And now we’re going….Nationwide!

If there is any TV theme music that has me scrambling frantically to find the channel console, it’s that of BBC’s The One Show. A bit like up until the 1970s when the last showing of a film in the cinema was immediately followed with the dirge that is the national anthem and you had to be quick to get out before it started. But one of The One Show’s illustrious predecessors, Nationwide, was broadcast every Monday to Friday straight after the early evening national news. It would begin with the news ‘from your region’ and then we’d go ‘nationwide’ and for the next 40 minutes or so we’d join regular presenters such Michael Barrett, Bob Wellings, Sue Lawley, Frank Bough and latterly, Sue Cook (if she hadn’t pulled out) who would introduce us to news stories which took ‘trivial’ to a whole new level. Yes, they featured important news stories of the time such as football hooliganism, the rise of National Front, The EEC, industrial relations and, one of their favourites, ‘Women’s Lib.’ But it was the trivia that people really wanted and they were given it in spade loads!

The programme was a minor technological miracle for the time as the presenters were dealing with 12 regional presenters, all being broadcast simultaneously. In the early days cock-ups were inevitable and, in a strange sort of way, the viewing public warmed to the chaos. The producers had maybe predicted this and recruited some stalwart, unflappable professional anchors who would steer the Nationwide ship through the turbulent tea-time waters of multiple simulcasts.

The difference between 70s Nationwide and today’s execrable The One Show is that the former was presented by real journalists. Barrett, for example, had cut his broadcasting teeth on heavyweight news programmes like 24 Hours and Panorama. Bob Wellings, Jack Pizzey, Bernard Falk, Philip Tibenham, Bob Langley and the great Fyfe Robertson were all experienced media hacks and could ‘fill’ during the many moments when things went tits up.

Nationwide had been beamed into our living rooms for well over 10 years before it struck me that maybe it wasn’t considered the serious news magazine programme I had always assumed it to be. The idea that some people took the piss out of its unbalanced menu of serious news and major-league trivia had never entered my juvenile mind. But then I watched a sketch on late 70s groundbreaking satire show Not The O’Clock News and witnessed Rowan Atkinson as a Mr Angry in a TV audience who rants and rails about how rubbish Nationwide is (I’ll tell you a programme I hate. Nationwide! Now that is shit!). I have to say I was shocked. I really hadn’t noticed the ever increasing slide towards its obsession with the minutiae, trivialities and flotsam of everyday British life. That dizzyingly uneasy balance between what was happening in the real world, (IRA, Vietnam, stormy industrial relations, power cuts, rocketing inflation etc), which was really pretty depressing in the 70s, and the Parallel Universe Of Nationwide in the which the exploits of the eccentric, the unusual and even the barking mad were sacrificed at the alter of light entertainment to a salivating tea-time audience.

Nationwide was a live show, a bit like the earlier Dee Time (see Dee Time: When The Sixties Really Began), and therefore, much of the programmes’ prodigious studio output wasn’t recorded or was wiped. Luckily quite a few of their regional ‘stories’ and filmed reports still exist which gives a decent idea of the range and weirdness of its reporting. They’re very much ‘down the rabbit hole’ moments to us now and represent a world that scarcely exists today, which is inevitable of course, and still leave many open-mouthed moments. For example…..

Herbie, The Skateboarding Duck(1976)

If anything summed up a typical Nationwide item it was Herbie. The story included every element so beloved by Nationwide producers: a funny animal, children, something that was ‘trending’ at the time and good old fashioned British weirdness. What’s not to like? And another superb aspect of these regional reports was that, unlike the awful One Show, they sent proper journalists, in this case BBC Midlands intrepid Alan Towers. And what an excellent pun-filled despatch he was responsible for!

Boozy, The Beer Loving Snail (1974)

What? More strange animals with even stranger (regional) people, I hear you say? But yes, this type of story was loved by the undemanding tea-time viewer. Heavyweight journo Michael Barrett can hardly keep the boredom from his voice as he tries manfully to feign interest in a massive snail, Boozy, that drinks beer. Boozy’s regional owner, Chris Hudson from Southampton, is a bit of a card and trades bon mots with Michael Barrett to no great effect, but studio interviews are never quite as exciting as Jack Pizzey, Bernard Falk, Bob Langley, Philip Tibenham or Fyfe Robertson camping it up out on the trail of the weird and the wacky.

