Archive for the ‘Top 100 British TV’ Category

by Allan Fish

(UK 1969 90m) not on DVD

Love your enemies

p  Graeme MacDonald  d  Gareth Davies  w  Dennis Potter  ph  Robert Wright  art  Spencer Chapman  cos  Dinah Collin

Colin Blakely (Jesus), Brian Blessed (Peter), Robert Hardy (Pilate), Edward Hardwicke (Judas), Bernard Hepton (Caiaphas), Godfrey Quigley (Roman commander), Patricia Lawrence (Procia),

Between the years of 1965 and 1969, Dennis Potter penned eight plays for the Wednesday Play strain for the BBC.  There were the two Nigel Barton pieces which helped to make his name and the well-praised Alice, detailing part of the life and influences of Lewis Carroll.  The last of his octet was undoubtedly the best, as well as being the most powerful and easily the most controversial.

Son of Man was a hot potato from the moment it first broadcast on 16th April 1969.  Coming hard fast on the heels of Easter probably didn’t help, but it’s safe to say that, with the exception of Ken Russell’s Dance of the Seven Veils, no more incendiary play was ever made for the BBC.  Like Russell’s piece it now stands tall as a masterpiece of small screen drama and one of the most revolutionary TV plays ever written.  I don’t use the word lightly, for one must bear in mind the date; man’s first steps on the moon were imminent, the students riots in Paris were still fresh in the memory and the free love hippies so frowned on by Daily Mail readers were starting to proliferate society.  Into this boiling cauldron of public opinion – that old gorgon Mary Whitehouse was taking legal steps against the BBC for showing the play – Dennis Potter put the feline well and truly amongst the pigeons.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1969-1974 1,479m) DVD1/2


p  John Howard Davies  d  Ian McNaughton  w  Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin  animation  Terry Gilliam  m  “Liberty Bell” by John Philip Sousa

Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland, Connie Booth,

Can it be nearly forty years since Python first burst onto our screens?  And when I say burst, I mean just that, because it really was like an explosion.  What is perhaps ironic is that Python was rather one of the hybrids of various creative mixtures from a few years before.  Palin, Idle and Jones came from Do Not Adjust Your Set, Cleese and Chapman from At Last the 1948 Show (the latter immortalised for the original ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch), and with the animations of Gilliam and the spirit of The Goons and Beyond the Fringe, a legend was born.  Whether introduced by Palin as a Ben Gunn-like shipwreckee or a tuxedoed Cleese from behind an old-fashioned BBC news desk, Python and its Sousa signature theme came to embody a whole comic generation.  It remains the granddaddy of all sketch shows, still peerless to this day.  It was a sketch show of the most difficult kind, in that it consisted of sketches with nearly exclusively new characters, as compared say to The Fast Show or plat du jour Little Britain, which took the easier way out of getting laughs out of recurring characters in different situations, relatively easy laughs once you’ve invented the characters.  There’s no doubt which type of show is the most ingenious, and Python still stands head and shoulders above everything that has followed. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1980-1984/1986-1988 1,147m) DVD1/2

Creative inertia

p/d  Peter Whitmore, Sydney Lotterby  w  Antony Jay, Jonathan Lynn  m  Ronnie Hazelhurst  titles  Gerald Scarfe

Paul Eddington (Jim Hacker), Nigel Hawthorne (Sir Humphrey Appleby), Derek Fowlds (Bernard Woolley), Diana Hoddinott (Annie Hacker), John Nettleton (Sir Arnold Robinson), Neil Fitzwilliam (Frank Weisel), John Savident (Sir Frederick ‘Jumbo’ Stewart), Peter Jeffrey, Philip Stone, Graeme Garden, Robert East, Nigel Stock,

In the history of television, can there be a more suitable fitting of actor to part as Nigel Hawthorne to Sir Humphrey Appleby, the real hero of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s comedy, often perfectly described as a “Whitehall waltz”?  It won him three BAFTA awards as best comedy actor and many other accolades, too.  His very first scene, in the opening episode, demonstrated the superciliousness of the character in a nutshell, detailing the full list of employees under the disposal of his new minister, and baffling him in the process.  It was the first of many Sir Humphreyisms.

Jim Hacker is a former press editor turned MP living in the Midlands, who is appointed Minister for Administrative Affairs in the new government.  He arrives to find that the position is somewhat of a political graveyard, with occupants barely getting chance to get their seat warm before leaving office.  His two principal allies/jousting partners, are his Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, a dyed-in-the-wool Oxford old boy who’s been in the Civil Service for decades, and the Minister’s Private Secretary, the tactful diplomatist, Bernard Woolley, who gets himself caught between the two.  Several years on, Hacker found himself, almost inadvertently, becoming Prime Minister, with Sir Humphrey as his cabinet secretary, still trying to stop him rocking the boat and stymieing his every radical reform move.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1978 90m) not on DVD

