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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by Allan Fish

(UK 1979 75m) DVD2

The land of lost content

p  Kenith Trodd  d  Brian Gibson  w  Dennis Potter

Colin Welland (Willie), Michael Elphick (Peter), Helen Mirren (Angela), Janine Duvitski (Audrey), Robin Ellis (John), Colin Jeavons (Donald Duck), John Bird (Raymond),

With its title derived from A.E.Housman’s 19th century poem “The Shropshire Lad”, one would be forgiven for expecting a nostalgic study of childhood, the type of which Hollywood was so fond.  Yet nostalgic isn’t really the word for this.  It does look back fondly at childhood, that much is true, yet it rather inverts the very notion of childhood, makes us see childhood through different eyes.  Among the individual plays written by Dennis Potter, none are so fondly remembered as this, which in many ways sums up the very double-layered appeal of the film.  It provokes nostalgia for nostalgia, and the way that it does so is truly unique; we don’t see children at all, what we see are a group of adults playing the roles of children – that simple notion changing the very fabric of the drama and twisting it on its head.  It succeeds, as Philip Purser wrote, in “throwing a whole new light on the business of being young.” (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 2006 93m) DVD1

Call me Frank

p  Helen Flint d  Tom Hooper  w  Peter Morgan  ph  Danny Cohen  ed  Melanie Oliver  m  Robert Lane

Jim Broadbent (Lord Longford), Samantha Morton (Myra Hindley), Lindsay Duncan (Lady Elizabeth Longford), Robert Pugh (Harold Wilson), Andy Serkis (Ian Brady), Kika Markham (Governor Wing), Anton Rodgers (Willie Whitelaw),

The names won’t be familiar to people in the US; Keith Bennett, Leslie-Anne Downey, Pauline Reade, John Kilbride and Edward Evans.  Yet ask the British public to name the most reviled person or persons in British criminal history, not just in the 20th century but of all time, then the winner, if that’s the correct term, would be Myra Hindley.  The Wests killed more, Dr Shipman many more by pharmaceutical proxy, Crippen, Christie and Sutcliffe were infamous, the original Jack legendary, yet none would come close.

From 1963 to 1965, the A635 became an all too real Highway to Hell where Ian Brady and Myra Hindley beat and murdered five children before being sent to prison for life.  They were ushered away after sentencing by the presiding judge not with the words “take them down” but “put them down”; their chances of release somewhat less than nil.  The one man who thought differently was the former leader of the House of Lords, famous philanthropist Lord Longford, who saw Hindley as merely another one of his prisoners seeking redemption.  He spent much of his later life campaigning for her parole and Peter Morgan’s screenplay tells that story.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1997 415m) DVD2

Twentieth Century Blues

p  Alvin Rakoff  d  Christopher Morahan, Alvin Rakoff  w  Hugh Whitemore  novels  “A Question of Upbringing”, “A Buyer’s Market”, “The Acceptance World”, “At Lady Molly’s”, “Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant”, “The Kindly Ones”, “The Valley of Bones”, “The Soldier’s Art”, “The Military Philosophers”, “Books do Furnish a Room”, “Temporary Kings” and “Hearing Secret Harmonies” by  Anthony Powell  ph  Chris Seager  ed  Jake Bernard  m  Carl Davis  art  Eileen Diss  cos  Dany Everett

James Purefoy (Nicholas Jenkins), Simon Russell Beale (Kenneth Widmerpool), Paul Rhys (Charles Stringham), Jonathan Cake (Peter Templer), Miranda Richardson (Pamela Flitton), Emma Fielding (Isobel Tolland/Jenkins), Claire Skinner (Jean Templer/ Duport), John Gielgud (St John Clarke), Alan Bennett (Sillery), John Standing (older Nicholas Jenkins), Joanna David (older Isobel), James Fleet (Hugh Moreland), Edward Fox (Uncle Giles), Julian Wadham (Gen.Liddament), Zoe Wanamaker (Audrey McLintick), Richard Pasco (Sir Magnus Donners), Adrian Scarborough (J G Quiggin), Nigel Lindsay (Odo Stevens), Oliver Ford Davies (Le Bas), Grant Thatcher (Mark Members), Harriet Walter (Mildred), Frank Middlemass (Edgar Deacon), James d’Arcy (Jenkins as student), Michael Williams (Ted Jeavons), Nicholas Jones (Bob Duport), Paul Brooke (McLintick), Sarah Badel (Lady Molly), Colin Baker (Cannon Fenneau), Nicholas Rowe (David Pennistone), Robert Pugh (Capt.Biggs), Eileen Atkins (Brightman), Emily Mortimer (Polly Duport), James Callis (Gwinnett), Sean Baker (X Trapnel),

Upon its first showing on Channel 4 in the autumn of 1997, A Dance to the Music of Time was paid the ultimate compliment – it was compared by critics to the imperishable 1981 Granada adaptation of Brideshead Revisited.  There were undoubted similarities; being partially set in Oxford, encompassing the events of the 1930s and World War II.  In truth, however, there was a big divide in terms of pages to running time ratio.  Brideshead was not a large novel, yet was followed so punctiliously that it stretched to eleven hours’ worth of drama.  Powell’s story ran twelve novels, yet was televised barely two thirds the length of the Waugh adaptation.  One would think that it would mean too much plot was cut out, and indeed a great deal was cast aside.  Yet the central plotline, that of the eponymous dance to Father Time’s tune undertaken by the four male protagonists remained very much intact.  It helped, too, that the four protagonists – Nicholas, Kenneth, Charles and Peter – found such perfect actors to essay them.  Rhys is spot-on as Stringham – Powell’s Sebastian Flyte, as it were – doomed to an equally sorry end; Purefoy is the perfect centrepiece, forming the soul of the piece with intelligent assuredness a million miles away from his other famous TV role as a droog-like Antony in Rome; future Oswald Mosley Cake is also good as the cad with a heart.  Best of all, however, was Simon Russell Beale as the insidious, supercilious Widmerpool, one of the truly great performances in TV literary adaptation.  They are complimented by a cool Skinner as Jean (memorably naked in the opening scene) the brilliant Richardson as supremely superstitious and bitchy Pamela, and superb vignettes from Pasco, Fox, Wadham, Williams, Ford-Davies and the ever reliable Pugh.  It’s a shame the makers’ felt compelled to replace Purefoy, Fielding and Skinner with older actors in the final episode.  (more…)

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