Striptease at Tea-time (1969)

No footage exists of a particularly bizarre (this is Nationwide after all) episode which analysed the state of striptease in our 70s permissive society. Why they decided to cover this hardly earth-shattering story at 6pm on a Tuesday evening is anybody’s guess. Maybe the producers thought this item might be ‘relevant’, even ‘daring.’ I remember clearly watching this elaborate but essentially meaningless report. Michael Barrett sat at his desk interviewing a elderly ex-stripper about the job. The interviewee sat on a chair in front of a studio set where a woman went through her stripping techniques, under subdued lights of course. A minute or so into the interview the ex-stripper suggested to Michael he put the studio lights up so we can see how far the stripper had got to in her act. ‘Oh, not at this time of the evening!‘ remonstrates Mike, almost offended. So we had a 5 minute item about stripping but steadfastly did not allow the audience to see the stripper performing, her act kept discretely in the shadows.

Like any tabloid newspaper, Nationwide was not afraid of a bit of prurience disguised as hard-hitting journalism.

The Women of the Pussycat Club (1970)

And talking about prurience disguised as hard-hitting journalism, what about the Women of the Pussycat Club?

Certainly one of my favourite Nationwide items, intrepid reporter Bob Langley was sent along to investigate The Pussycat Club, not in 30s decadent Weimar Berlin but in 70s decadent ..erm… Lincolnshire. An organisation of women, although I’m sure they’d prefer to be known as ‘ladies,’ who believe men are superior to women and should be treated, or rather pampered, accordingly.

This was Nationwide manna from heaven as it coincided with the rise of feminism and ‘Women’s Lib’ as it was referred to at the time. A favourite topic of Nationwide as it certainly stirred up opinions, and Nationwide was nothing if not tabloid in its approach to these type of stories.

The report begins with sexy Alpha male Silverback Jim Cowan arriving home after a hard day’s work to be met by his dutiful wife and leader of The Pussycat Club, Mary-Lou, who repairs him with slippers, newspaper and some delicious home-made banana wine (delicious home-made grape wine is available later in the item). The couple’s conversation seems a tad stilted and one wonders what they talk about when the cameras aren’t around. Probably nothing. Mary-Lou also seems considerably younger than Jim and there’s definitely another story to be told here. A more interesting story might have emerged if intrepid Bob Langley had returned 5 years later to see how the Pussycat Club was progressing (if that’s the right word) and were the pussycats still purring for their ultra-masculine partners?

We then see Mary-Lou sympathetically advising her non-married members (poor souls) the right way to flirt with men by fluttering their eyelids at them, a la Lady Diana or any Jane Austen heroine, before embarking upon the essential feminine skills of embroidery, home perming, and making lip smacking home-made grape wine.

Sadly, if there was a discussion in the studio following the item it has been lost in the mists of time. It would probably have featured Claire Rainer for the prosecution and some female writer from the Daily Mail in the defence camp and would have descended into jokes about women burning their bras.

Strangely you wouldn’t be surprised if a similar report turned up tonight on The One Show. We giggle at such stories but have things really changed that much in the world of tabloid TV?

The Bob Wellings Smoking Scandal

During the mid-70s Nationwide launched an anti-smoking campaign, surprising given the fact that pretty much everyone smoked on telly at the time, so it was really quite groundbreaking. Up to this point cigarettes were not harmful and actually did people some good. At least, according to the manufacturers. To show they were serious about it the staff at Nationwide, from presenters, reporters and behind the camera employees all agreed to give up smoking for a period of time to show it could be done.

One of those admirable individuals was the great Bob Wellings who signed up to this important healthy campaign and blazed the trail for the Great Viewing British Public.

That was until he was caught by an eagle-eyed cameraman hiding a fag behind his back while out filming somewhere in the UK. He was immediately summoned back to BBC TV Centre where he was put into the dock and grilled mercilessly by Head Boy Michael Barrett. Bob was clearly rattled by the revelations and spluttered a sort of explanation/ apology which Barrett was having none of.

He’d let down Nationwide, he’d let down the country, he’d let down the campaign, he’d let down his family and, most of all, he’d let down himself!

Poor Bob, what a turn up for the books.

The Fainting Judge

As if that wasn’t humiliating enough for Bob Wellings he was faced soon after with every presenter’s worst nightmare. Maybe the Gods of Light Entertainment were getting their own back on his shameful smoking behaviour.

