitude towards its customers, but was quickly removed by security guards!

Whilst Kate worked for a travel agent, Allie was at first housewife homebody, though later returned to college to get a degree. Kate commented that Allie had saved Emma (and herself!) from being latchkey kids. 

Later still, Allie and Kate pooled their resources to start a successful catering business.

Note the strange design of the matching wallpaper and curtains. Dot. line. Squiggle. Dot. Was it some kind of code, I used to wonder?

Also note that Allie has shoulder pads in her dressing gown!

Emma decides to make divorce the subject of her "Our Changing World" high school project, and finds the best subject material is to be found at home.

Kate found romance with Ted Bartelo (Gregory Salata), a plumber who was afraid of spiders. The two fell deeply in love, but split up repeatedly, realising that they both wanted different things out of life - Ted a family, Kate a continuation of her career. Finally, Ted found somebody who wanted the same things as him. Kate was devastated.

Kate and Allie was well written, and imaginative: one episode began as reality, before becoming Allie's imagination - something we only began to suspect as the plot became more and more bizarre; another saw Chip returning to the about-to-be-demolished apartment in the early 21st Century with his son and reminiscing about his childhood there in the 1980s; a further stand-out-in-my-mind episode centred on Chip - and soon his entire alternative family - befriending Louis, a young homeless man with learning difficulties.

Louis (Michael Countryman) found friendship and sewing lessons at Kate and Allie's apartment. The character was rehoused in supported living accommodation and developed romantic feelings towards Kate, before finding happiness elsewhere.

Something amiss... Jennie, Kate and Emma wonder what Chip has been up to...

So does Allie... surely he couldn't possibly have been using the oven door as a trampoline?! When the door comes off in her hand, Allie believes it...

Kate & Allie ran until 1989 - by which time Allie had remarried. Her new husband was a man called Bob Barsky (Sam Freed) who spent each week working away as a TV sportscaster, returning home only at weekends.

So, Kate moved into Allie's marital home to keep her company.

It wasn't the same. Perhaps it was the absence of the "Dot. Line. Squiggle" wallpaper at the new place, perhaps all the angles had been covered, but it soon became clear that Kate & Allie had run its course. The original premise of two divorced women merging their households had been groundbreaking; the set-up of the final series - divorced woman living with married friend and her often absent husband - was different, but not fascinating.

However, the show at its best was, in my very humble opinion, excellent and even towards the end, with the "Dot.Line.Squiggle" wallpaper sadly absent, there was some highly imaginative writing and the characters remained as likeable as ever.

Fondly remembered!

24 August 2010

Bernard Matthews - "Bootiful!"

Getting the bird for Christmas - December 1983.

Turkey roasts? Turkey steaks? Turkey sausages? Yum!

In fact, absolutely bootiful!

Norfolk turkey farmer Bernard Matthews came up with the advertising phrase "bootiful" in 1980.

The story goes that when the first of the ads was filmed in 1980, the Director asked Mr Matthews, who was standing on the lawn outside Great Witchingham Hall, all ready to become an ad star, how he personally would describe his turkey, and Mr Matthews replied

"Bootiful, of course."

Newspaper ads of the time ("Matthews Golden Norfolk Turkeys - as seen on T.V.") indicate that the telly ads were first screened in early 1981.

And "Bootiful" soon swept the country.

The first "bootiful" TV ad, filmed in 1980.

What about the workers?" - another "bootiful" ad, this time from 1982.

"Do yourself a flavour for 1981" - Daily Mirror, January 2, 1981:

"Turkey will gobble up more of our money in unexpected ways - turkey bacon, burgers and bangers."

An early piece of newspaper advertising linked to the TV advertising campaign, "Daily Mirror", April 1981: "Matthews Golden Norfolk Turkeys (as seen on T.V.)"

A break from talking turkey - Bernard on screen in 1988 advertising his lamb roasts.

