HE Cooper takes a time machine back to 15-21 January 1968 for a look at what was on the telly
There is something lovely about looking at what was on telly 50 years ago today. It’s that nice round number – 49, or 51 just won’t do quite so nicely.
I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now. Although I was already interested in a few programmes, an enormous influence on me delving into more was the blog TV Minus 50, run by @hellothisisivan. For over two years, TV Minus 50 followed this week’s TV, 50 years ago. It gave me a look at some shows I knew and piqued my interest in several others. I also always enjoyed Ivan’s commentary and since the blog has finished, I have often continued looking back at this week’s TV 50 years ago.
However, I’ve rarely actually watched it that very week. But now. Have spreadsheet. Will watch. For a month at least. I have kept track of my first week in 1968 here so let’s crank up the time machine…
Conveniently, 15 January is a Monday in 2018 and in 1968. We will keep the same days of the week until the end of February when it all falls apart because 1968 was a leap year and 2018 is not.
Monday 15 January
Lunchtime viewing on BBC One brings us Watch with Mother and today is Monday so it’s Andy Pandy. Filmed in the 1950s, Andy Pandy was repeated for years in the Watch with Mother strand. Like several other children’s programmes, by the time all the episodes had been shown the kids watching them had grown up and a new generation had appeared in front of the screen so they could be shown all over again.
These repeats had long since ceased by the time I first peered into the box in our living room. However, I am actually familiar with Andy Pandy because we were lent a Watch with Mother compilation video. Just how this managed to tear us away from Spider-Man or X-Men cartoons, I cannot say, but that video was watched repeatedly.
Unlike several other young children’s programmes from that era, Andy Pandy is lacking a DVD release. If they can manage it for Muffin the bleedin’ Mule and Torchy the Terrifying Battery Boy, dear old Andy certainly deserves one.
It means I am confined to what YouTube offers so today I found Andy Pandy in the garden, playing on his swing. ‘Do you have a swing in your garden?’ I do not but I do occasionally like to go on the one at the park. Teddy arrived and pushed Andy on the swing. Then the narrator didn’t know what Teddy was doing BUT I DID. He was marching because he wanted to do his marching song. Looby Lou appeared in her pram and though Andy and Teddy pushed her, she refused to move or do anything until they had both gone. She clearly wanted all our attention for herself. Soon it was time to go home. Looby Lou disappeared and Andy and Teddy climbed inside the picnic basket.
My revisit to Andy, Teddy and Looby Lou was wonderfully relaxing. There is something about the slow pace of children’s programming that I rather enjoy. The narrator is Maria Bird and I found her voice familiar and comforting. I don’t want to say it looked cheap but my god they got their money’s worth out of this with the years of repeats.
Early evening now and it’s a Hardy Boys’ serial, The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure. I had heard of The Hardy Boys’ books and was aware they were two young American detectives. This serial is from 1956 so it is safe to assume it’s another repeat. Today is part two of nine.
A young girl claims to have had a blanket thrown over her head and her purse stolen, though it is soon recovered after one of the lads finds it. Suspicion soon falls on a young boy, Perry, employed by Mr Applegate. We (but not the Hardys) find out the lad is on probation from reform school, which I’m guessing is a type of young offenders’ institution. With help from another of Mr Applegate’s employees, the Hardys search Perry’s room. They find some stolen items, including the Hardys’ wire cutters, and a hunt is mounted for Perry. Yet when one of the Hardys finds him hiding in a bush, Perry insists he has been set up. We will have to wait until next week to find out more.
I liked this and the child actors are not bad, though nine episodes seems a long time to drag the plot out. Hopefully, it will develop fast soon. The sets are clearly limited. We have had a garden and a lawnmower all inside a studio, which seems a lot more hassle than just filming in a garden. Maybe US series were as studio-bound as some British series.
