Archive for the ‘British TV top 100’ Category


by Allan Fish

the next in the series of small screen classics

(UK 1969 670m) DVD1/2

Man – the measure of all things

p  Michael Gill, Peter Montagnon  d  Michael Gill, Peter Montagnon, Ann Turner  w  Kenneth Clark

presented by  Kenneth Clark (with Ian Richardson, Patrick Stewart, Ronald Lacey, Eric Porter (voice))

There are so many reasons to venerate Kenneth Clark’s monumental – in every sense – small screen undertaking.  It was the first of the mammoth documentary series that came to redefine the BBC’s factual programming unit in the seventies.  It was the first major series undertaken in the colour age.  It was the start of a series of three such momentous works – Alistair Cooke’s America and Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man are the others – that still stand as magnificently as the rocks at Stonehenge in British – and thus world – television history.  It is on the foundations laid here, and on those laid by Cooke, Bronowski and later the natural history programmes of David Attenborough (who had a large part to play in persuading Kenneth Clark to do this epic series when a BBC2 administrator in the mid-late sixties) that all the wonders of the digital age documentaries from around the millennium, from The Blue Planet to Auschwitz to A History of Britain, stand fast.  It might be old school, but its targets, modus operandi and intentions are probably more relevant than ever. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1967-1968 850m) DVD1/2

A till tongue makes for a happy life

p  Patrick McGoohan  d  Don Chaffey, Pat Jackson, Patrick McGoohan, Peter Graham Scott, Joseph Serf, Robert Asher, David Tomblin  w  Patrick McGoohan, George Markstein, David Tomblin, Vincent Tilsley, Anthony Skene, Terence Feelyu, Joshua Adam, Gerald Kelsey, Roger Woddis, Michael Cramoy, Roger Parkes  m  Ron Grainer  art  Clough Williams-Ellis

Patrick McGoohan (Number 6), Guy Doleman (No.2), George Baker (No.2), Leo McKern (No.2), Colin Gordon (No.2), Eric Portman (No.2), Rachel Herbert (No.2), Anton Rodgers (No.2), Georgina Cookson (No.2), Mary Morris (No.2), Peter Wyngarde (No.2), Patrick Cargill (No.2), Darren Nesbitt (No.2), Andre van Gyseghem (No.2), John Sharp (No.2), Clifford Evans (No.2), David Bauer (No.2), Kenneth Griffith (No.2), Nadia Gray, Paul Eddington, Richard Wattis, Virginia Maskell, Finlay Currie, Peter Bowles, Jane Merrow, John Castle, Hilary Dwyer, Nigel Stock, Duncan Macrae, Annette Andre, Rosalie Crutchley, George Coulouris, Fenella Fielding (announcer),

It’s said that Lew Grade originally wanted more Danger Man.  More adventures of secret agent John Drake.  The star Patrick McGoohan had other ideas, of an idea formulated with George Markstein that would become the single biggest cult series in history.  Even now, in the age of the blogosphere, no series, not Twin Peaks, not Buffy, not even Doctor Who, has generated such speculation, conjecture and theorising.  When McGoohan had briefed Grade about the basic idea, he replied “it’s so crazy, it might work.”

McGoohan is a government operative who is seen speeding to his offices to hand in his resignation.  Returning to his home to pack for we know not where, he passes out when gas is fed into his flat and he wakes up in a sleepy village where the interiors are largely the same as his flat but the outside a sort of Toyland place but one from which he quickly finds he cannot leave.  At the centre of the mystery is the man who calls himself No.2, and who names McGoohan No.6, but it transpires that No.2 is an alias which many different men – and women – employ – and that the real head honcho, No.1, is the one who has the answers. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1971 91m) not on DVD

I am not the vagrant

p  Irene Shubik  d  Ted Kotcheff  w  Jeremy Sandford  ph  Peter Bartlett  ed  Peter Coulson  art  Evan Hercules

Patricia Hayes (Edna), Barbara Jefford (Josie Quinn), Cheryl Hall (Vangi), Geraldine Sherman (Trudi), Kate Williams (Teresa), Peggy Aitchison (Lil), Freda Dowie (Mother Superior), June Brown (Clara), Jenny Logan (Doris),

How is it, in this day and age, that one of the great TV plays of all time is so impossible to see?  The BFI have released DVDs of so many, from the early Ken Russell composer pieces and Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home to the Ghost Story at Christmas series.  True, all are now deleted, but at least they were made available.  Edna, though, lies languishing in the vaults; forgotten, gathering dust.  There’s a tragic irony in that considering the subject.

