HE Cooper takes a time machine back to 14-20 April 1964 for a look at what was on the telly
This week my ITV programmes are coming from Rediffusion and ATV London.
Meet the Wife ‘The Bed’
We start the week with a prime time repeat. First shown as part of Comedy Playhouse a few months ago, Meet the Wife has got a series. Thora and Fred are a middle aged couple who like to bicker but nonetheless love each other very much and Thora decides that after twenty five years of marriage, they need a new bed. I absolutely loved this programme. The two leads are marvellous and they need to be as, apart from scenes with a bed salesman, they are the sole speaking characters. I found the scenes in the bed shop interesting as both Thora and Fred are extremely reluctant to lie down on the beds in the middle of the shop. They both seem embarrassed by the idea. Fred in particular is initially perfectly willing to buy a bed without having tried it out. To me, testing a new, expensive mattress while in a shop seems completely reasonable yet the salesman has to coax them both into it.
From their conversation throughout the episode, we discover Fred is a plumber. He also likes a drink and a flutter. He had a big win recently and Thora believes he’s blown it all but later discovers he’s bought her a new dressing gown for their anniversary. No children are mentioned and they wouldn’t be the only married sitcom couple without any. I would like to see more of Thora and Fred.
This US sitcom was astoundingly twee. A family run a hotel near a small town. I am rather sceptical about how much trade they get. Herbie, who works in a nearby store, gets called up for his military service. The ladies from the hotel are encouraging but another local lad predicts he will be quite useless. He’s right. Herbie is let go because he just isn’t up to scratch. He’s ashamed so a plan is put in place to make it appear he’s been invalided out after committing some heroic deeds. It is all so sweet, old fashioned and nice, and frankly it makes me sick.
The Dick Van Dyke Show ‘One Angry Man’
I know Dick Van Dyke because I imagine it’s quite unusual to reach adulthood without seeing Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang broadcast over a bank holiday. Dick did not feature too heavily in this episode, which was a shame because I would have liked to have seen more of him. Nonetheless, I was impressed with this comedy. The plot was secondary for me as the writing was strong enough. I’d certainly watch more episodes.
The Telegoons ‘The Underwater Mountain’
I should be watching ‘The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea’ but technical difficulties mean I am instead watching last week’s episode. This is a television adaption of the highly successful radio series of The Goon Show. I have listened to several episodes of the radio series so the voices are all familiar to me, along with several of the characters, who are here presented in puppet form.
The Goon Show always conjures up images of magnificent worlds so seeing these absurd realities come to life, even in puppet-form, is fantastic. In this episode, Seagoon wants to climb a mountain that is taller than Mount Everest. After attempting to build one and then being unable to work out how to flip Mount Everest on its side, it is suggested there is already a mountain taller than Mount Everest. The only snag is it’s underwater. Seagoon sets off looking for it, asking for help along the way. “Hello, is Pearl in?” “No, I’m her mother.” “Of course! You must be Mother of Pearl!” The Telegoons was so much fun.
Dr. Who ‘The Velvet Web’
It feels like I have been in the 1960s for ages before Dr. Who has come along. I have seen all of 1960s’ Dr. Who because a few years ago I decided to watch them all in broadcast order. It’s an interesting way of watching a long-running show develop. Prior to this, I hadn’t seen many episodes from the show’s first few years and I haven’t revisited them since. This also makes it the first series I’ve encountered during my time travels that I actually know quite well already.
This is the second episode of a serial that has come to be known as ‘The Keys of Marinus’. The Doctor and his companions have been tasked with travelling to collect numerous keys, the exact purpose of which I forget. In this episode, they find themselves in a place where they are provided with the finest things, including food and clothes. While historian Barbara reclines and the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, orders a bespoke dress, my favourite former schoolteacher-turned-action-man Ian is suspicious. How can all this be free? There must be some true cost.
When they are sleeping, a woman comes around and places discs on their foreheads but Barbara’s falls off. When she wakes, the others have been devouring food and drink from beautiful cutlery. But when the camera becomes Barbara’s point of view, she can see that it’s actually all rubbish. The water is murky, the cups are old and battered, while Susan’s dress is rags.