Thinking back, my own personal Bernard Matthews favourites were the turkey roasts - creating a Sunday dinner effect without the hassle of cooking a joint - and the turkey sausages - great with savoury rice - a meal I ate about three times a week in my carefree, flat-sharing days of the mid-to-late 1980s!

19 August 2010

1983: The Mini-Pops - Controversy On Channel 4...

For many years, little girls across the land had sought to ape their elders' fashions.

My late grandmother, born in 1910, often told me of the uproar which ensued when she sneaked off and got her hair cut in a then-fashionable "bob" when she was seven years old. The bob went on to become one of the defining hair styles of the 1920s. But little girls circa 1918 were definitely not supposed to have this "grown-up" style.

"I just wanted to be in the fashion," Gran told me. "But my parents were outraged!"

To be in fashion was a much more accepted business for little girls in the 1980s.

Raiding Mum's dressing table for make-up had long been a favourite pursuit of little Karen or little Sharon, and in 1982/1983 a lot of girls were also taking their fashion cues from the TV series Fame, with leg warmers and Fame sweat shirts.

Other fashion "musts" for the teenies back then included pixie boots, donkey jackets, hair gel, ra ra skirts, and deely boppers. Both of my little sisters (one born in 1971, the other in 1974) were heavily into these things in 1982 and 1983.

The Mini-Pops, which debuted on Channel 4 on 8 February 1983, sought to bring to the small screen the little'uns' passion for fashion and for aping their elders. The idea was that kids, boys as well as girls, should dress up as pop stars and give their own renditions of pop hits.

What lots of little kids did at home, singing along to Toyah or Bucks Fizz or dad's old Rolling Stones LP, they could now do in a studio - and share their fun via the telly screen with the whole country.

for the Mini-Pops kids there were clothes which echoed those of their pop heroes and heroines.

And there was make up, too, lashings of it, without having to make a raid on Mum's and risk a clip round the ear hole.

What's more, the parents who took their pride and joys along to the Mini-Pops auditions in the summer of 1982 seemed more than happy at the prospect of them becoming miniature Bananaramas or whoever.


Or was it?

Middle Britain threw up its hands in horror at the little girl who sang Sheena Easton's 1980 hit 9 to 5 in night attire (Sheena had at least worn a boiler suit) - "Night time is the right time, we make love..."

Disgusting! The girl in question later said that she had no idea what it meant (as an aside, I think "making love" once had a much more innocent meaning: one made love with words and poetry, but long before the 1980s it had been designated as "nookie" only).

In fact, middle Britain threw up its hands in horror at the whole spectacle of these little kids wearing glitzy and sometimes skimpy mini-versions of their pop idols' garb.

And as for the lip gloss and the eyeliner and some of the dance moves...

Disgusting to the absolute max.

And surely the show would attract every Tom, Dick and Pervy in the country? It would kill of the children's childhoods prematurely. They'd all need psychiatric help by the time they were teens...

It's wrong to generalise, and perhaps it wasn't only middle Britain that was outraged by the show, but the attitude of the working class tabloid the Daily Mirror to the first Mini-Pops show on 8 February 1983 was rather different...

There is a chance tonight to spot the stars of tomorrow. Twenty youngsters were chosen from 800 hopefuls for a place on the new series MINI POPS (Channel 4, 6pm).

Over the next six weeks they get the chance to dress up as their pop idols and sing their hit songs.

Mike Mansfield, who produced the show, says he was "amazed" at their talent.
"A few of them could become very big names," he predicts.

Some of the youngsters have already hit the charts with a Mini-Pops album.

The series was filmed at record speed. Mansfield explained: "The children are available only during school holidays. We ended up making the entire series in one week."

He believes the show will appeal to all ages.

Mansfield says: "Adults will watch because they love kids. And the kids will watch because lots of them rehearse in their bedrooms with a hairbrush for a mike while singing along to a hit record."

From the Daily Mirror TV listings, February 8, 1983:

Mini-Pops: New light entertainment series in which the entertainers are all kids aged between seven and ten. They're our future stars.

All good, innocent fun, you see?