Edna is a woman of around sixty.  We first see her walking along a country street trying to get a bed for the night in a country hostel.  She does so, and is washed and has her clothes fumigated, but is then sent on her way in the morning.  Such is her existence, flitting from one night rooms to sleeping in ditches and drinking water out of rivers out of her hat.  She then gets into trouble with the police for creating a disturbance and is brought up before the local magistrate.  She’s persuaded by counsel to take time in a psychiatric hospital rather than get thrown on the merciless court, but she eventually even outstays her welcome there.  Once well, she’s thrown out, and eventually gets a temporary reprieve when thrown into prison.  She likes it there, but of course her sentence is not a long one and she’s soon on her way even from there, back on the streets, shouting and wailing at the wind.  Finally she comes across a hostel where she’s taken in by an organisation known simply as Jesus Saves, looking after fallen women of all kinds; drunks, drug addicts, prostitutes, the elderly and infirm.  Edna’s never been so happy, but needless to say, it doesn’t last for long.  The hostel is ordered to close after complaints from neighbours and Edna’s on her way again, this time we know not where.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

the next in the series of small screen masterworks

(UK 1954 107m) not on DVD

Aka. Nineteen Eighty-Four

This has been a Ministry of Truth broadcast

p/d  Rudolph Cartier  w  Nigel Kneale  novel  George Orwell  m  John Hotchkis  art  Barry Learoyd

Peter Cushing (Winston Smith), André Morell (O’Brien), Yvonne Mitchell (Julia Dixon), Donald Pleasence (Syme), Arnold Diamond (Emmanuel Goldstein), Campbell Gray (Parsons), Hilda Fenemore (Mrs Parsons), Pamela Grant, Keith Davis, Wilfrid Brambell, Leonard Sachs, Nigel Kneale (voice from telescreen), Richard Williams (narrator),

Ask anyone who saw Michael Radford’s perfectly passable version of George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare whether it was the first version to be made, and a few dissenters might have recalled Michael Anderson’s inferior 1955 film version, but very few – and certainly next to none outside of the UK – would have remembered this 1954 telecast.  Yet it is one of the milestones of British television drama.  It was originally shown as one of the BBC Sunday Night Theatre dramas, but was so successful – it was said that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh most enjoyed it – they had to repeat it, but this meant actually doing a fresh live performance and it was in this guise it was repeated and was a massive success.  It was adapted by none other than Nigel Kneale, the man behind Quatermass, which was then still in its prime; the auspices, it has to be said were good.  There is therefore a truly bitter irony in the fact that the film went unseen for years due to the rights being bought out for the film of 1984 in the self same year.  It was as if, come the year 1984, even this piece of art would be obsolete.  Or, as Philip Purser observed, “in Orwellian speak, one of TV’s great landmarks now unexisted.” (more…)

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shooting 2

by Allan Fish

(UK 1999 182m) DVD1/2

The Gadarene Club

p  John Chapman  d/w  Stephen Poliakoff  ph  Bruno de Keyser, Ernie Vincze  ed  Paul Tothill  m  Adrian Johnston  art  John-Paul Kelly  cos  Susannah Buxton

Lindsay Duncan (Marilyn Truman), Timothy Spall (Oswald Bates), Liam Cunningham (Christopher Anderson), Emilia Fox (Spig), Billie Whitelaw (Veronica), Arj Barker (Garnett), Blake Ritson (Nick), Andy Serkis (Styeman), Sheila Dunn, Jean Channon,

It’s time for a personal favourite here, one of the great achievements of either screen in the last decade, but also typical of the way television is overlooked for its bigger brother.  And yet look at films such as Dekalog, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Heimat, Das Boot and Fanny and Alexander.  All are works that are listed in film guides and yet were originally made for the small screen.  Of writers at their peak around the time of the millennium, surely the best would have to be Stephen Poliakoff, whose delights have ranged from the enigmatic Friends and Crododiles to the affecting Gideon’s Daughter, from the intricate Perfect Strangers and the less successful but still memorable The Lost Prince.  All of which leads one to beg the question, why go for this? (more…)

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office 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 2001-2003 440m) DVD1/2

Free love on the free love highway

p  Ash Atalla  d/w  Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant  theme song  “Handbags & Gladrags” by Mike d’Abo performed by Fin

