Wednesday, 26 November 2014

21-27 November 1964

Hello.  Welcome to the new, weekly format TV Minus 50.  Pleasingly, we kick off with a bit of a TV milestone.

Saturday 21 November

After watching an edition of Juke Box Jury with the tantalising lineup of Alma Cogan, Spike Milligan and Liza Minnelli, viewers of BBC 1 could settle themselves down in front of a thrilling new adventure for

It's an adventure of a far grimmer kind than anything the show's previously given us, setting out its stall straight away with a ragged figure tearing some kind of apparatus from his neck before immersing himself in the Thames.

Immediately after the water closes over the man's head the TARDIS makes its entrance by the riverside, its occupants' joy at being back in London swiftly dispersing as they notice the state of decay their surroundings are in (Ian's initial blithe rejoinder to the Doctor's concerns about the "time factor" is that it wouldn't matter if he and Barbara returned "A year or two either way" - a startlingly cavalier attitude when you think about it: explaining their disappearance would be one thing, having to hide out somewhere until they actually left quite another).  But they soon realise this is London of the much further future, and a deeply unappealing future at that, and prepare to return to the ship and try again.

But it's never that easy, is it? This time Susan, ever the liability, goes exploring and ends up bringing a ton of rubble crashing down upon the TARDIS and rendering it inaccessible.  She also hurts her ankle, though by now that seems about as noteworthy as pointing out that she breathes.  Her grandfather's patience has clearly worn as thin as this viewer's, and he offers some stern words before heading off with Ian to look for some kind of tool to cut through the obstructing girders.

A nearby warehouse looks promising, and among the debris there the two men find a rather unconvincingly mocked-up desk calendar that gives them some idea of just how far into Ian's future they've travelled (though, presuming it's far out of date by this point, it doesn't tell us when these events take place).

Further investigation brings to light the corpse (stabbed in the back) of another man in the same curious get-up as the one we saw drown.  Ian's fascinated by the whip he was carrying, while the Doctor gets down to examining his headgear: first he observes that it's "some form of adornment", before coming to the scarcely more helpful conclusion that "They've invented some form of personal communication!" (He communicates this to Ian, personally).

As well as being the grittiest instalment of Doctor Who to date, World's End is also by far the most exciting: while Ian nearly falls to his death after opening a door to nowhere, Susan and Barbara are forced to accompany a pair of gruff men, Carl Tyler (Bernard Kay) and David Campbell (Peter Fraser) through the derelict streets of London (a tremendously atmospheric sequence shot on film - this story sees Doctor Who's first significant use of outside locations, and some of its most effective ever) as they flee from the "Robomen".  The women are taken to an underground base where they encounter grumpy wheelchair user Dortmun (Alan Judd), seemingly the leader of this group of rebels (Susan's less likeable than ever in this scene - after Barbara's pressed into agreeing to cook for the group, she's asked what she can do: "I eat," she responds stroppily).  But what are they rebels from? Could it be whatever was in the flying saucer that passed overhead earlier?

Whatever's happening in this grave new world there's clearly no place for elephants
Murder, suicide, near-fatal accidents, flying saucers, robotic zombies, whips - this episode already has it all.  But there's one more thrill in store - one that fans who'd seen the trailers and seen the cover of the Radio Times would have spent the whole time anticipating.  In the episode's closing seconds, as Ian and the Doctor are cornered by a gang of Robomen with nowhere to go but the river, it finally appears, from somewhere nobody would have expected, and with a promise that next week there's more where it came from...

In tonight's Arthur Haynes Show, music is provided by both Acker Bilk (again) and the Countrymen, a band whose origin I've not been able to discover, but whose version of "Cielito Lindo" (you know, it's that Mexican song that goes "Ay, ay, ay, ay," etc.) sounds less than authentic.

The first sketch this evening, which sees Arthur and wife Patricia Hayes visit the House of Commons in an attempt to blackmail their MP (Nicholas Parsons) into keeping his tiny majority by paying for the upkeep of their elderly relatives, is notable for the appearance a truly horrific portrait of Winston Churchill (who Hayes knows mainly as the man who once swindled her Aunt Else out of 30 bob).

