20 February 2012

Knight Rider - "The Best Series Ever Made!"

1982 was a surprising year for police officer Michael Long - he became Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff), field operative for FLAG, and gained a new friend - KITT the super car - a modified 1982 Pontiac Trans Am.

Ah, 1980s telly! I adored it - Treasure Hunt, No 73, Edge Of Darkness, Juliet Bravo, The Beiderbecke Trilogy, Tenko, Sorry!, The Adventure Game, A Very Peculiar Practice, Blott On The Landscape, The Gentle Touch, Spitting Image, early Brookside and EastEnders, early Channel Four and Breakfast TV, Gilbert's Fridge, Dangermouse, Duckula, Willo The Wisp, Albion Market (personal taste!), Press Gang, Sorry I'm A Stranger Here Myself, Shine On Harvey Moon, Dear John, Just Good Friends, Only Fools And Horses, Yes Minister/Prime Minister - and those are just for starters!

But there are many '80s telly programmes that I either missed or that did not appeal which are apparently considered essential for inclusion on any '80s nostalgia blog. Testing the opinions of friends recently, I was told that it was a crime I hadn't included the American sitcom ALF in the topics covered so far, and my good friend and colleague Ronnie Smith informed me with quiet sincerity that Knight Rider was "the best series ever made".

Of course, I could have scouted around gathering information about Knight Rider and written an article based on that, but Ronnie's enthusiasm interested me and so I asked him if I could interview him on the subject. He agreed, and the result can be read below.
  • Andy: OK, Ronnie - here we go. Firstly, can I ask you when Knight Rider started in America and what it was about?

  • Ronnie: Yeah, it started in 1982 in America. It was about a man and his talking super car fighting criminals who are above the law. It finished in 1986..

  • A: I remember the voice-over at the beginning - "A Shadowy Flight Into The World Of A Man That Does Not Exist". What did that mean?

  • R: In the pilot the main character was a police officer called Michael Long.

  • A: Right - what happened to him and who was Michael Knight?

  • R: He [Michael Long] gets shot in the head in the line of duty. He survives because of a metal plate in his head that deflects the bullet through his face A man called Wilton Knight rescues him and gives him a new face, has him declared legally dead, and give him a new identity - and so Michael Knight is born.

  • A: Sounds fascinating! Of course, we all remember KITT the car. How did he come about, and just how talented was this super car?

  • R: The car was a creation of Wilton Knight, a billionaire. He dies in the pilot but his legacy is FLAG the foundation for law and government. His dream is that one man can make a difference. He gives KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) to MIchael. KITT is an advanced A.I whose primary function is the preservation of human life. The car has a molecular bonded shell that makes it almost indestructible. It can reach speeds of 300mph, jump through the air, drive itself and has lots of gadgets on it. The car is a Pontiac Trans Am.

  • A: Great! Did Michael and KITT have any particular friends and enemies in the series?

  • R: There was Devon Miles who is Michael's boss. Bonnie Barstow who looks after KITT RC3 and helps Michael out, and also April who takes over from Bonnie when she leaves. There are different bad guys in every episode. The only really notable bad guy is Garthe Knight (played by David Hasslehoff wearing a moustache). He is Wilton Knight's son and reappears in a few episodes.

  • A: That all sounds very intriguing! I seem to recall that the relationship between Michael and KITT was pretty central to the show and both had distinctive personalities, although KITT was a machine! I recall KITT always advising Michael to be careful, and Michael always being ready to take risks. There was some humour between the two characters if I remember rightly - and I only saw a few episodes. How do you think the relationship between man and machine added to the series?

  • R: In the beginning Michael hated KITT but KITT was always there for him. Their relationship grew and it was just like it was two humans. They cared for each other like any police partners would and were always looking out for each other. A lot of the time it was just them two. The show always dealt with serious issues but the banter and humour between always brought it down a notch to make it suitable for a younger audience. An example is the first episode with Michael being shot in the head.

  • A: Is that when he first met KITT?

  • R: He meets KITT in the first episode but after he has recovered and is sent out in the car... well, not sent out - more like takes the car...

  • A: He TAKES the car? Good grief!

  • R: Yeah, they let him take the car and he knows it's a special car but he doesn't know about KITT.

  • A: OK. Now, Ronnie, Knight Rider first came to the UK around 1983. Can you tell me how you first met the show, and how old you were?

  • R: I'm not sure exactly how old I was but I was around 3 or 4. I spent a lot of time with my granddad. He used to record it for me and i would go round his every weekend and watch it with him.

  • A: That sounds pretty special. VCRs were not very widespread in the early 1980s. So Knight Rider is a really early memory of yours?

  • R: Yes very early. I didn't have a VCR back then. It's why I love Knight Rider - it just brings back memories of being with my Granddad. We used to watch it then play 'smash ups' with my toy cars.

  • A: Very special memories. I remember you saying that Knight Rider was the "best series ever made". Could you recommend any particular "stand out" episodes for newcomers to the show?

