Monday, 29 April 2013

Monday 29 April 1963

The great achievement of Coronation Street is that when it's at its very best it manages to be both the best drama and the best sitcom on television.  Tonight's episode is a spectacular example of the show at its funniest thanks to a sparkling script from Alec Travis, creative direction from Gerald Dynevor, and four top-notch comic performances from Street regulars Angela Crow, Eileen Derbyshire, Philip Lowrie and Pat Phoenix.

Tonight's Corrie grabs our interest from the outset with an arresting image following straight after the opening titles:

Whose legs could these be but Elsie Tanner's? She's in the midst of her morning routine, hampered by Len Fairclough, who's let himself in for breakfast, and her son Dennis, who's unexpectedly returned from an extended visit to London.

Dennis is full of compliments about his mother's appearance, but the honeymoon atmosphere doesn't last long: Elsie's determined to know the reason her son's turned up on her doorstep, unconvinced by his protestations that he just wanted to see her.  Here, for anyone who might like it, is a glimpse of Dennis's chest.

Elsie comes closer to enlightenment about what's going on when pretty but none-too-bright Londoner Mavis Fox turns up on her doorstep.  Rita's smitten with Dennis, who was staying with her and her mother in London.  She's under the impression that 11 Coronation Street is in fact the home of Dennis's bedridden gran, his fabulously wealthy parents residing in a luxurious mansion named Whispering Pines.  Even in the bewildered state this throws her into Elsie's cunning doesn't desert her, and she assumes the role of a helpful neighbour ("I just pop in to do the taidying up from taime to taime").  She's informed that Dennis's father is a retired mill owner - "Oh, I'd always wondered" she replies, meaningfully.

There's worse to come: "It's a pity about his mother, though".  It turns out that Mrs Tanner suffers from frequent nervous breakdowns.

Elsie reacts to her diagnosis
Pat Phoenix's performance in this scene is painfully funny, and a fantastic showcase for her versatility as an actress.

When Dennis returns Elsie is predictably unimpressed, and demands he tell the hapless Mavis the truth about his origins.

In tonight's other main story, ace reporter Lucille Hewitt hastens to Gamma Garments to get a scoop for the Bessie Street School Magazine.  In Mr Swindley's absence there's been a robbery, but Miss Nugent and Doreen Lostock are unwilling to provide a blow-by-blow account, and send Lucille away.

Miss Nugent's utterly distraught that the stock's been stolen on her watch, and Doreen tries to take her mind off it by asking her what she's got in her sandwiches.  "Cheese and mint.  But for all the appetite I've got they might as well be carbolic soap".  Cheese and mint! Banal yet bizarre details like this are precisely the reason I find old TV so appealing.

Inevitably, conversation turns to the raiders, as the pair reflect on how they were fooled by a pair of charmers:
Miss Nugent: They were such friendly young men.  Such an air of camaraderie.
Doreen: Specially Fred.
Miss Nugent: I would never have thought it of Fred.
Doreen: The way that he - I mean, that he -
Miss Nugent: And his manner...

"I would never have thought it of Fred"
They decide that Fred must have been led astray by his less dreamy friend Alf, who they describe to the police in forensic detail while pretending to have completely forgotten what Fred looked like.  The absence of Arthur Lowe as Swindley means Eileen Derbyshire and Angela Crow get to shine as a double-act (we do, however, learn that Swindley thinks that v-necked sequined sweaters are "wantonly provocative").  Derbyshire's such a consummate comic actress that the subsequent, rather dull, development of her character seems a huge waste.

Ena Sharples makes a brief cameo appearance, spreading a little sunshine as usual by assuring the shop staff that the thieves will return, before pouring cold water on Minnie Caldwell's impulsive decision to switch to nylon stockings.

And there's an unexpected happy ending when Gamma Garments boss Mr Papagopoulos calls to say he doesn't care about the stolen stock as it was insured, and he'd wanted to get rid of it anyway.  "He just pooh-poohed" says a stunned Miss Nugent.  "You what?" "Pooh-poohed".

The other key storyline this week features Frank Barlow raising eyebrows around the Street with some rather furtive behaviour.  Martha Longhurst's gossip detector's twitching: "Happen it were something he didn't want their Kenneth and Valerie to know about".

It turns out Frank's decided to pack in his job at the post office and open a hardware store.  Earth-shattering stuff.

The episode's final scene begins with a fantastic bit of (mis)direction from Gerald Dynevor, as it opens with a huge, disorienting close-up of an old man's sleeping face.

The camera pans out to reveal that far from being a key character in the scene, he's an extra in the art gallery Dennis has brought Mavis to in order to break his news.