The show concludes with Arthur and Dermot descending on the home of a spluttering old Colonel (Parsons in a character part, for once) with a request that he command the regiment they've cobbled together from a band of ex-services tramps.  The sketch has a decent satirical thrust in Arthur's suggestion that the world needs more wars in order to keep old soldiers in employment, but it's chiefly memorable for being completely derailed by a spectacular fluff: "I've had enough cockypop for one day!", as a result of which Haynes deliberately muddles his lines up.

Staying with the military theme, we move on to tonight's Redcap, a slight but entertaining tale by TV Minus 50 favourite Julian Bond that makes for a pleasant breather after last week's brutal thriller.  Though it's a shame they couldn't have delayed this one a few weeks, as the action takes place at New Year (in the opening scene a glam TV announcer reveals that amongst the expected fare a new US sci-fi series, The Frontiers of Fear, is starting that evening - it sounds great).

Young officer Harry Barr (Giles Block) doesn't get to see it though, as he has to report for duty...

Barr's been at this training camp for three weeks, and is determined to prove himself "a good sort" to the men.  As such he doesn't take much convincing to accompany roguish Sergeant Greatorex (Barry Keegan) for a New Year drink at the mess (where future Love Thy Neighbour star Jack Smethurst tends the bar).

A few swift ones later, Barr's easily talked into ringing in the New Year with the Highland regiment down the road.  They drive there in an army truck which, on the way back, the extremely inebriated Barr drives straight into a pillar, knocking it over.

Greatorex and Sergeant Jones (Bernard Lloyd) do their best to cover up for Barr, trying to make it look like persons unknown hit the wall driving out of the camp then abandoned the vehicle.  But when Sergeant John Mann is called in to investigate it's not long before Barr decides to do the decent thing and confess, though he knows it'll be the end of his army career.

Mann grants Barr the chance to tell his CO (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) of his guilt - so he's astonished to be informed that the incident has in fact been pinned on another man entirely, camp nuisance Trooper Kelly (Harry Littlewood), who happily confesses to Mann that he was responsible.  

Troubled by the men of the camp laughing at him, Mann confronts the Colonel, who, without admitting anything, tells Mann what a shame it would be for a promising officer to have his career ruined when a soldier already in trouble for being AWOL, who would suffer no greater punishment for this crime as well, would make a convenient scapegoat.

There being nothing more he can do, a frustrated Mann departs, telling the staff sergeant (Colin Rix) to add his name to the monument commemorating the regiment's victories.  But before he drives off, in a gorgeous bit of acting from John Thaw, he permits himself the tiniest of wry smiles.

Bernard Kay makes his second appearance of the evening in a small part as a colleague of Mann's who, after several attempts, eventually gets the straitlaced sergeant to come to the pub with him (meaning that Mann ends up conducting his investigation with a massive hangover).

Among the other programmes on offer for viewers this evening was Shalom! a special show featuring the cream of Israeli cabaret - as emblematic an example of early BBC 2 programming as you could hope to find.

Sunday 22 November

Centre stage in tonight's Stingray is taken by the nefarious Agent X20, who shows that his imitations aren't limited to Peter Lorre.  For starters, he also does Liberace - though. in a bathetic cutaway we learn that he's not even playing the piano - the music's coming from a tape recorder.  Besides, his outfit's not quite flamboyant enough, although he does amp up the camp with a chandelier that lights up when he gets a call from his boss.

This week Titan's decided that the best way to deal with Stingray is to make its crew appear incompetent - which X20 plans to do by  using an echo sounding machine to distract them while they're on escort duty (it sounds more like "ass guard" duty the way Commander Shore says it) with a ship towing a huge tube full of oil.  Phones picks up an echo from the mission and Stingray chases after it, with Titan's forces blowing up the tube while their attention's elsewhere (if there's one thing Stingray does well it's explosions).

As a result of this, Phones is suspended from duty pending a full check-up to prove he's fit for duty.  The most important things about the episode, though, are the disguises that X20 adopts: first, a decidedly pervy looking window cleaner as he spies on a WASP meeting (suffering a comedy fall from his swinging stage in the process), and second, as a psychiatrist (a look seemingly based on David Lloyd George) who approaches Phones promising to give him the all-clear (in an astonishingly idiotic move, he invites Phones to visit him at his hideout).

Of course, what he's really trying to do is to drive Phones mad.  I love this shot of the patient enjoying a contemplative post-therapy fag.