I thought this fake world with a perception filter was a marvellous idea. It also gives the character of Barbara the opportunity to be centre stage. The episode ends with Susan moving on to the location for next week’s episode, ‘The Screaming Jungle’. I am quite happy to leave Susan there screaming because the character’s regular whining does my head in.
The Morecambe and Wise Show
I tune in briefly to catch The Beatles performing on the show, both musically and comedically, though poor Ringo doesn’t get to join in on the latter. This was actually recorded by ATV back in December but anyone who was worried that the band were a passing fad could relax – they were number one in the charts both when the programme was recorded and when it was broadcast, with She Loves You and Can’t Buy Me Love respectively. Among the songs they performed on the show was I Want to Hold Your Hand, which is currently (just) in the top 50.
Aside from Christmas specials, I haven’t seen a lot of Morecambe and Wise and it has all been from later years. I was not aware they had been on television this early so it was a treat to see them both looking so young. It’s nice to know the ‘short, fat, hairy legs’ joke stretched back so far.
Tonight is the first night of broadcasting on the first new television channel for nine years: BBC Two. To say it was disappointing would be something of a catastrophic understatement. It was a disaster and I was treated to about ten minutes of it. What was ‘it’? An enormous electrical failure prevented any programmes being transmitted so viewers were left with a gentleman, Gerald Priestland, reading out the news. Occasionally he is interrupted by a telephone call but it all comes to nothing.
Among the interesting things to note is the large number two in the studio. I hope this was used as an ident because I think it’s beautiful. The first item on the news is that a bus conductress has made an apology and been reinstated, after previously being dismissed for “calling Pakistani passengers filthy wogs”. Well. The slur is bleeped out on the version I saw but it was an eye-opener into the reality of the age. The Scottish church are against commercial sport on Sundays, which made me wonder just when it became more common. The church reckon “serious thought and reading” are more suitable activities. Construction workers on the new Nottingham University building celebrated the near-completion with free beer before it was decided they were a little too “light-hearted” to continue work in the afternoon.
Finally, Gerald refers to BBC One and BBC Two as “channel one” and “channel two” and this seems strange and so very wrong.
What you could have won – missing and unavailable
Here are some of the listings that intrigued me but I was unable to watch this week.
MISSING This Is Your Life: Dominique Pire – I vaguely remember my parents watching the later incarnation of This Is Your Life, presented by Michael Aspel, but otherwise I’ve seen little. To help keep the episode’s ‘victim’ a secret, the series was broadcast live and as a result most of it is missing. This version is presented by Eamonn Andrews. It would soon take a five-year break before returning on ITV. A look over the people featured in the episodes that do exist reveals few names I know, but I’m even more intrigued by the odd military title. I had thought the show only featured celebrities but this revealed to me that other, perhaps less well-known, noteworthy figures were also included.
UNKNOWN The Budget/Budget Day – Allotted a decent chunk of the afternoon on both BBC and ITV, these live broadcasts are presumed missing. Yet it would be a fascinating insight into the state of the country as well as a look at 1964’s idea of instant analysis. Also, after over a decade in power, the Conservatives would lose the October 1964 General Election to Labour, so I’d be curious to see how, with hindsight, they made some wrong moves here.
UNKNOWN Top marks to Rediffusion for the scheduling triumph of Exploring the Universe – ‘When scientists reach the moon, they may discover the answer to man’s oldest puzzle – the creation of the universe’ followed by Last Programme ‘Why I Believe: The Existential View of Christianity’.
UNAVAILABLE The Villains – All three series of this Granada drama exist. Producer Harry Kershaw described the series: “Our stories will be slanted towards criminal lives rather than crimes. We are, in fact, interested in the part of a criminal’s day when he isn’t engaged in his particular profession.”
An episode from the second series, broadcast later in 1964, was the first Granada drama to be recorded entirely on location, on videotape. From the little I have found out, the series also seems to have emphasised regionalism in its episodes, fostered by writers like Peter Eckersley. He wrote this week’s episode and, along with several other writers of The Villains, also wrote for Coronation Street at the time – Eckersley wrote the episode I watched in 1963. He went on to briefly produce the series too before becoming Head of Drama at Granada. As far as I’m concerned, The Villains has outstanding credentials so I’m hoping it will get a release one day.