But elsewhere, well...

From the Observer, 27 February, 1983:

Is it merely priggish to feel queasy at the sight of primary school minxes with rouged cheeks, eye make-up and full-gloss lipstick belting out songs like torch singers and waggling those places where they will eventually have places? The final act of last week's show featured a chubby blonde totlette, thigh-high to a paedophile, in a ra-ra skirt and high heels; her black knickers were extensively flashed as she bounced around singing the words "See that guy all dressed in green/He's not a man, he's a loving machine." Kiddiporn, a shop-window full of junior jailbait? And does the show thrust premature sexual awareness onto its wide-eyed performers?

One phone caller to Channel 4's Right To Reply show raged:

"Mini Pops should be called Mini Whores. Are you people out of your mind?"

A bit strong, wasn't it? After all many female (and, indeed, some male) pop stars of the 1980s put their make up on with a trowel and wore tarty garb, it was the norm, and surely these were just little children pretending to be them?

What does come across, from looking into the subject, is the innocent intentions of the show's producers and the enthusiasm of the kids involved.

But worthy folk worried about the "sexualisation" of children performing on the show.

And perverts tuning in.

And so, the show ended.

What did I think?

Did I believe that the show was going to attract evil perverts?

Did I believe that it was robbing the kiddies of their childhoods?

Did I believe that it was simply fun?

Did I think that it was.... um... well... just a teensy bit common?

Well, this is where this blog post gets really embarrassing.

I never watched it.

I always watched Crossroads instead.

16 August 2010

The Number 73 Coin...

Get down to 73! Neil Buchanan, Dawn Lodge (Andrea Arnold), Ethel Davis (Sandi Toksvig) and Harry Stern (Nick Staverson) provided Saturday morning TV fun in the 1980s. The series ran from 1982 to 1988.

I've had an interesting e-mail from Ian, regarding my favourite Saturday morning kids' show ever - No 73.

Ian was a No 73 viewer in 1986, and watched an episode in which a guest demonstrated how coins were made and pressed.

Ian recalls that around one hundred special No 73 coins were made, and offered to the first one hundred viewers to write in.

Ian tells me:

I was lucky enough to get one and it originally came in a small red gift box with a letter signed by the crew, unfortunately the box and letter have long gone but I have held onto the coin for all these years.

The coin was inscribed with the initials of the No 73 occupants of the time - N for Neil, K for Kim, D for Dawn and H for Harry, and the year it was produced - 1986.

Ian writes:

I have looked a number of times on the internet for anything to do with the coin but have never found anything, if anyone else out there still has one it would be great to know

So, if anybody has a No 73 coin like Ian's, please drop me a line.

I have been in touch with a very kind and helpful contact of mine who has access to the No 73 archive to ask if the coin episode still exists, and he informs me that all the seasons from 1982-1985 are intact, but after that it becomes very patchy, with many gaps. The episode won't exist on any professional format.

If anybody videod the coin episode, or any other No 73 episodes from 1986-1988, we'd love to hear from you!

Both sides of the No 73 coin - images provided by Ian.

Read all our No 73 posts here.

12 August 2010

The Secret Diary Of An Adrian Moler (aged 20 and one month)...

The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend was published in October 1982, and the paperback edition in October 1983. The sequel, The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole, followed in 1984.

Back in the early 1980s, I determinedly donned a donkey jacket. The height of fashion. "It was like it was nailed to your back, even at the height of summer!" said a nasty old relative of mine recently.

This was "dressing down" to the max.

But, slowly but surely, the influence of the New Romantics and posey TV shows of the decade began to impinge upon my dullard brain, and so I got dressy.

And I loved it.

I was the original 1980s fashion victim - and a cerise mesh vest, neon blue jacket with colossal shoulders, and skin tight banana yellow trousers were amongst my very favourite things to combat nakedness.

In the mid-1980s, I became a care worker and there was a chic which went with that - a nice lumberjack shirt, or what I called a "wholemeal" jumper (boring brown, un-startling pattern) and maroon trousers were so suitable for this role.