I didn't pay all that much attention to how it ended, but I'm sure it all turned out for the best.  More memorable than the outcome is where the WASP personnel celebrate it: the Blue Lagoon bar, which has some truly remarkable decor.

If you want to see An Echo of Danger for yourself (and goodness knows I wouldn't trust my synopsis of it), it's available to watch on Youtube here:

Also available to watch on Youtube should you be so inclined is Michael Cacoyannis' A Girl in Black, a Greek film shown later in the evening as part of BBC 2's Cinema 625 series.  It's an archetypal Depressing Foreign Film, which climaxes with the drowning of a boatload of children.

Indeed. it was a day of especially solemn viewing on BBC 2, which also broadcast Requiem for a President, commemorating the anniversary of John F Kennedy's assassination, and the 26th and final instalment of the milestone documentary series The Great War.

Monday 23 November

Among tonight's programming on BBC 1 was the Bewitched episode Help, Help, Don't Save Me, the second half of which (why not the first half I don't know) you can watch below (in colourised form).

Tuesday 24 November

Tonight's Emergency Ward 10 begins with an internal monologue from the increasingly troubled Sister MacNab (yes, she's still worried about this new shift system).

Another decent guest star has popped up at Oxbridge: William Sylvester, American star of  a myriad British B-movies, squeezed into the rather ill-fitting role of Mr Simmons, a camp fashion photographer (frequently used phrases include "Ducky" and "Old love") who nonetheless has an eye for the ladies and has managed to twist all the nurses in his ward round his little finger.  He has a heart condition but refuses any overtures for a corrective operation, fearing the long-term convalescence would damage his career.  Brusque Dr Grant's attempts to charm him into it are a predictable failure.

Mr Simmons is on the lookout for a new model with a face that make the world sit up and take notice, and he thinks he's found it in Nurse Kwai Kim-Yen (Pik-Sen Lim).  I can't see it myself.

Elsewhere, Les Large meets with Dr Hicks (Geoffrey Sumner), a GP who's taken an interest in him,  "I didn't come here to say I liked your pretty face," he tells the younger doctor, but nonetheless makes a date with him that evening.

Giles Farmer is glum because his fianc├ęe Louise Mahler has swanned off to London to assist an old friend, Crichton Akasava, in obtaining aid for their war-torn country (of which Louise's brother's just been made Prime Minister).  Les's advice: "Find a party somewhere, barge in on it, and get sloshed."  Perfectly sound, and it's pretty much what Rex Lane-Russell and Jane Beattie are doing.  But the hostess, Amanda Brown, had been hoping to get Rex all to herself.

It's an incredibly sophisticated gathering, with swanky canap├ęs like little sausages, and cheese and pineapple on sticks.  As Rex and Amanda get to know one another, poor Jane's left with just a teddy bear to talk to.

Louise reveals that Akasava's asked her to come back to Africa with him, but before she and Giles can discuss the matter Les interrupts, bearing the news that Dr Hicks wants him to stand in for him at his evening surgery three nights a week.  It will mean the end of Les's money worries, and he's so happy he feels up a passing Sister Ransome.

The Sister's remarkably forgiving about this unwanted intrusion into her personal space, but nonetheless hurries off to inspect the new nurses' flats with MacNab and Doughty.  They're all perfectly nice, but who's that moving about upstairs?

We'll never know, I'm afraid.  Emergency Ward 10 carried on until 1967, but no further episodes have been made commercially available, and I'm not sure if any more exist (which is a great shame, as the 1964 Christmas special, with a patient imagining the regular cast as famous figures in medical history, sounds amazing).  I'm already feeling the pain of withdrawal, but will try to overcome it as we move on to tonight's next show.

In the Indian jungle, a man is killed by cyanide fumes after he smashes the bottle he's been using to kill butterflies.  All very tragic, but what's it got to do with John Drake?

Drake's been called in by Security Chief Khan (the usually pretty Zia Mohyeddin, lit to look craggy and tired), who suspects the dead man's boss, stayed-on British officer Colonel Blakeley (Michael Trubshawe), of being up to no good.  Posing as a travel agent scouting for new tourist locations, Drake aims to find out more about the Colonel by charming of his spinster daughter Joanna (Virginia Maskell).