Mavis is convinced Dennis thinks she's not good enough for his fancy family, and breaks his nerve with her tears - he decide to take her to dinner instead of telling her the truth.  As they stroll off, the camera returns to the snoozing gent and the credits roll.  It's quite the cliffhanger.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sunday 28 April 1963

The Fireball XL5 crew have had some splendidly outlandish adventures in recent weeks, but today's tale of interstellar intrigue is disappointingly mundane.  A string of freighters under robotic control have broken down, with the shady Briggs brothers of the Space Salvage Company always in the vicinity to haul away the wreckage.  The Briggses are a startling reminder of how widespread acromegaly will be by 2063.  And their ship looks like it was knocked up on an episode of Blue Peter.

Commander Zero's convinced that the Briggses are sabotaging the freighters, but proof of how they're doing it remains elusive.  Could it have anything to do with Space City engineer Jock's sinister Hispanic assistant  Edmundo? Why yes it could, thanks very much for asking.

From the second he appears it's blatantly obvious that Edmundo's sabotaging the freighters, though we're bafflingly kept in "suspense" about it for a while.  But then, in the still of the night, as the Space City personnel are sleeping, out he creeps to attach an explosive device to the latest freighter under construction.  As he goes about his furtive business we get to see both Jock and Steve Zodiac in their beds, and their contrasting choice of art.  Committed stereotype Jock has a traditional Scots painting (and a Tam O'Shanter nearby), while Steve has plumped for an abstract, modernist image.

"Edmundo is not so stupid as they all think!" chortles the evil engineer as he carries out his nefarious deed - referring to oneself in the third person being an internationally recognised sign of high intelligence.  Undoubtedly the best thing about the episode is the fabulous twangy guitar tune that accompanies Edmundo's hovercar flight to the Briggs Brothers' swamp hideout.

Steve accompanies the new freighter into space to see what happens to it, but the Briggses trick him into going to check out a fake distress call.  The next night he catches Edmundo in the act of sabotage, and ties him and the brothers up aboard a freighter with a device that will explode unless they confess.  Questionable ethics, to say the least.  It's a tense wait to see whether the criminals will crumble or blow up.  Commander Zero for one breaks into quite a sweat about it.

The hard-bitten Briggses are convinced Steve's bluffing but Edmundo, being a cowardly Latin type (blame scriptwriter Alan Fennell for that, not me) loses his nerve and confesses all.  But it's too late - the device is going to go off anyway!

Ha ha, that fooled 'em!

The Robot Freighter Mystery suffers from a distinct lack of, well, mystery, for one thing.  And Venus for another.   And (I can't believe I'm saying this) an even more distinct lack of Zoonie.  It's just not as fun as usual.  Thankfully, the same can't be said for this week's Noggin.

You may remember that last week we left a disguised Noggin and a dragged-up Thor Nogsson as they were about to trek across the sea of silver sands to the palace of Sheikh Ahmad-al-Ahmad.  This week they've reached their destination, but poor Thor's still struggling with the rudiments of camel riding.  While he's been waiting for them, Graculus has found some local birds to chat up.  Noggin wants to let him know they've arrived.  "You wave, Noggin, it's unladylike for me to wave," says Thor, showing an admirable commitment to character.

Graculus's friends have informed him of a blind sweetmeat seller who can show them the way in to the palace.  His list of wares is impressive: "Delights from Turkey! Farthing bananas! Cakes from Pontefract! Buy a sherbet dab! The eyes of bulls! All sorts of liquorice!" In exchange for a piece of gold he reveals the secret entrance to our heroes.  I love the peacock design on the outside of the palace.  Glorious.

Inside, Noggin and his friends watch as the Arab who stole Noggin's crown gives it to the Sheikh... only for him to crown Noggin's wicked uncle Nogbad!

Erm, that bodyguard's a bit dubious

But Noggin's attempt to straighten Thor's veil leads to a sneezing fit, alerting the villains to our friends' presence...

"Pull that veil over your face, you're supposed to be a lady!"
This week's hit parade: Gerry and the Pacemakers remain in the top spot, but hot on their heels is another Liverpool group, the very popular Beatles, climbing from 23 to 3 with their latest waxing, "From Me to You".

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Saturday 27 April 1963

Regular readers with longish memories might remember that when Neil Hallett first appeared as Ghost Squad operative Tony Miller he was accompanied by another agent, Sally Lomax (Patricia Mort) - though she hasn't been seen since.  Well this week, in the absence of Miller and Nick Craig, Sally gets to star in her very own adventure.  It's called The Thirteenth Girl, and it's a corker - involving, as it does, au pair girls sold into good old fashioned white slavery.