I looked comforting. Dependable. The right look was so important for everything I did.

And when the optician said I needed glasses, I chose a nice, stylish pair and gloated over how they added to my safe, dependable look for work - and how they also gave me an academic air.

I didn't wear for them nights out, they didn't go with my Miami Vice chic, but for my work/daytime chic they were so fabulous.

In the mid-1980s, there were all kinds of chics.

A slight unease began when I visited my GP to have my ears syringed in late 1985, about three weeks after getting my glasses.

There were two nice old ladies in the waiting room - the sort of old ladies you don't see nowadays - both wearing hats - both reminiscing about the Second World War.

The receptionist indicated that doc was ready to see me, and as I made my way to his consulting room door, one of the old ladies twittered:

"Doesn't he look almost exactly like Adrian Mole?!"

I turned, incredulously, to see both old ladies were looking at me.

"Oh, did you hear me?" asked the one that had spoken.

"Yes!" I was furious, and glowered at her.

Without a word of apology, the old dear turned to her pal, and both tittered.

Reflecting that the elderly were not what they were, I went into the doctor.

A few days later, I emerged from my flat, on the way to the Co-op for Weetabix and spuds. A bloke fixing the exterior light of the flat next door turned to me, grinned broadly, gave me a huge thumbs up, and said:

"Hi, Adrian!"

I gave him an icy glare and swept past him.

I was getting worried. I knew who Adrian Mole was, had seen the books by Sue Townsend, and some of the TV series episodes starring Gian Sammarco, and I knew there was a resemblance between me and this character when I wore my goggles.

But surely not that much?!

Christmas arrived - and a family Christmas party. I went straight from work, knowing that I was safe in my glasses as none of my loving kinfolk would ever take the P.

Two of my cousins stepped forward, with gaily wrapped pressies.

These two cousins had never given me presents before ever - and I'd known them all my life.

I was touched.

I opened the first. It was a book.

It was The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾.

I opened the second.

It was another book - The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole.

"Thought you might like them, seeing as you wrote them," said one of my dear cousins.

I was startled.

I was stung.

"You bloody little gits!" I spat, and stalked off.

I was growing very unhappy indeed.

In Miami Vice chic night-time mode, without my glasses, I looked nothing like Adrian Mole, but by day...

Things came to a head a few days later, when, strolling down the main street after work, I was suddenly mobbed by a group of about nine lads, who came galloping across the road, looking thrilled to bits, and squawking: "ADRIAN MOLER! ADRIAN MOLER!"

They were big and beefy lads, and I was terrified.

One clapped me ferociously on the back, the others stood around bellowing: "WOTCHA, ADRIAN!" "HI, AIDY!!" "WOT YOU UP TO, ADRIAN?" and other things like that.

Trembling with fear, I moved off, with "der lads" shouting after me: "BYE, AIDY!!" "SEE YA, ADRIAN!!" and "HEY - ADRIAN - GIVE MY LOVE TO PANDORA!"

Back in the safety of my flat, I gathered my wits.

Adrian Moler? Sounded like "Greaser".

Did these lads actually think that I'd set out to look like Adrian Mole? That I was effecting a kind of Adrian Mole chic?

Off came the glasses.

And I never wore them again.

And, not being confident with the contact lens concept, I simply let my eyes go hang.

Something I regret because I now have to wear glasses - it's an absolute necessity.

Anything beyond arm's length is a complete blur.

Of course, these days I'm fond of Adrian. The daft lad with the literary pretensions who started his first diary in January 1981 has grown up and I'm very worried about him - having just read The Prostrate Years.

But there was a time, in the mid-1980s, during my unwitting Adrian Moler period, that I couldn't stick the little prat.

In recent years, I thought that Harry Potter, as portrayed in the films, looked like Adrian Mole as portrayed in the '80s TV series.

But nobody gave him any stick about it.

Life is so unfair.

Read our main Adrian Mole '80s Actual article here.