While doing an in-the-studio report on the differences between male and female pay (we’re back to that favourite Nationwide tabloid topic again), one of the actors dressed inexplicably as a High Court judge keeled over as Bob approached her. This was text-book Nationwide. Why do a report on differences in gender pay to the camera when you could get a load of actors in from Central Casting to dress up as various high profile occupations and have them stand under the lights in a studio for hours while Bob walks amongst them talking about how much they’re paid? Bob covered himself in glory as he politely stepped over her with a perfunctory comment and carried on the report.

The man was a pro!

Should women pinch men’s bottoms in the street? (1970)

It’s feminism again! Or at least Nationwide’s naughty schoolboy approach to it. But on this occasion it’s naughty schoolgirl, Nicky Woodhead, wearing the fashions of the day, mini skirt and knee-length boots, who stalked the men of London by pinching their bums and asking if it was ok for a woman to do this. Most men thought it was fine, but they would, wouldn’t they?

I’m reminded of Alan Partridge’s radio chat show, Knowing Me, Knowing You on BBC Radio 4, where he insisted his female co-presenter kept her questions light rather than scare off the listening public with anything even remotely in-depth. Nicky Woodhead does not address the issue of whether a man pinching a woman’s bum in the street is at all acceptable. It seems her breezy report accepts that it’s always going to happen, so how do you men like it? Sadly, they really did which defeated the whole point of the report really. And she was a very attractive young woman and not a sweaty, overweight middle-aged man. Although it probably met the male producer’s aims. Even the gay guy in the Afghan coat who sounded a bit like a bit like a Dick Emery character, even although homosexuals officially did not exist in 1970, agreed it was ok.

But this was premium Nationwide: taking what was a fairly serious issue and turning it into a tea-time joke. You could just imagine Michael Barrett and Bob Wellings salivating back in the studio and making lascivious comments about the lovely Nicky being welcome to pinch their bums anytime.

Pipe-smoking Women (1969)

They’re at it again! This time it’s about pipe-smoking women. And the report begins with some glamorous ladies posing in an old-fashioned boozer with their pipes of choice. The late winner in this report is the vox pop of Neanderthal male pipe smokers , some of whom believe it to be unfeminine. ‘Personally I don’t think pipes and mini skirts go very well. The smell might put a fella off.’ It clearly would in a certain area of Lincolnshire. I expect Mary-Lou would be gagging at the very thought. But at least some of the ladies’ pipes have a special mouthpiece so it doesn’t smudge their lipstick!

But credit to the Nationwide reporter. Not a single reference to rough shag or getting your lips around a Churchwarden, although the guys in the studio were probably thinking it.

Tony McCabe: The Manchester Egg-Jumper (1974)

Arguably the greatest item ever featured on Nationwide, and that’s saying something when you check out the entries below. That said, I’d argue there is something greater and more awesome in Nationwide terms yet to come, if you can even imagine that. But let’s not take anything away from Tony McCabe. This is industrial strength Nationwide fodder of quite mind-blowing proportions. Tony reminds me of a character created by the wonderful and much missed Lancashire cartoonist Bill Tidy. He could be one of The Cloggies or a relative of Arctic guide Van Grimshaw in Tidy’s masterpiece The Fosdyke Saga. That’s how good this is.

From the moment Sue Lawley introduces him as ‘a man who can jump on hens’ eggs and human noses without breaking them‘ and we see his professional set-up of basin (why?), towels and a rudimentary double egg-holder, not to mention his egg-jumping outfit of boots and shorts that looked ancient even in 1974, we knew this was going to be something special. And it most certainly was.

Tony took a number of attempts to achieve his aim and mumbled to himself as he put his best boot forward. Fairly long, excruciating seconds of silence ensued in the studio with the off-camera Nationwide presenter desperately trying, but failing, to think of something, anything, to say. Suddenly an almost imperceptible crack, although maybe I just imagined it.

‘That’s it is it? That’s jumping on eggs?”

‘Oh yes, it’s definitely been jumped on.’

Tony McCabe we salute you.

The Amazing Pillar Box Jumping Pensioner (1971)

And if you thought one leaping pensioner was enough to be going on with, you’d be wrong. ‘Jumping’ George Corner had come down all the way from Batley in Yorkshire to fulfil a life-long desire to leap over those double London pillar boxes. ‘At 71 you need something to keep you fit,’ and he’s not wrong there. I have a vague memory that ‘Jumping’ George Corner had previously appeared on Blue Peter leaping over some other inanimate object and had expressed a desire to John Noakes that he’d like to take on a pillar box. Cue Nationwide producer who couldn’t believe his luck to step in and yet another septuagenarian star is born!

Bob Owen: Egg-eating champion of GB.