When we first see Sally, she's practising her judo throws, clearly in the hope of becoming the new Cathy Gale.  It's a shame Honor Blackman's Book of Self-Defence hadn't been published yet, as having Sally read that would have been a masterstroke.

Sally's ambitions are swiftly punctured by grumpy old Superintendent Stock, who suggests she'd be better off as a belly dancer and dispatches her to make the tea when guest star John Carson arrives as Swiss detective Franz Hartmann.

Hartmann's come to enlist the squad's aid in solving the murders of two Swiss au pairs who were working in London - one of whom was his own fiancee.  It soon emerges that in fact 11 au pairs from a variety of countries have gone missing.  And they've all been employed by the same agency, run by the seemingly charming Connie Amhurst (Peggy Marshall).  Sally's assigned to get a job from Connie's agency, in the guise of a be-pigtailed Swiss girl.  She gets to act like a proper spy, with a camera concealed in a (huge) pendant and everything.

Sally's swiftly placed with finicky widow Mrs Henderson (future Hazel the McWitch Molly Weir), who casts a critical eye over her domestic activity despite later being revealed as an old friend of Stock's who knew who Sally was all along.  Here you get a glimpse of the charming floral ensemble Sally wears to do her hoovering.

Connie Amhurst appears to have the best of motherly intentions toward Sally, encouraging her to visit the International Friends Club rather than the town's less salubrious nightspots.  On her visit there Sally just about manages to escape the attentions of the club's manager, ageing would-be lothario "Whitey" Whitehead (John Wentworth).

Hartmann, meanwhile, finds out that Connie's not as sweet as she seems: she's got a string of vice convictions almost as long as her list of aliases.  She and Whitey (her husband, as it turns out), entrap girls by getting them drunk at parties and making them think they've killed Whitey while fending off his advances.  Connie then offers her assistance in helping them escape to Birmingham... where a terrible fate awaits them (I shall refrain from jokes about a terrible fate awaiting anyone who escapes to Birmingham).  Their latest victim's naive Dane Bodil Anderson (familiar 60s glamour girl Edina Ronay).  The honey in the trap's provided by Connie's associate Ray (John Ronane), who somehow manages to make all of the target girls fall in love with him (never underestimate the power of a good overcoat).

Sally boards the train with Bodil, and after they nearly both fall victim to Whitey and his thugs she gets the chance to show the baddies what she's made of.

 One of the great pleasures of 1960s film and TV is the ubiquitous party scene - and in particular the extras to be seen shaking their stuff in the background.  There are some amazing characters to be seen at Bodil's 21st birthday party, twisting the night away for all they're worth.  Although this moustachioed chap looks thoroughly uncomfortable, and may have taken a wrong turning on the way to the Conservative club.

My particular favourite is the glamorous bespectacled lady here...

...later to be seen slow dancing with a chap in a fantastic jumper.

As we're in a community of international visitors, there's a much wider mix of ethnicities than you'd normally see on TV at this time.  Rather daringly, the man Sally slow dances with is black (although he's not built up into a proper character).

Cult TV fans may like to note that after last week's guest appearance from John Paul, The Thirteenth Girl features his eventual Doomwatch co-star Simon Oates as an amorous client of Connie's.

The Thirteenth Girl is smashing fun, superbly directed by Peter Sasdy, and packed with fascinating 60s background detail.  Patricia Mort's hugely likeable as Sally, a character who stays just about the right side of ditsy.

It's the last in the current series of Arthur's show, and there's a definite air of end-of-term mischief to the episode.  Things are turned on their head with the weekly tramp sketch starting rather than closing the show.  Dermot's in agony with a toothache, and as he waits for the dentist Arthur does his best to make things worse by using his trusty denture nutcrackers and relating gruesome dental scare stories - and managing to sneak in an unexpected salute as he describes a great big pair of pinchers.

Arthur's offer to try and extract Dermot's troublesome tooth with his utility dentures, and his demonstration of how he sharpens them to shave with, are sinister to say the least.

On entering dentist Nicholas Parsons' office and discovering nearly all his teeth need to be extracted, Dermot tries to escape: "I'm not entitled to the benefits, I'm a foreigner," he claims.  "Then you're more entitled than an Englishman," Parsons drily responds, to wild audience applause.  Some things never change.

It's an unusually ribald sketch, sailing especially close to the wind with a couple of double entendres: "You've no right to come in here and leave your nuts lying around," Parsons exclaims, angered by Arthur bringing some nibbles in with him.  Later the dentist produces a huge hypodermic needle.  "He's gonna stick it up your gum," Arthur warns his friend.  "He's not sticking it up my gum, I couldn't stand the pain!" cries Dermot.

The sketch ends in characteristically dark fashion with a gas accident rendering Parsons unconscious and Arthur and Dermot deciding to make off with his gold teeth.