As well as the genuinely Indian Mohyeddin, the cast features three of British TV's most ubiquitous all-purpose foreigners: George Pastell (as the civil servant passing secret information to Blakeley, which he's somehow smuggling out to the Chinese), Warren Mitchell (as his complicit boss), and John Bennett (as his boss, the minister scandalised by their betrayal) - Mitchell and Bennett, of course, were British-born, and there's heavy irony in Mitchell's career playing foreigners from every corner of the globe ending when he found fame playing a Cockney xenophobe.

Also, after his suave turn as Louise's diplomat brother in Emergency Ward 10, Frank Olegario's back to playing bit-part heavies.


If that lot don't look especially convincing as Indians have a look at this browned-up pair who attack Drake in the jungle.

There's an especially good fight scene later on, with another heavy staging an alternative version of Psycho's shower scene before being set upon by Drake (the pair end up in the most remarkable position).

Eventually it's revealed that the Colonel's getting the information out of the country in the form of that 60s favourite, the microdot, which he affixes to the wings of butterflies he exports.  Virginia Maskell gives a delicate performance as wasted beauty Joanna, whose loyalty to her father proves an insurmountable obstacle for Drake, but, due to the 50 minute adventure series format, her character feels a bit underdeveloped.

Finally, a mention of the actress who appears briefly as the Colonel's housekeeper.  Not because she's particularly good, but because she rejoices in the glorious name of Zoe Zephyr.

Now, it's that moment of the week when I face the dread spectre of another Plane Makers episode.  Happily, tonight's turns out to be by far the best so far this series, and one of the best altogether.

After being in the background for most of this series, lovely Arthur Sugden's thrust into the spotlight tonight.  Chatting contentedly to his wife, Mary, and sloshing down his cup of tea before heading to work, he's blissfully unaware of the nightmare that lies ahead of him.

Now the Scott-Furlong group's secured a government defence contract, security chief Major Farrell (Cyril Raymond, Celia Johnson's husband in Brief Encounter) is tightening everything up in preparation for a visit from Mr Greening from the ministry (Meredith Edwards).  Greening's clearly a tough customer - he doesn't even accept a biscuit when he's offered one.

Trouble descends upon Arthur when a top secret file is found to be missing from his office (his Ryan Airframes counterpart, Bob Fraser, secretly took it in exasperation at the lack of co-operation he was getting).  A livid Arthur's given the third degree and has his office turned over.

His frustration increases as a pair of security goons (Bryan Mosley and Keith Anderson) turn up at his house and start interrogating his wife.  He refuses to let them search his house, which they warn him isn't going to look very good...

Greening's men have discovered several more black marks against Arthur: his narrow avoidance of a court-martial during the war, his refusal to fight in Korea, his brother's criminal record.  Greening decides these add up to someone altogether undesirable, and decrees that Arthur's access to sensitive files be revoked, thus putting paid to his work on the military contract.

The file is returned, but Arthur's wrong in thinking that's the end of the matter: for Greening the file is no longer relevant - the important thing is that he's been tested and found wanting.  "The file was a keyhole," he notes at one point, "And through it we shall look, and see a whole room." He's a truly terrifying figure, a banal little man ("They make them to order for the civil service," as one character jokes) who who delights in hampering progress and destroying lives by catching people like flies in a web of red tape.

John Wilder's spitting feathers over Arthur's suspension - not because of any personal loyalty  but because he thinks the contract needs his expertise.  The board are all for sacking Arthur, but Wilder convinces them to give him a day to resolve the matter.

And, knowing that Wilder usually gets what he wants, the viewer can be in no doubt that Arthur will be vindicated.  But it doesn't happen: Wilder's attempts at pulling strings get him nowhere, and when an emissary from the Minister turns up at the last minute it's not to save the day but to inform Wilder how much his own position's been jeopardised by sticking up for Arthur.

Arthur refuses to take a less senior position working elsewhere in the firm, so Wilder can do nothing but offer him a hefty retirement package in return that he keep quiet about the reason he left.  Left with no other option, Arthur returns home, his career all of a sudden a thing of the past.  Reginald Marsh is magnificent throughout, progressing from fury to sheer bewilderment, and ending as a man broken by the arbitrary rules of a system nobody can understand.  It's a horrifying but all too convincing fate for his character, particularly as he was by far the most likeable in the show.  The Plane Makers without him scarcely bears thinking about.