Ricky Gervais (David Brent), Martin Freeman (Tim Canterbury), Mackenzie Crook (Gareth Keenan), Lucy Davis (Dawn Tinsley), Ralph Ineson (Chris Finch), Patrick Baladi, Ewan Macintosh, Oliver Chris, Stacey Roca, Stirling Gallacher, Joel Beckett,

True greatness in television comedy is not appointed lightly.  So many popular series have drifted along in their own complacency for far too long, not realising the damage they were doing to their own posterity.  Despite the undoubted quality of Father Ted and Spaced they didn’t quite join the likes of Fawlty Towers and Blackadder in the halls of the almighty and, ever since Edmund and his cronies climbed over the trenches in November 1989, British TV had searched for such a giant.  When The Office arrived on BBC2 it was hardly to a chorus of trumpets.  Indeed, viewing the first episode might have lead one to believe it was not a comedy at all, and that very factor was part of the masterstroke.  It so uncannily mimicked those TV documentaries that were then in vogue showing the behind the scenes life in hotels, airports and whatever, that it just seemed like another cringe-making peer into areas we weren’t supposed to see.  It wasn’t until some time into that first episode that you realised, many guffaws later, that what you were seeing unfolding could be greatness. (more…)

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brides 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1981 640m) DVD1/2

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas

p  Derek Granger  d  Charles Sturridge, Michael Lindsay-Hogg  w  John Mortimer  novel  Evelyn Waugh  ph  various  ed  Anthony Ham  m  Geoffrey Burgon  art  Peter Phillips

Jeremy Irons (Charles Ryder), Anthony Andrews (Sebastian Flyte), Diana Quick (Julia Flyte-Mottram), Laurence Olivier (Lord Alex Marchmain), Claire Bloom (Lady Teresa Marchmain), Stéphane Audran (Cara), John Gielgud (Edward Ryder), Phoebe Nicholls (Cordelia Flyte), Simon Jones (Bridey Flyte), Nickolas Grace (Anthony Blanche), Jane Asher (Celia Mulcaster-Ryder), John Grillo (Mr Samgrass), Mona Washbourne (Nanny Hawkins), Bill Owen (Lunt), Charles Keating (Rex Mottram), Jenny Runacre (Brenda Champion), John le Mesurier (Father Mowbray), Stephen Moore (Jasper Ryder), Michael Gough (Dr Grant), Kenneth Cranham (Sgt.Block), Jeremy Sinden (Boy Mulcaster),

It’s difficult now, 30 years on, to judge the impact of Brideshead on not just British television, but prestige drama in general.  It had long been, as Leslie Halliwell observed,  an albatross round the neck of Granada, described as an incredible folly in the long months leading up to its transmission.  The strain of classic TV drama serials had reached both its zenith in the mid seventies with Jennie and I, Claudius.  Yet however superb in terms of their acting and writing those productions may be, there’s nothing cinematic about them.  They look like BBC Shakespeare productions or series shot on left over sets from Upstairs, DownstairsBrideshead changed everyone’s conceptions; virtually entirely shot on location, punctiliously adapted from the original source to the extent that any faults it may have had were those of the original.  Just as Robert Powell swapped from Judas to Jesus for Zeffirelli, so Irons and Andrews swapped parts, and thank God they did.  For it is no more imaginable that anyone other than Andrews could play the faintly homosexual, hard-drinking and doomed Sebastian than it is for any other tones than Jeremy Irons could provide the soulful commentary provided by Charles Ryder.  Here were actors to their parts born, perfect in every way.  It is a great credit to the other cast members that they don’t get lost, but there are gems everywhere, from Grace’s definitive old queen Anthony Blanche to Bloom’s suffocating Lady Marchmain, Queen Henrietta Maria reincarnated in the 20th century.  Not to forget one time Arthur Dent Simon Jones as the blissfully boring Bridey, John Gielgud as a deliciously supercilious and witty Mr Ryder and Diana Quick as the tortured Julia.  And we haven’t even mentioned Geoffrey Burgon’s truly hauntingly fitting score, at once a theme tune for stately houses nationwide.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1975 410m) DVD2

Know Thy Place

p  Tony Garnett  d  Ken Loach  w  Jim Allen  ph  Tony Pierce-Roberts, John Else  m  Marc Wilkinson