In 1972 Nationwide Look North presenter, Mike Dornan, took us to Bob Owen’s dark, dingy, soulless and very much male local boozer to show us his not inconsiderable egg-shifting prowess. Pint after pint of raw eggs is knocked back nonchalantly and it seems it’s the viewer that is more likely to evacuate the contents of his stomach than Bob. He then shows-off by sinking a pint of beer in 3 seconds. It’s undocumented as to whether Mike Dornan returned the next morning to see if Bob was still with us or had barricaded himself into a nearby toilet with a bottle of Harpic, but I feel this was just another day at the office for Bob. I also also feel the ladies of The Pussycat Club would have been frothing at the mouth at this display of macho consumption. Wonder if he could have done it with some banana wine?

The Fit For A Queen Silver Jubilee Song Contest

Nationwide steadfastly refuses to go over the top for the silver jubilee song contest

But if anything summed up Nationwide’s quest for the weird, the unusual and the downright nuts look no further than the ‘Fit For A Queen‘ Silver Jubilee Song contest of 1977! ‘From hundreds of entries we’ve whittled it down to the best six‘ purred Michael Barrett, although my guess is there were six entries in total. But what a six entries! To watch them today, and they very definitely should be watched, it seems like we’re witnessing something taking place on another planet, although Nationwide regularly had an other-worldly feel to it.

Words like ‘servile’, grovelling’ and ‘sycophantic’ spring to mind as, let’s face it, the BBC, much as I love a lot about it, has always been the media wing of the Royal Family. And if anyone required proof of this, click on the above link, roll up, sit back and enjoy, no doubt with an open mouth, the glory of 70s tabloid TV at its best/ worst, depending on your royal viewpoint..

There’s no need to watch all the performances but three have to be seen to be believed. First up, the colossus that is Eccles’ Eric Smallshaw with The Jubilee Rumba. What the silver jubilee had to do with a rumba is anyone’s, including Eric’s, guess but there’s something quite satisfying about shouting OLE! every time the chorus comes around. Eric’s organist steadfastly never looks up from his keyboards as if he’s terrified some viewer might recognise him and Eric himself almost drifts into paroxysms of ecstasy and his eyes fall back into his head as the song lumbers towards it climax. I have a feeling Eric may have originally written this song about dancing the rumba but, when the call came from Nationwide to submit some grovelling tribute to the queen, Eric played around with some of the lyrics and, lo, The Jubilee Rumba was born!

Eccles’ Mighty Eric Smallshaw

Next up, from Cardiff Richard Gwynn and Cameo taking obsequiousness to new depths with their song ‘Silver Jubilee.’ No one should get too excited expecting a young Larry Blackmon to step out sporting a royal bejewelled codpiece as RG and C are a very different band. Possibly the uncoolest band I have ever seen or heard, and I’ve seen a few. Pray why, I hear you ask? Well, apart from being festooned arse to tit in union jacks, just sample these lyrics, (preferably not on a full stomach):

Hang on Rich, just a second ago you were saying the Queen would reign forever and day! And not a trace of irony.

SPOILER ALERT! Neither Eric, sadly, or Rich and his band won the contest. Coventry’s Singing Butcher and a bunch of kids wrestled that dubious honour. But thank god for Nationwide hosting such a musical, and I use this word in its loosest possible sense, oddity. I feel my life would have lacked something had I never stumbled upon this 70s TV gem.

For the record, my vote would, without any doubt, have gone to the redoubtable Eric Smallshaw. I expect Richard Gwynn and Cameo returned to their summer residency in Port Talbot’s Hoseasons camp.

Interview with ‘The’ Led Zeppelin

‘It’s cool, it’s groovy, it’s The Led Zeppelin..

Just to show that Nationwide didn’t just churn out 70s weirdness, it also stuck its finger into the sometimes turbulent waters of the top pops. Although one can’t help but think that this item was featured because some middle-aged producer thought ‘The’ Led Zeppelin sound was so alien that it would upset the taciturn tea-time viewers. And all tabloid reporting is designed to stir up controversy, is it not?

In a bizarre encounter, the great Bob Wellings jousts with chain-smoking Robert Plant and ‘Bonzo’ Bonham. It seems Bob is struggling to get to grips with the popularity of the Led Zeppelin sound and resorts to probing them about how much money they have. You’ve got to get up earlier in the morning if you think you’re going to pull the wool over Robert Plant‘s eyes, Bob. But what an odd and rare TV moment that was and don’t they sound posh? And I wonder if this put the Led Zeppelin boys off interviews for the next 30 years?

