HE Cooper takes a time machine back to 4-8 June 1968 for a look at what was on the telly

1968 was the year that kicked off all this time travelling lark and after such a great time on my last visit, I was curious to return a few months on and find out what there was to see.

This week my ITV programmes are coming from Rediffusion, ATV Midlands and Granada.

4th June
Custer ‘Under Fire’
Rediffusion

It’s quite something to get through life without realising that the man’s name was not General Custard, but I was most grateful that I found out before I ever had to say it out loud. This follows Custer and his men just after the American Civil War. We left most of the Western series behind a while ago but while this is similar and has the stereotypical Indians as the bad guys, it’s military theme does make it stand out from other series.

Custer is to be lured to an Indian called Crazy Horse in exchange for land with gold on it. There is also a large gun that Crazy Horse wants destroyed so that his men won’t be mown down when they attack. A couple of Custer’s men are kidnapped and it all builds to a huge climax of everyone fighting it out. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this compared to some of the other Westerns and may well go back for more.

5th June
Mission: Impossible ‘Fakeout’
Rediffusion

The titles for this show are fantastic. That theme tune is great and a fuse is burning down across the screen, always almost running out before we cut to another clip. It perfectly suits the show.

Our team consists of two men and a woman and their mission this week is to get a drug dealer out of his current country and into one that the US has an extradition treaty with. Lloyd Bridges plays Poltroni and I really enjoyed him as this up-himself, nasty man. If you didn’t know he was the villain of the piece already, you would want him to be.

Dan, Cinnamon and Barney work well as a team, with each having their task to take care of, though it’s clear that Dan is the leader of the group. They use that trusty foil that had fooled our hero in The Baron; the fake diversion signs. They eventually manage to get Poltroni over the border entirely voluntarily before he is immediately arrested.

No – That’s Me Over Here!
Rediffusion

This is the only episode from the first two series of No – That’s Me Over Here! that still exists so I feel rather lucky that it’s fallen during the week of my visit to 1968. The Two Ronnies was some of the first comedy I discovered through UK Gold so I feel I know this programme’s lead, Ronnie Corbett, rather well. I’ve never been particularly enamoured with his later sitcom, Sorry! (did Corbett have a thing for sitcom titles ending in exclamation marks?!), but I actually quite liked his NTMOH! character.

There’s a ‘don’t mention the war’ feel about this episode as Ronnie has invited his boss, Mr Robinson, over, hoping to win some work brownie points, only to discover his wife has also invited her German teacher. Ronnie tells Mr Robinson that Jurgen is Austrian and spends the evening trying to steer the topic away from Germany.

The ingrained culture of smoking is demonstrated when Mr Robinson offers round his cigarettes and despite the fact that Mrs Corbett doesn’t smoke, Mr Robinson and Jurgen don’t hesitate to light up. Ronnie can’t make up his mind whether or not he does want one.

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“What a terrible habit this is!” remarks Mr Robinson. “Yes,” Mrs Corbett politely agrees. “I was going to give it up at one stage but I’ve been smoking solidly ever since ’19.” And that’s that. Mr Robinson has been a committed smoker for nearly fifty years so he may as well keep at it. The Royal College of Physicians released their Smoking and Health report in 1962, showing the link between smoking and lung cancer, as well as other diseases. Despite this, Mr Robinson was typical as changes were slow and in the late 1960s over 50% of men and 40% of women smoked. I love old cigarette adverts and though by 1968 they had been banned from television, TVTimes still features several in print each week. Smoking is such a regular thing at this time and I’ve become very used to seeing it. If programmes ever leave it out, it tends to feel conspicuous by its absence.

Ronnie Corbett’s character is also called Ronnie Corbett. Characters having the same name as the actors is a trait that seems to persist in sitcoms. Tony Hancock springs to mind, Fred and Thora from Meet the Wife back in 1964, Hugh and Terry in Hugh and I/Hugh and I Spy, and Sid in Bless this House. More modern shows are not exempt with Lee in Not Going Out and Miranda in, er, Miranda. I find it a little strange and I wonder if performers who considered themselves actors first, rather than comedians, became more reluctant to use their own names for characters.

While I enjoyed NTMOH!, there aren’t many big laughs. I certainly wouldn’t call it a lost gem but it is nice to see some pre-1970s’ Ronnie Corbett in a substantial role.

6th June
Pogles’ Wood
BBC One

It’s time for another visit to Watch with Mother. I had been wondering for some time what a Pogle was so was delighted to discover they are in fact little people that live in the woods and live off the land. Mr Pogle does not give the best first impression, dragging his wife out of bed, demanding his breakfast. He brings home a bean that grows a magic plant that can make bean plants appear. It all began to feel a tad surreal when the plant started playing the violin while Mr and Mrs Pogle danced around the garden. I enjoyed this little story a lot and quite fancy going back for some more. As the credits rolled, I clocked the name of Oliver Postgate, who would go on to create The Clangers and Bagpuss.

Midlands News
ATV Midlands

David Ennals is being interviewed about immigration issues. At the time, Ennals was Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and on a tour of various areas. While his constituency was Dover, he had been born and brought up in the West Midlands. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act had been passed in March, after many in Britain had panicked about immigration levels when lots of Kenyan Asians began fleeing persecution. At one point, all Commonwealth subjects had the right to come to Britain. Ennals talks reasonably about integration and his comments on equal opportunities make him sound very modern.