Paul Copley (Ben Matthews), Pamela Brighton (Sarah Hargreaves), Nikolas Simmonds (Philip Hargreaves), Melvin Thomas (Ernest Bevin), Gary Roberts (Joel Barnett), Alun Armstrong (Billy Shepherd), Helene Palmer (Martha Matthews), Hughie Turner (Tom Crisp), Jean Spence (May Barnett), Christine Anderson (Jenny Barnett), Clifford Kershaw (Tom Matthews), Brian Hayes (Stanley Baldwin), Peter Kerrigan (Peter), John Young (Ramsay MacDonald), Edward Underdown (Pritchard), Stephen Rea (reporter),

Jim Allen’s Molotov Cocktail of a series aimed at the betrayers of the working classes was advertised as “a series of Four Films from the Great War to the General Strike.”  It was Ken Loach’s return to TV after several years away and would prove the hottest potato of his entire career.  Indeed, elements of what would follow, from Land and Freedom to Hidden Agenda and to The Wind That Shakes the Barley can be glimpsed here, a generation earlier.  Or at least they could have been, had the series been available.  It was only ever shown twice, the last time in 1978, was never released on VHS and only made it to DVD in 2011 as part of a boxset.  People asked why it was never seen, but those who had seen it knew very well why.  Indeed it’s amazing in retrospect that the BBC even green-lighted the project in the first place.  It was like Charles I sponsoring the New Model Army.  (more…)

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(UK 1974 88m) not on DVD

Balance of the mind

p  David Rose  d  Alan Clarke  w  David Rudkin  ph  Michael Williams  ed  Henry Fowler  art  Michael Edwards

Spencer Banks (Stephen Franklin), Georgine Anderson (Mrs Franklin), John Atkinson (Rev. Franklin), Jennie Hesslewood (Mrs Arne), Ian Hogg (Arne), Graham Leaman (Sir Edward Elgar), Geoffrey Staines (King Penda), Ray Gatenby (man), Joan Scott (lady),

Writing these entries can be a tiring business.  Some write easier than others, pieces that are drawn from within like those coloured cloths from a magician’s hat.  Others are like self-performed operations without anaesthetic, they leave you needing a couple of weeks’ recuperation in hospital.  Then there are the really difficult ones, pieces that taunt you, get inside your head and whisper ‘na, na, na, na, na’ and take off again.  Film writing like catching flies with chopsticks. 

            Take a director like Alan Clarke, Britain’s premier mirror holder to grim, angry working class Britain in the 1970s and 80s.  If one missed his name on the credits could one believe he had actually made it?  Not since Henry Hathaway made Peter Ibbetson – if indeed he really did – has a director fit less cosily with his material.  This was the man who gave us Tim Roth in Made in Britain, and while that’s the only other Clarke in this selection, his admirers would talk about Contact, Elephant and Christine.  I myself would trade all three just for one sequence in his Road, with Lesley Sharp giving one of the greatest Steadicam monologues that you will ever see (if only the drama had quite lived up to that moment).  I was close to including it just for those few minutes… (more…)

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schama 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 2000-2002 945m) DVD1/2

This sceptred isle

p/d  Claire Beaven, Ian Bremner, Liz Hartford  w  Simon Schama  ed  Philippa Daniel  m  John Harle  presented by  Simon Schama

with the voices of:  Timothy West, Samuel West, Emilia Fox, Lindsay Duncan, Matthew Rhys, Michael Kitchen, Bill Paterson, James Bolam, David Threlfall, Charles Dance,

What is most remarkable about Simon Schama’s monumental documentary chronology, amongst many remarkable aspects, is its sense of irony, its sense of place.  It doesn’t aim to be a gargantuan chronicle the size of Encyclopaedia Brittanica, for even such a tome would barely scratch the surface, but rather attempts, through the analysis of the major events that formed the history of this group of islands, to capture both the very essence of Britishness and to give lie to the myth of dusty schoolbooks and monotone lectures.  He not only achieves this remarkable feat, but he at once embodies the very essence of not only what it is to be British, to have that incredible heritage, but also catapults himself into the pantheon of the great small screen factual figures, alongside A.J.P.Taylor, Kenneth Clark, John Romer, Jacob Bronowski and Michael Wood, to inspire perhaps the next generation of historians to follow in his admirably personable footsteps.  Its writer also shared a problem with yours truly; objectivity – the title is ‘a’ history of Britain, not the, as mine is ‘a’ list of the milestones of screen.  It’s not definitive, but a starting point.  (more…)

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