Nationwide might have been bizarre, even in the context of its own time, but it was never dull, unlike The One Show which takes lugubriousness to a hitherto unknown level. Interviews on TOS make Alan Partridge interviews seem in-depth.

The Nationwide presenters moved on to pastures new. Shamed presenter Bob Wellings went to Nationwide-on-amphetamines consumer show That’s Life, Bob Langley, Donnie McLeod pitched up at Pebble Mill, Frank Bough to breakfast TV, Sue Lawley to Desert Island Discs and Hugh Scully to Antiques Roadshow, amongst many others.

Michael ‘Mr Nationwide’ Barrett jumped ship early in 1977 after his affair to co-host Dilys Morgan leaked out. He had had cameos as a punk in The Goodies and as ‘himself’ in the legendary 1969 Peter Sellers film ‘The Magic Christian’ (The Magic Christian: The Most 60s Film Ever Made?) and even on the Harry Enfield Smash and Nicey documentary in 1994.

Micheal died in 2022 at the grand old age of 94 having fathered 9 (nine) children.

Now what a great Nationwide story that would have made.

Tonight Danny Blanchflower, This Is Your Life!…Oh no it’s not…

It was a 60s and 70s must-see TV appointment, but were the ‘subjects’ really that enthusiastic?

Throughout the 60s and 70s many programmes became must-see events for all the family. Maybe this was because the quality of output was so much better than much of today’s abundant but formulaic offerings. But we only had three channels and programme makers could concentrate producing high quality fare because there was so little competition and channels really did want to challenge as well as entertain. That said, for every Monty Python’s Flying Circus there were five Not in Front Of The Childrens or its equivalents. We were also probably more accepting of the dross that was served up to us. TV was still relatively new and constantly evolving.

One of those must-see events was a programme that spanned the years 1955 to 2003 and could rely on millions tuning in to every episode. We all were fascinated to learn of who that week’s ‘victim’ was going to be and it was this weekly mystery that probably allowed the series to sustain for so long. And, hey, they’ll have their celebrity pals on too! Of course, I’m talking about This Is Your Life.

The programme was synonymous with Eamonn Andrews, a ubiquitous 50s and 60s TV face. His career trajectory is a curious one. Born in Dublin in 1922 he began as a sports, mainly boxing, commentator.

In 1951 he somehow got the gig as the presenter of the BBC’s sophisticated new US imported panel game What’s My Line which lasted until 1963 and was revived a few times by various TV channels until 1996. The original US version was memorable for the high calibre of celebrity mystery guests who tried to fool the panel. Guests included an A-Z of Hollywood stars such as Sean Connery, Alfred Hitchcock, Big John Wayne and, surreally, Salvador Dali.

With The Eamonn Andrews Show in the mid-late 60s he pioneered the chat show as we now know it, although his interviewing style was savagely lampooned by writer Marty Feldman on the brilliant Round The Horne with Bill Pertwee as Seamus Android (See Marty Feldman: A Criminally Forgotten Comedy Genius). Most people of my age will remember him as the unlikely front man of Crackerjack between 1955-64, although no more unlikely than either ex-newsreader Michael Aspel (who would also take over from him on TIYL after his untimely death) or ubiquitous Genxculture figure Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, who both succeeded him. Inevitable 70s stints as Miss World host and unchallenging 70s afternoon fare Whose Baby would also follow.

Eamonn even had a hit record in 1956 such was his fame! His spoken, George Martin produced, version of The Shifting Whispering Sands reached a heady No.18 in The Hit Parade. It has to be said that his booming Irish sports commentator voice is an odd accompaniment to the story of a man lost and facing death in an American desert, but who cared? It was Our Eamonn. The song even made it on to Kenny Everett’s 1978 album The World’s Worst Record Show. And he was in exalted company. Also featured on this album were William Shatner’s groundbreaking and utterly unique version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, which has to be heard to be believed, Lord Rockingham’s XI’s Wee Tom and a mighty 7 (seven) records by Jess Conrad. I saw Jess Conrad on one of those many lugubrious ITV afternoon property programmes some years ago and he referred to himself in the third person throughout. ‘Yes, Jess Conrad really loves this bathroom suite.’ I doubt ‘Jess Conrad‘ would have been too enamoured of this statistic.