7th June
Nice Time
Granada

This should be the very first episode of Nice Time but the missing episode gods have not been kind this week so instead I’m watching one from later in the year. The feature in TVTimes had intrigued me, billing the show as a mixture of all sorts of random bits, which is exactly what it turned out to be.

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Each section is very short so my attention was always satisfied. Among the things featured was a saw orchestra, Richard Burton’s brother, a woman playing a tune on bicycle spokes, an interview with a window cleaner about the saucy things he’d encountered, spot the real vicar, and a dodgem car race featuring Stirling Moss.

Members of the public were asked what they saw in a naked woman/man. The blokes were fairly open about what they saw, with some giving very specific descriptions and one answering simply, “Everything.” Some of the women were more coy, turning away from the interviewer, blushing. Others had no hesitation in answering, “Sex” or “His John Willy!”. The TVTimes tells us that Nice Time ‘sets out simply to entertain’ and, greatly helped by host Kenny Everett, who I wasn’t all that familiar with, I think it achieves that perfectly.

8th June
Dee Time
BBC One

Only two complete editions of Dee Time exist so I’m watching one from a little later in the year. I immensely enjoyed this chat show hosted by Simon Dee (real name Cyril Nicholas Henty-Dodd). It was very laid back and cool. It was such a sharp contrast to the Henry Moore interview I watched back in 1960.

I’ve been listening to the Top 20 for the weeks of my time travelling and have been surprised by just how much of it I have not enjoyed. Apart from a handful of artists, a lot of it all sounds the same to me. Yet by 1967 things seem to have turned a corner and in 1968 there is more stuff to my taste appearing. From this edition I thought The Equals (currently at no. 20 with Baby Come Back) were brilliant. It suits the youthful style of the show that they sound more modern. We’ve lost much of that sound from earlier years – as far as I’m concerned it’s time for Adam Faith and Cliff to move over so we can say hello to the likes of The Equals and The Rolling Stones.

Neither of the guests’ names were familiar to me but the face of Lionel Jeffries was. He was there to promote his latest film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He talked about the success of other musical films of recent years like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, hoping Chitty could also do well. It all seemed slightly sad with the knowledge that the heyday of musicals at the box office were numbered. Yet I loved Chitty as a kid so enjoyed hearing Lionel’s experience of filming it. His children were in the studio and I was amazed when I looked him up that though he plays a grandfather in Chitty, he was only 42 at the time.

The show’s coolness continues into the end credits as Simon Dee exits the studios and drives off in an open top E-Type Jaguar, a young lady sat beside him.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ‘The Hong Kong Shilling Affair’
BBC One

Most of the episodes of U.N.C.L.E. that I’ve seen have been from this first season so I’ve no problem with us remaining stuck in black and white – the rest of the population still is too. This is the second time this episode has been shown and, bizarrely, it’s scheduled for another repeat next month as well.

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Napoleon and Illya are after a rare shilling, as are this week’s baddies. Among them is Richard Kiel, best known for playing Jaws, the man with steel teeth, in two 1970s’ James Bond films. As he would then, he’s playing a henchman, doing the dirty work for the episode’s main villain, Cleveland. Keil’s huge height (over seven foot) dwarfs everyone around him and his imposing physique was deemed sufficient enough menace that he has no conversations in either of the Bond films he appears in. As a result, I was delighted to get to hear him actually speak in this episode and my enjoyment never ceased throughout it. Being portrayed as not just big but powerful too, I winced when, having trapped him in a net, Kiel’s character, Merry, picks up Napoleon and thwacks him against a wall.

Unable to get hold of the shilling, Cleveland decides to auction off a trussed up Napoleon Solo on the basis that, “Each and every one of us in this room is sufficiently skilled, I venture to suggest, in the arts that are necessary to make him talk freely. So, I offer you one body ready for interrogation. Shall we begin the bidding at one hundred thousand dollars?” I thought that was a neat idea and it also tells us just what a bunch of scoundrels all these finely dressed people really are. Cleveland is a villain who’s been to charm school and sometimes I think I prefer these well-turned out baddies. Real rapscallions don’t all look like complete rogues after all.


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 The Best of Twice a Fortnight Show – This comedy compilation of the Twice a Fortnight Show has credits including Graeme Green, Bill Oddie, Eric Idle and Barry Cryer.

UNKNOWN Professional Wrestling – You can find two lots of wrestling on this week – the first on Saturday as part of World of Sport and the second late on Wednesday night. As a kid I watched the odd bit of WWF/WWE but I have never seen British wrestling. I know it was immensely popular on television at this time so am curious to see some.

UNAVAILABLE Hunter ‘The Kauffmann File’ – John Hunter was apparently Australia’s answer to James Bond. In the last two years we’ve seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible, I Spy, and the revived Danger Man who were all arguably ushered in as part of the 1960s’ spy bandwagon. The titles depict drinking, action and women, saying of John Hunter, ‘He is part commando, part detective, part spy.’ I’ve not seen much Australian television and while this programme seems more low budget than others, I would still love to see this take on the spy genre.

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