It’s nothing to do with us

p  Tony Garnett  d  Roland Joffé  w  Jim Allen  ph  Nat Crosby  ed  Bill Shapter

Christine Hargreaves (Pauline Crosby), Bernard Hill (Sullivan), Peter Kerrigan (Peter), Paula McDonagh (Paula), Gertie Almond (Gertie), Elaine Lindsay (Mrs Johnson),

As I write it’s only a month or two after the riots that spread from London to other British cities, in which people saw the chance to loot and pillage in the way they flock to a cash machine once news gets out that it’s overpaying those who stand in line.  The copycat acts that took place were shameful, and yet opened up that old cancer at the heart of modern Britain.  Watching The Spongers now in the aftermath of these events only makes any piece one can write about it seem like Anton Walbrook in Colonel Blimp when he teaches about the lessons not being learned and the school fees coming round again.  And you’d better pay those debts, or else you may lose your furniture. 

            Pauline is a single mother, abandoned by her husband, with four children, her eldest, Paula, suffering from Down’s Syndrome and attending a special care centre.  She owes over £250 rent and the bailiffs have come round with an order to take her furniture for non-payment.  She gets a week’s delay while she tries desperately for a contingency one off payment from social services, but they and the council are only interested in making their budget deficits and to hell with the consequences. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1965 49m) DVD1/2

Your protection against nuclear attack

d/w  Peter Watkins  ph  Peter Bartlett

narrated by  Michael Aspel, Dick Graham

A film that became a by-word for the BBC’s wranglings with those in the corridors of power, The War Game was green-lighted solely due to the critical success of Watkins’ revolutionary – in more ways than one – film Culloden, made the previous year.  It hypothesises and goes into considerable detail, what would happen in the case of a thermonuclear attack from the Soviet Union.  Philip Purser wrote that it was shelved because BBC director-general Sir Hugh Greene (brother of Graham) thought that “it might seriously harm the old, the simple or the out of touch who lit upon it without prior warning.”  It makes one think he feared a television equivalent of the infamous Orson Welles The War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938 which so went down in infamy.  In truth, however, it’s open to question how much of the decision was down to Greene’s own judgement.  He himself was one of the more lenient director-generals the BBC had, and upon his retirement, was replaced by some severely right-wing censorial types who were to set the Corporation back many years.  The decision was probably reached as high up as the government, many prominent members of who, along with several prominent critics from all aspects of the arts media, were allowed to see the film behind closed doors.  The fact was that the BBC would not be allowed by the Home Office or the Ministry of Defence to put out a film which went against the wonderfully acronymed Mutually Assured Destruction policy employed against the Communist foe.  (more…)

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This is a one off topping of my own post, but reading will explain why…

by Allan Fish

(UK 1964/1970/1977/1985/1991/1998/2005 715m) DVD1/2

Aka: 7 Up, 7 Plus 7, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up

Give me the child for seven years and I shall show you the man

p   Michael Apted, Derek Granger, Margaret Bottomley, Steve Morrison, Ruth Pitt, Clair Lewis, Bill Jones, Stephen Lambert  d  Paul Almond, Michael Apted  narrated by Derek Cooper, Wilfrid Thomas, Michael Apted,

Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Simon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk, Tony Walker, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon,

The beginnings were humble, a programme in the weekly TV current affairs show World in Action which wanted to take a look at the executives and shop stewards of the year 2000 by looking at a group of seven year olds.  They were taken from a vast range of backgrounds, from highly upper class prep schools to urban primary schools in London and Liverpool, and even to a one room school in the Yorkshire Dales.  There was only meant to be one film, but through Michael Apted it became a life’s commitment for both him and his subjects.  Every seven years Apted would take a few months out to catch up with them, and filming those who agreed to be filmed.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1988/1998 429m) DVD2

Is that yoga?

p  Innes Lloyd, Mark Shivas  d  Alan Bennett, Stuart Burge, Giles Foster, Tristram Powell, Patrick Garland, Gavin Millar, Udayan Prasad  w  Alan Bennett  m  George Fenton

Patricia Routledge (Irene Ruddock/Miss Fozzard), Julie Walters (Lesley/Marjory), Thora Hird (Doris/Violet), Maggie Smith (Susan), Alan Bennett (Graham), Stephanie Cole (Muriel), Eileen Atkins (Celia), David Haig (Wilfred), Penelope Wilton (Rosemary),

Despite the various merits of the films of A Private Function, The Madness of King George and The History Boys, there can be no doubt as to Alan Bennett’s greatest contribution to screen history.  David Thomson called them depictions of shattered lives, “no matter that the broken pieces are held politely together in the way a humble soldier on the Somme might have held his privates in place waiting for a surgeon…they catch the woeful intimacy in which in the TV age lonely people talk to themselves as if in an interview.”  It’s easy to imagine that the first series of six took a lot out of Bennett, and the intervening decade before the next six not only saw an increasingly darkened view of the world, but a resignation with the state of television and its preponderance to sensationalism.  (more…)

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