Eamonn Andrews died suddenly in 1987 at the criminally young age of 64 having contracted a virus on a plane journey which resulted in heart failure. His career was probably more successful than he could ever have imagined and he was certainly seen as a safe and uncontroversial pair of hands for the buttoned-up 50s and 60s. It was impossible to dislike Eamonn Andrews and anyone of a certain age if asked about what they remember of him would certainly associate him with TIYL.

It was only while watching BBC 4’s excellent biopic of Hattie Jacques a few years ago that it suddenly struck me how excruciating it must have been for so many of the TIYL subjects. Have a look at some of the openings when compere Eamonn Andrews surprises them and see how many expressions momentarily drop until they realise that they should really go along with it as it would not only show them up to the Great British Viewing Public as spoilsports or wet blankets but also disappoint the hordes of relatives and pals (and probable unknowns) already lined up behind the sliding doors, ready to regale with yet another hilarious anecdote. I genuinely felt for them. If I was famous I’d completely hate every agonising, unbearable moment of the half hour trying to remember who this person who claims to know me actually is. Or forcing myself to appear jolly when the story related is just embarrassing.

Hattie Jacques was the ‘victim’, an appropriate word given the background to this particular show, on Tuesday 12 February 1963. Her idyllic home life with her husband, the great John Le Mesurier, lovely family and successful career was highlighted throughout the show. John Le Mesurier’s rather restrained response to Eamonn’s question along the lines of ‘Tell us how wonderful Hattie is?’ disguised a quite agonising reality.

In the BBC4 2011 biopic with Ruth Jones excellent as Hattie, she is walking back to her car after the show and she turns to Le Mesurier and says ‘Well that was perfectly ghastly.’ Few people knew at the time that Hattie was living with her boyfriend and Le Mesurier was exiled to another bedroom in the same family home. Few people at this very conventional time would even have considered a situation such as this could exist. But it did and Hattie and John had to go through the ‘ghastly’ ritual of pretending to be an exceptionally happy showbiz couple, one that we all could be jealous of. This was the moment when I realised what a bogus and disingenuous programme This Is Your Life could be for many well known people. It wasn’t the fault of the producers really. They could only go by what associates of the ‘victim’ said about them and they were getting millions of viewers every week. Why change?

A tiny clue emerged on 6 February 1961 when Spurs‘ captain Danny Blanchflower was the first, and one of very few, who refused Eamonn’s Big Red Book. It shocked the nation as everyone thought that all well-known people were desperate to be chosen for this show. And I can’t help but feel absolute respect for Danny who had the courage and intelligence to understand that this really was not the ‘honour’ it was cracked up to be and politely turned it down. Despite this he was still hounded by a frenzied press determined to find out how this preposterous decision could have been arrived at. His reason was perfectly logical;

I did not want to expose myself to the public without having the right to say ‘yes or no’. You get shanghaiid into this situation where you are suddenly exposed to something. Had it been before a studio audience ..I would have still have said ‘no.’

The shockwaves that ran through the country distracted people from realising that Danny’s was probably not an isolated reaction.

Some month’s ago the ever excellent Talking Pictures TV broadcast a US edition of TIYL from 1954 featuring a visibly ageing Laurel and Hardy. They were sitting chatting to friends in their hotel room, glad of the peace and quiet no doubt, when the Eamonn Andrews‘ US equivalent, Ralph Edwards, burst in with a TV crew and ‘whisked’ them off to the Burbank studios where hordes of fans and admirers were waiting. During the next excruciating 30 minutes Edwards played them voice clips and said ‘Do you recognise this voice?’. The poor old buggers didn’t remember any of them, even when their names were given and they walked on set, and why should they? The length and depth of their film careers must have had them coming into contact with hundreds of people. But, to their immense credit, they were hugely courteous, played along and did a lot of nodding and smiling. I couldn’t help feeling there was something so wrong about ‘shanghaiing’ these two old men who just looked exhausted and would rather have been anywhere else, ideally quietly watching telly in their hotel rooms. The benign potential cruelty of TIYL began to take shape in my head.

