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.