This week's musical spot sees the return of the series' liveliest guests, the late Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen.  I like drummer Ron Bowden's personalised kit... and is that George Baker on trombone?

"Now we'd like to give you the opportunity to go out and put the kettle on, 'cos I'm gonna sing," Kenny banters endearingly between numbers, giving us a sweet rendition of "My Mother's Eyes".

The series ends in admirably chaotic fashion with Arthur, Dermot and Parsons on stage performing Shakespeare - Arthur's bizarre choice of walk causing Parsons to crack up as per.

But while the leading lady (strangely enough another Doomwatch regular, Jean Trend) attempts her big speech, the rest of the cast notice a fire's broken out in the corner of the set.

Cue various ludicrous attempts to put out the fire while carrying on with the show, climaxing with Arthur setting himself on fire.  Now there's a stunt to finish your series with.

As the credits roll, the cast - joined on stage by Kenny Ball and his band - take a bow.

Arthur Haynes will be back next year.  I don't know about you, but I can't wait.

Tonight's instalment of our favourite psychiatric drama is, well, bizarre.  To say the least.  It all starts off with middle-aged couple Henry and Julia (The Good Old Days MC Leonard Sachs and Ursula Howells, star of one of my favourite films, Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly) attending a party.  On spotting a Dorsesque blonde, Julia flies into a fit of rage, convinced she's having an affair with Henry.  Removed from the party by her concerned friends, Julia slashes her wrists with shards of glass from a broken vase.

Julia survives, and is taken to Dr Corder's hospital, where she tells Henry she'll give him a divorce, and refuses to see him ever again.

However, Henry insists to Corder and Jimmy Davis that there's never been another woman, and that he's unable to understand Julia's insane jealousy.  It looks to our psychiatrist heroes like a pretty simple case: Julia, who hates herself for being unable to have a child, has convinced herself that the perfectly innocent Henry's found himself a woman the opposite of her.  But then Henry's boss Norman (Patrick Whyte) shatters this theory by revealing that Henry's excuse for returning home late - dinners with clients - is a bare-faced lie.

So what is Henry up to? This is where the episode springs its mid-point twist: he's even more screwed up than his wife.  Norman and Corder follow him from work and watch as he stands on a railway bridge by the Horlicks building taking part in a montage sequence, and when he lifts a small boy up to see the trains there's a heart-stopping moment where it looks like he's about to throw the child on to the tracks.

Corder and Norman follow Henry to the railway station, where he eludes them by the simple expedient of putting on a jumper and combing his hair forward.

Is Henry a schizophrene, wonders Jimmy, warning Dr Corder, "As you've said yourself many times, schizophrenes can be dangerous."

When Henry disappears, Corder's daughter Jennifer - as is often the case - supplies a vital clue: she's seen Henry before at a swinging nightclub that glories in the name of The Cat's Picnic.  Corder sends his assistant Jane to investigate.  And what she sees is not easy for her (or us) to credit: Leonard Sachs doing the twist in a pair of leather trousers!

It turns out that Henry, whose adolescence was curtailed by his strict father's insistence on him spending his whole time studying, has been desperately trying to experience the youth he missed out on.  To this end, he regularly takes himself off to The Cat's Picnic to ingratiate himself with hip young things - though the moody lot only look on the try-hard old geezer with contempt.

The handsome chap at the back's Robin Hawdon, star of lunatic sci-fi  sexploitation movie Zeta One
Henry's attempts to get down with the kids are so pathetic they're difficult to watch.  He ends up trying to prove himself by racing a motorbike (he makes the mistake of referring to it as a "sickle" - to him this is hip jargon, to the kids it's hopelessly passé), only to get knocked out by its rightful owner.

Luckily Jane steps in to plead that the kids stop being so beastly, and they're shamed into feeling pity for poor old Henry.

Dr Corder's slightly worrying solution to Henry and Julia's problems is for them to adopt a child (I'm not sure that'd be the best household to grow up in).  Not that he thinks Henry wanting to behave like a youngster's such a bad thing - he even encourages him to buy his own motorbike (that timeless symbol of the mid-life crisis).  Time's had a funny effect on The Lost Hours, with much of it now looking absolutely ridiculous (although utterly fascinating for 60s enthusiasts) - however, beyond its hokey representation of youth culture and its interesting trousers there's a deeply affecting drama, superbly acted by Sachs and Howells.

The Lost Hours is stuffed with more delightful background details than just about any other programme I've featured at TV Minus 50.  Here are two that I especially love.  The name of the company Henry works for:

I wonder what they do?
And the (presumably genuine) poster centre screen here.  Now THAT's what I call advertising.