Another rare refusal I actually witnessed took place on 20 February 1974 and involved Dr. Gordon Osteler, better know to many as Richard Gordon, writer of the rather mediocre ‘Doctor‘ books, radio and TV series such as Doctor In The House and Doctor In Charge. As Eamonn ‘shanghaied’ him with the Big Red Book, Osteler turned on his heels shouting back ‘Balls!’ As I, along with a few other million viewers, lurched back in my chair, not quite believing what I was seeing and hearing here, Eamonn pursued him entreating, ‘Oh…come on..’, in other words don’t be such a miserable git, when the pictures suddenly disappeared and the Thames logo and jingle reappeared. Once again we get the TIYL theme and opening credits (Da-Da-Da-DA) and Eamonn has miraculously been transported to Kempton Park racecourse and who is this having the Big Red Book thrust in his face? Why it’s ubiquitous character actor Sam Kydd! And he wasn’t saying no! Sam Kydd’s son Jonathon gives an interesting insight into what it was like being involved in TIYL in the Youtube video below, not least the bizarre quality and choice of guests for his dad’s show. Sam had no idea who one ‘old school friend’ was, he scarcely knew Beryl Reid and had never even met the clergyman. I can’t help but believe that Sam Kydd’s TIYL experience would have been very similar to many other ‘victims.’ Let’s not forget that TIYL was about entertainment and many subjects lives would have been pretty dull had it not been for the ‘surprise’ showbiz people who just wanted to pay their respects. Whether they knew the subject or not.

Eamonn manhandles Richard Gordon in an attempt to stop him escaping.

With appearances in over 200 films on his CV one can’t help but feel poor old Sam might also have felt a tad miffed at the fact he was only featured because someone they thought was more interesting had bumped them, at least initially.

And talking of the great Beryl Reid, she was the subject on 17 March 1976 and, according to her biographer, was less than happy with the outcome. One of the guests was an old boyfriend she hadn’t seen for years and wasn’t particularly bothered about seeing again. I’m sure we all have old flames we really wonder how we ended up with and wouldn’t be keen to meet up with again, never mind in front of an audience of 8 million people. Sam Kydd might have been slightly perplexed as to why she rolled up on his ‘Life’ but she did appear as a guest on 10 other shows including those of Harry Andrews, whose male partner of 30 years was excluded from his show, Bernard Cribbens, Patrick Cargill and, interestingly for Genxculture, Nat Jackley who 13 years previously had appeared in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (See Magical Mystery Tour: What A Long Strange Trip It Was). A record? Not if you consider the great Peter Ustinov’s 14 guest appearances and not one but two shows of his own ‘life’ on top of that or that of a certain other individual who we shall come to shortly. Peter Davison, riding high as Doctor Who at the time, was also slightly surprised as he had only met Beryl Reid twice. But if a researcher got in touch and asked, ‘Would you appear on this person’s This Is Your Life?‘ and you happened to be free that evening it would seem a little churlish, not to say disrespectful, to turn the request down.

Osteler later relented and his show went out a couple of weeks later. And what a dull old show it was. It was clear he really didn’t want to be there and came over as a cold fish, right down to shaking hands with his children who were marched on and didn’t exchange a word with him, I seem to remember. But who could blame him for being so pissed off?

It was also rare for ‘victims’ to find out that they were being ‘done’ on TIYL although I’m sure some did and just kept quiet about it. One who didn’t was the great Ronnie Barker. Having become increasingly suspicious of his wife’s behaviour over a period of a few weeks he eventually confronted her about what was going on. She spilled the beans and the producers decided they couldn’t go ahead with it. This pleased Ron as he admitted in his autobiography a few years later that he wouldn’t have done it anyway. The very idea filled him with dread. He wasn’t averse, however, to not only appearing on TIYL but also being part of the sting, as he was in the case of his comedy partner Ronnie Corbett.

This Is Your Life? You must be bleedin’ jokin’!

A few years before The Two Ronnies both Barker and Corbett were appearing regularly in Frost On Sunday. The last sketch of the last episode of the series series involved Corbett playing an ordinary bloke who was obsessed about Eamonn Andrews turning up at his door with the big red book. The punchline involved Barker coming into his house and saying ‘You’ll never guess who I just met outside?’, cue Andrews barging in with the big red book. But in this live sketch Andrews continued, ‘But Ronnie Corbett, this really is your life!’ A few days later the Ronnie Corbett TIYL was broadcast. Ronnie Corbett has written about this in his autobiography and described how he was very unhappy doing this sketch as he felt the two roles should have been reversed. I can’t help thinking that he maybe twigged what was going on but kept schtum about it.

In the early years of TIYL it was common for the show to feature almost as many ‘ordinary’ people as as famous faces. War heroes (it began only six years after the war ended) such as Douglas Bader, public servants and unsung charity workers all were given their own big red book. Even world renowned figures like Gladys Aylward and Chad Vara were subjects. Although laudable in their intentions, and this policy carried on to an extent right through until their final broadcasts, it was clear the vast majority of viewers really wanted to see ‘stars’ or as we refer to them now, ‘celebrities’. And, of course, it was inevitable some star from the silver screen would have been crowbarred into the guest list just to excite the TV audience, Beryl Reid perhaps?

