Five UK TV Series Some Readers Might Have Missed

The Arts

My antipathy towards television is well-documented, but it really wasn’t always this bad, honest. And there has always been a groundswell of basic television that simply morphs from one generation to the next. Viz;

What Old shows Turned Into

Opportunity Knocks – The X Factor
Come Dancing – Strictly Come Dancing
The Brains Trust – Newsnight
Watch With Mother – C-Beebies
Sunday Night At The London Palladium – Britain’s Got Talent
No Hiding Place – Morse
Simon Dee – Jonathan Ross
Fannie Craddock – Nigella Lawson
Dixon Of Dock Green – The Bill
Larry Grayson – Alan Carr
Emergency Ward Ten – Casualty
The Archaeology Show – Timewatch
Upstairs, Downstairs – Downton Abbey

Obviously there have some cherishable gems across the years, including ‘The Young Ones’, ‘Spitting Image’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘Armchair Theatre’, ‘The League of Gentlemen’ and the genuinely jaw-dropping ‘Nighty Night’, all rediscoverable online. But I have a soft spot for these;

1. ‘The Worker’ – imagine this, a non-realistic satire that ran for three decades, as unemployable malapropism-prone Charlie Drake battled his long-suffering employment officer and took a staggering range of jobs that allowed the writers to parody class, industry, power and equality. How did such a defiantly peculiar series survive for so long?

2. ‘The Strange World of Gurney Slade’ – In 1960 the annoying, mercurial Anthony Newley strolls off the set of his sitcom and into the streets, turning television upside down and influencing the young David Bowie and a generation of surrealists. Moved to a graveyard slot on TV and killed.

3. ‘At Last The 1948 Show’ – Monty Python in embryonic form, it combined Pythons, Marty Feldman, The Goodies and the lovely, squeaky-voiced Aimi Macdonald. As kids we memorised Feldman demanding Dickens books that don’t exist and John Cleese explaining why an ant’s brain is too big for its head. And of course everyone who saw it now remembers the difference between a monsoon and a mongoose. A monsoon is a long plastic pole you hang out of a window at an angle to keep the birds away, and a mongoose is a box you lock books up in for Easter. A ‘Best Of’ collection is available on DVD.

4. ‘The Brittas Empire’ – written off by anyone casually tuning in and seeing what looked like another tacky BBC sitcom, this was actually a subversive, long-running show about the dysfunctional manager of a health centre who manages to kill/ burn/ destroy/ everything he touches, driving his wife to addiction and his staff to insanity. From the scene where he accidentally arranges for his drugged spouse to give birth via terrifying clowns to the moment where he fries a religious group in an electrified swimming pool, it delivered endless variations on ‘man as a force of chaos’.

5. ‘Tales of Mystery & Imagination’ – The title may have been used by Poe, but this was an all-star TV series (with some Poe adaptations) from the mid-sixties that ran late at night and scared the hell out of me while I was waiting for my mother to come home from one of her many second jobs. They made ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Sweeney Todd’, but also filmed ‘Casting The Runes’ and ‘The Suicide Club’. Sadly only 8 episodes survive, but they’re available on DVD.

Below, Tim Brooke-Taylor shows why it’s fun to charter an accountant.

10 comments on “Five UK TV Series Some Readers Might Have Missed”

  1. snowy says:

    I’m more sorry that our American friends only get dumbed down versions or bland rewrites of some great shows.

    And I’m sorry to be picky, but Fanny Cradock vs. Nigella Lawson, if you think the former caused excitement in the same way as the latter, thats just sick.

    Enjoy your break.

    [WARNING: The above may contain traces of 'Deep English']

  2. Paul Graham says:

    Fagen & Norris, writers of The Brittas Empire were also responsible for the equally odd “Chance in a million” that was a surreal sitcom…

  3. Roger says:

    Was it the 1948 Show that had Bill Oddie’s wonderful version of ‘Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at’ (?sp)?

  4. Brian says:

    I’m with you Paul, “Chance in a Million” was one of the best of the eighties, however, for really sharp witty dialogue “Shelley” is my favourite.

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    Dumbed down is too right, Snowy. And everything is the same: all “reality” and stupid team efforts. (Of course, life seems to be that way now. Don’t tell me there isn’t a real effort to see who next can insult and upset the Middle East. Just wait for the TV version: “You each have four days in which to develop and gratuitously instigate a riot… And no, you may not have another shot at the royal family.”
    You never know – well, actually you halfway know – what sort of “reality” or team show will be dreamed up next.
    Here’s a suggestion: Dead On – the Great Amateur Morticians Challenge! Six contestants! Six stiffs! “Chantry from South Wales pick a cold drawer! Roll it out, untie the tag, and hand it over. Chantry meet Robby from Manchester. What you know him? Amazing. Lucky you – advantage yours. You’ll know how he’d have liked to look by our last show. Make him pop, lass. Tommy from London pick a…”
    Low? Sick? Indeed, but coming soon, I’m sure.

  6. Ken M says:

    Barry Cryer claims that the Fanny Craddock show once ended with the announcment “here is the number to call if you want your doughnuts to look like fannies”

  7. Helen Martin says:

    And if the Morse referred to is one of my favourite detectives then boo, hiss! I always enjoyed Tim Brooke-Taylor although I always thought of him as Timbrook Taylor because that’s how it seemed to be pronounced.

  8. glasgow1975 says:

    I always thought it was, “May all your doughnuts turn out like Fannys”
    The Brittas Empire was great, as was Nighty Night for jaw dropping reasons.
    Julia Davis seems to have two new shows on at once just now.
    Will be catching up on them now I’m back home.

  9. Anne Fernie says:

    Where does the wonderful ‘Callan’ fit into all this?????

  10. Demelza says:

    You need to see Sean Lock’s Fifteen Storeys High. Bleak Scandi-style filming of a sit-com that isn’t with a really unlikeable main character. And it’s odd-ball and they showed it at really stupid times of the day which meant not many people saw it.

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