Anyway, as you'll know, the secretaries of The Plane Makers are an enduring interest of mine, and this week we get a couple of new ones (along with the disembodied voice of Kay Lingard).  Gormless Cockney Miss Wilson (Helen Cotterill) is a temp standing in for Arthur's usual secretary, the lovably raddled Margie, who's off seeing to her ill sister, while Mr Greening's needs are catered to by the mannish Miss Parsons (Edna Landor).

Wednesday 25 November

Tonight's viewing included, on BBC 1,  the first part of splendidly-titled thriller serial Ring Out an Alibi and Mr Douglas, an entry in the Wednesday Play strand by popular historian John Prebble, starring Michael Goodliffe and Jean Anderson and set at the time of George III's coronation. 

Thursday 26 November

In 1964, grown men being interested in toys was rather more of a novelty than it is now.  The toy enthusiast here is the grotesque Lewis Enstone (John Baskcomb), whose other main interest is in being an unscrupulous and downright unpleasant businessman.  His hobby allows us some fascinating glimpses at 1960s toys (this is the sort of thing I'm fascinated by, anyway), including ones based on Yogi Bear, Noddy, Bugs Bunny, and, most interestingly the Beatles, who appear as Pelham Puppets.

Simon Templar's alerted to Enstone's dodgy business practices by his lady friend of the week, Claire Wheeler (Rosemarie Reede, who didn't do a great deal else).  She thinks he's being blackmailed, but on investigation Simon finds that in actual fact he's paying bent shop steward Duggan (David Lodge) to keep the men at Costello and Hammel Electronics on strike, in order to help facilitate Enstone's takeover bid.  

Simon has a brutal fight with Duggan, which concludes with a wry shot of a convenient Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance poster.

Enstone discovers that his wife, Marjorie (Jeanne Moody) and his PA, George Fowler (Maurice Kaufman) are having an affair, and goes beserk, throwing her out but refusing her a divorce.

Partly in reaction to this, and partly because of the success of his takeover bid, Enstone gets drunk with his new business partner John Hammel (John Paul).  Shortly afterwards, he's found dead, having apparently shot himself.

Inspector Teal thinks it's an open-and-shut case, Enstone having committed suicide after learning of his wife's unfaithfulness, but Simon's convinced Hammel and his partner Albert Costello (Inigo Jackson) are responsible, particularly after learning that Costello's a whiz at inventing new electronic gadgets (including a cigarette case that pre-lights your fags for you).

After the customary last-act punch-up, Simon discovers the unpleasant truth: Hammel presented the drunken Enstone with a new toy invented by Costello, a gun that you look down the muzzle of to see a film (of a chimpanzee dressed as a cowboy, which was the style at the time).  He swapped the gun with a real one when Enstone wasn't looking, and that was the end of the toy lover.

The Man Who Loved Toys is an entirely throwaway Saint, notable only for the toys themselves and the especially unpleasant way the title character comes a cropper.

After her appearance in Danger Man on Tuesday, Virginia Maskell could be seen again this evening alongside James Donald, Michael Bryant and Philip Locke in a production of T S Eliot's The Cocktail Party on BBC 2.  Early evening viewers of BBC 1 could enjoy the second episode of The Singing Ringing Tree, a bizarre East German fairy tale that lodged itself firmly in the minds of a generation of children, largely due to its villain, a terrifying cackling dwarf liable to pop up from anywhere.  Sadly, the production's sumptuous colours wouldn't have been seen by British viewers.

Friday 27 November

Tonight's televisual treats included, on BBC 1, Sykes and a Cold War with guest stars Dick Emery and Dandy Nichols, followed by The Kathy Kirby Show (the Radio Times helpfully advised viewers that guests The Morgan-James Duo were appearing at the Cabaret Club, Manchester) and "serious" sci-fi series R3.  For those who didn't find Kathy Kirby sufficiently highbrow BBC 2 offered The Bolshoi at La Scala and a documentary on Luchino Visconti.

You can read the Radio Times listings for this week at the BBC Genome Project here.

Outside the Box

On Friday, Britain's power unions announced that they would start balloting for strike action (obviously that's not the only thing that happened in the news this week, I'm being selective).

Phew.  Well, I hope you enjoyed all that.  Any feedback on the new format would be very gratefully appreciated.

And to play us out...

Here's the Supremes with this week's number 1 single, Baby Love, up four places from number 5.  You can see the full chart for the week here.