Tuesday 16 January
In 1968, The Magic Roundabout is on BBC One most days at the moment. Both Andy Pandy and The Magic Roundabout have had modern CGI remakes and these seem to have won the draw for DVD releases over the originals. As with yesterday, this means picking out what YouTube has. Today, Dougal is a film director. I have vague memories of watching The Magic Roundabout as a young child but can clearly see why adults also enjoyed it. The narration from Eric Thompson is wonderful and I’m looking forward to more.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons immediately creeped me out due to how realistic the puppets are compared to other Gerry Anderson series. Add in the fact they didn’t blink and I was unsettled from the off. I have the feeling Captain Scarlet is not his real name as he dresses in red and there is also a Captain Blue who wears blue. It feels an impersonal organisation.
I’m not all too sure how I feel about this show yet but I did like the new tank that had been developed. I was impressed with the realistic movement they had managed as the tank moved across a desert landscape, though this was interrupted when this tank managed to soar over an enormous drop without so much as a run-up.
Wednesday 17 January
As much as I enjoy children’s programming, I had been looking forward to my first prime-time programme of 1968: Man in a Suitcase. My time machine went a little awry and threw me a completely different episode. Never mind. Apart from it being an ITC show, I had no idea what I was going into. The first few minutes went well when esteemed actor Peter Vaughan showed up as a baddie. I knew he was a baddie because he was played by Peter Vaughan. He was also covertly transporting a World War II sea mine and this seemed a tad suspect.
Peter Vaughan’s character, Peters, teams up with another couple of blokes to kill a fellow called Masters, who has been blackmailing them. Masters’ wife, Lucinda, is helping them because she wants to leave Masters and go off with Peter Vaughan. Our man of the title, McGill has been employed by Masters as a private eye to try to spot any dodgy people hanging around. Masters tries to blackmail McGill too, refusing to pay him and commenting that he is an ex-CIA agent, which was a nice little bit of series explanation considering this show has been on for several months already. The plotters reckon McGill has already found out too much so decide he will have to be bumped off too.
This episode has a lot going for it. McGill has a fight with Masters’ henchman, Kirk, and manages to keep his cigarette hanging out of his mouth the entire time. That looked cool. Lucinda helps the gang capture McGill who later launches an escape attempt by tripping up and clobbering one of them, then diving out a window. Masters and Kirk turn up and Peters shoots Kirk. It all gets very tense as one of the gang, Harris, is having second thoughts about killing more than just Masters – the only bloke they originally planned on murdering. McGill divides them as he has worked out that Peters has never been blackmailed by Masters. McGill takes his chance to escape by running out the room and diving into the water. He keeps diving underneath to avoid the bullets being fired after him. Masters takes his boat but heads straight for the mine that has been planted.
This was so much fun. Fights, shoot-outs and tension are exactly what I like from my drama. Excitement and action like this are no less than what I have come to expect from ITC, whose output I have previously got to know well through The Saint, The Persuaders, The Prisoner, and, most recently for me, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). I can’t wait for next week’s episode.
Thursday 18 January
My second visit to Gerry Anderson this week is Four Feather Falls. I’ve watched an episode of this before and, as with Captain Scarlet, was put off by the puppets not blinking. The basis of Four Feather Falls is that there is a bloke called Two Gun Tex. He has two guns and four magic feathers in his hat. These enable him to fire the guns without touching them, and also enable him to understand his horse and dog. Very helpfully, the titles explain all of this each episode, as if it would otherwise be unreasonable for a puppet to be able to converse with his puppet animals.
I say this, yet I found myself questioning the realism of this show when two boys, Jake and Makooya meet up. Jake is wearing trousers and a long shirt. Makooya’s full name is Makooya the Little Indian Boy and Makooya is wearing little more than a loincloth. If it is warm enough for him to wear only that, why is Jake not in shorts and short sleeves?
Tex does not have a great deal of screen time in this episode. Instead, we follow Jake and Makooya who go into some caves and are trapped by a baddie when they find some treasure. The episode is only 15 minutes long and the plot fills its slot adequately. Kenneth Connor and Nicholas Parsons are both in the cast list but I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention to pick them up so will have to listen better next time.
Friday 19 January
I feel I know The Man from U.N.C.L.E. well but have actually only seen a few episodes, all from the first couple of series. As a result, finding Ilya Kuryakin with noticeably longer locks in this fourth series was a surprise. Napoleon Solo has not moved with fashion though so remains reassuringly familiar.