  • R: The pilot is a must then the episodes with KARR (Knight automated rolling robot) which was KITT's prototype. Also the ones where KITT gets destroyed - and the ones with Garthe.

  • A: I think I'll take a look at some of this myself! The theme tune is probably one of the most iconic 1980s themes ever. Do you like it and do you think it fits the mood of the show?

  • R: Yeah, I love the theme tune and have had it as my ring tone on lots of phones. It has also been used in a couple of songs. A lot of the '80s shows had great themes, but the two best for me were Knight Rider and Airwolf.

  • A: Great! And finally, Ronnie, do you still watch Knight Rider today? - and if so, what puts you in the mood for a viewing?

  • R: Yes I do watch it. I have all of them on DVD. I tend to watch it if I'm feeling down or I'm ill and feeling sorry for myself. It's a good way to cheer myself up but I could watch it any time. I still love it just as much as when I was a kid.

Thanks, Ronnie! Now, if any ALF fans out there would like to be interviewed on the subject for '80s Actual, please get in touch!

Knight Rider had some very snazzy associated merchandise. In the picture from a 1984 mail order catalogue are a very wonderful KITT toy car and a battery operated Knight Rider push button intercom set that: "really works from room to room. Includes 30ft cable, buzzer sound and working light."

18 February 2012

1986: Chernobyl

The Chernobyl disaster - and a rise in radiation levels across Europe. Poor old ignorant me was caught out in a downpour just after it happened and, with the knowledge that there was a radiactive cloud somewhere overhead, and also having heard that rain was a good carrier of radiation, I wondered if my snorkel parka, which I always hung behind my bedroom door, would be glowing when I turned out the light and got into bed.

That may sound humorous - but I kid you not!

Breaking news - from The Times, 29 April, 1986:

Huge Nuclear Leak At Soviet Plant

Alert 1,000 Miles Away In Sweden After Moscow Admits Casualties.

A massive radioactive leak at a Soviet nuclear power station has caused casualties in what may be the world's worst nuclear accident. The leak was so large that it prompted a full-scale alert nearly 1,000 miles away in Sweden, including the evacuation of 600 workers from a Swedish power station on the Baltic coast.

Finland reported radiation levels six times higher than normal. Denmark five times higher than normal, and Norway 50% up as a result of the accident. "We have registered radiation just about everywhere we have looked," said Mr Ragnor Boge, of the Swedish Radiation Institute.

Soviet atomic energy authorities at first told the Swedish Embassy in Moscow they were unaware of any nuclear accident on Soviet territory that could cause a leak to reach Sweden.

But later Tass reported that an accident had taken place at a nuclear power station at Chernobyl, north of Kiev, and there were some casualties.

It said measures were being taken "to eliminate the consequences of the accident" at the plant, where a reactor had been damaged. Aid was being given to those affected by the leak, it added.

Swedish scientists at first believed a leak had occurred at their own nuclear plant at Forsmark, on the Baltic coast about 60 miles north of Stockholm, and evacuated the 600 workers there. After the evacuation radiation levels were checked at other areas of the country, including the capital.

These all confirmed a higher degree of radioactivity than normal, and further tests at Forsmark led the Swedish authorities to conclude that the discharge had come from the Soviet Union.

Some Swedish nuclear experts said they believed the Soviet accident was caused by the overheating of nuclear fuel. A "considerable explosion" would be the result of such overheating and could have led to a "meltdown" of the nuclear core at the reactor, they said.

The Swedish energy minister, Mrs Birgitta Dahl, said all Russian nuclear reactors should be placed under international control.

"We must demand that [the] Soviet Union improve their security and inform the rest of the world of such accidents in good time," she said.

The first stage of the Chernobyl nuclear plant was put into service in September 1977, followed by two more stages in 1980.

A government committee of inquiry has been set up by the Soviet Union into the accident, Tass said.

The Swedish Defence Ministry said an abnormally high level of radioactivity had been recorded on Monday afternoon by several monitoring stations in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

The ministry said that at a rate of "a few millirems an hour" the level was not thought high enough to warrant the evacuation of the local population at Forsmark. It would not be a danger to human beings, although regional specialists said the level was twice as high in Finland as in Sweden and Norway.

A millirem is a unit of ionizing radiation that gives the same biological effect as one thousandth of a standard unit of X-rays.

MOSCOW: Tass said the accident was the first of its kind in the USSR (Christopher Walker writes).

Since Mr Mikhail Gorbachov [sic] came to power in March 1985 there have been repeated calls in the Soviet Union for more open reporting of disasters within the Soviet Union.

The Tass statement was seen as a quick propaganda move ordered by the Kremlin to counter any international criticism of safety measures taken inside the Soviet Union, which has traditionally surrounded details of its nuclear programme with secrecy.

Abandoned villages: There was a serious nuclear accident in the Soviet Union during the winter of 1957-58, according to a report published in February 1980 by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee (UPI reports).

The report said the contamination covered between 40 to 400 square miles. It said there was "some loss of life" and at least 30 villages were abandoned, their names subsequently deleted from Soviet maps.