Tonight’s episode is a traditional race against time as Ilya is kidnapped, then locked in a gas chamber and Napoleon tries to reach him before the cyanide will. Mr Solo finds a random young lady on the way and together they duck and dive through buildings, rubble and passageways while being shot at by a man with a sniper and a big cat.
The sets in this are huge and we get to see the scale of it thanks to some high angle shots from the top of buildings. These tall blocks also mean the sniper has a perfect view for shooting Napoleon and the tension mounts as the minutes tick by.
Late on Friday night was The Untouchables, a US gangster series set in the 1920s. This sounded so exciting but it never quite grabbed me and I found it rather dull. Too much talking and too many characters – I could barely keep track of what was happening in the opening fifteen minutes.
Saturday 20 January
Teatime on Saturday evening could only mean Doctor Who, so I joined episode 5 of ‘The Enemy of the World’. This is one of the stories that were mostly missing until the rest of them were found a few years ago. I watched it when it was originally released but didn’t actually remember all that much about the plot. From what I gathered from this episode, a chunk of the population have been living underground after a nuclear explosion. Their leader, Salamander, tells them it is not safe to go on the surface so they live a miserable existence on meagre rations below ground. He is lying. The twist of this story is that the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) is the exact double of Salamander. Patrick Troughton is my favourite Doctor and he does a fantastic performance as Salamander, switching marvellously between the two roles.
Next up is George and the Dragon, starring Sid James, Peggy Mount and John Le Mesurier. I had previously come across an interview with Sid James in TV Times to coincide with a new series of George and the Dragon so was interested to see the sitcom. Sid plays George and Peggy Mount is Gabrielle Dragon, both in the employ of John Le Mesurier. I gathered that the Dragon was a housekeeper but I never quite figured out what George was meant to be doing. At the start of the episode, he is attempting to construct a DIY television set but the only channels he manages to pick up are the local taxi and air traffic control. There is an offer on new televisions though so the two of them spend a night trying to ensure they beat the other to the front of the queue for the next morning.
I was a little disappointed in The Monkees as I found it rather low on laughs. In tonight’s episode, the band are visiting the relative of one of them, who, as they arrive, is being fired on by local cowboys. The gang spend the episode defending the home and, er… I’m not entirely sure what else. The programme is clearly intended to be surreal. A couple of them visit a saloon and manage to fool the locals into thinking they are big bad fellas, despite the fact that most of their dialogue is complete nonsense. Maybe that was half the point. It certainly felt like a children’s show, perhaps reminding me slightly of The Goodies. However, I just didn’t ‘get’ this. I’m intrigued enough to give it another go though.
“I hear you have some men with prices on their heads?”
Sunday 21 January
It’s Sunday so there is bugger all decent on the box. Go to church, do your homework, it’s bath night.
Missing and unavailable
What I would like to have been watching if it wasn’t missing or lacking a release.
MISSING: All Our Yesterdays – This programme looks back at what was happening 25 years ago this week. For 1968, this makes it 1943 and the Second World War is reaching a turning point in favour of the Allies. This show always grabs my attention in the listings.
MISSING: Z Cars – Two episodes – parts 1 and 2 – were broadcast each week and I’ve often seen the cop drama praised.
UNAVAILABLE: A Man of Our Times – this stars George Cole, who would achieve success much later with Minder. His character in this seems to be expecting promotion but instead faces redundancy. I know little about this series and am intrigued.
MISSING: Softly, Softly – I got to see an episode of this Z Cars spin-off last year.
MISSING: Public Eye – I love Alfred Burke as private eye Frank Marker and this is the start of the programme’s third series. The first three series have a different tone to those that follow, which makes it all the more a crying shame that out of 41 episodes, only five survive.
In 1968 neither BBC One nor ITV had begun colour broadcasting but as the screenshots above show, some programmes were already being made in colour. It would never have occurred to me if someone else hadn’t suggested it but, strictly, to be watching 1968 telly properly, I should be watching everything in black and white. So, for the first week at least, I did. Due to switching from Granada to Anglia after a couple of weeks, I got to rewatch the episode of Man in a Suitcase and I appreciated the colour immensely. It had felt like dedication. It had also felt a tad obsessive. I enjoyed it.