The conservatism of the 60s and 70s viewing public not only required the likes of Hattie Jacques and John Le Mesurier to pretend their marriage was idyllic but also excluded many gay subjects from being honest about their private lives. I’m also fairly certain gay ‘subjects’ featured had their private lives and living arrangements brushed under the carpet. With performers such as Frankie Howerd, John Schlesinger, Harry Andrews and John Inman featured, looking back, it does seem strange that their partners of the time were not invited on to the show. Of course, homosexuality was deemed ‘illegal’ by the laws of the land up until 1967 so it wouldn’t have been possible to involve same sex partners up till then, but even after this it was not encouraged. Too much for a light entertainment audience to cope with. But it further underlined just how false the programme’s claim that this was the ‘life’ of a particular person when it clearly wasn’t.

It’s also awkward to think that TIYL featured an A-Z of Operation Yew Tree. Jimmy Savile was the subject twice and appeared as a guest on no fewer than 18 other shows including as diverse characters as wrestler Jackie Pallo, larger than life scientist Magnus Pyke, Pan’s Person Babs Lord and unpleasant hairy monster Dave Lee Travis. Not forgetting Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter (who I once shared an elevator with) and It’s A Knockout’s Stuart Hall. Well, they weren’t to know I suppose. I remember clearly watching Savile’s second appearance in 1970 and found the fact that he referred to his mother as The Duchess just a tad creepy.

Maybe I’m taking all this a bit seriously and, it’s fair to say, many subjects were only too happy to take part and probably enjoyed the experience thoroughly but there must have been many who found it all just excruciating. That said, we all watched and often enjoyed This Is Your Life and loved the mystery of who was going to be next to walk through those sliding doors. It was a broadcasting institution and featured a huge range of well known people as well as less well known but worthy individuals.

But, as Groucho Marx rightly said, who wants to be in an institution?

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Still So Far Ahead, It’s Beautiful…!

‘Too anarchic, even for the sixties’: John Peel

I can probably sing, if you could call it singing, about six songs without having the words in front of me. One of those songs is Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West and three others are by one the greatest, most influential, most connected and, above all, funniest bands to have ever blown a rude noise on a euphonium on national television. Of course, I’m talking about the amazing, irreverent, iconoclastic, inspired Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band that, surprisingly, lasted only about five years but left a monster footprint on our musical, comedy and artistic cultural landscape which continues to resonate today. The Bonzos’ tracks I can recite from memory incidentally are Rhinocratic Oaths, Big Shot and We Are Normal (and I can quote endlessly from many more of their back repertoire). Each of those tracks provide the essence of what the Bonzos were about and many other tracks add even more heft to a back catalogue of weirdly inspired genius. As a band they were doing things in the studio that even The Beatles hadn’t thought of. But more on those classics a little later.

The first meeting of the classic line-up of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band at the New Cross Inn, London in 1965 set the tone for the next five years of inspired and divine anarchy. According to Neil Innes, lead singer and composer Vivian Stanshall walked into the bar wearing a Victorian frock coat, checked Billy Bunter-type trousers, pince-nez glasses, large rubber false ears and carrying a euphonium under his arm. Knowing what we know about The Bonzos now, this seems perfectly in order, even necessary.

After a number of personnel changes the classic Bonzos’ line-up eventually settled on:

Viv Stanshall: Vocals, trumpet, garden hose and many other faintly musical implements

Neil Innes: piano, guitar, vocal

Rodney Slater: Saxophone

‘Legs’ Larry Smith: Drums

Roger Ruskin Spear: Saxophone

Vernon Dudley Bowhay-Nowell: Bass guitar

Sam Spoons: Percussion

Initially they were influenced by the ‘trad jazz’ movement of the 50s which revived 1920s dance music styles but as The Guardian stated in a recent article The Bonzosparodied, pastiched, subverted and perverted every musical genre in their 1960s heyday.’ Nothing and no one were off limits and to describe them to someone who has never heard the band would be virtually impossible. But they brought joy, anarchy, abnormality, and above all, uproarious irreverent humour to a decade that was sometimes a little too up itself for its own good. And even today, over 50 years later, they sound as fresh and iconoclastic as ever.

Their group name changed slightly over time, firstly known as The Bonzo Dog Dada Band, ever so slightly displaying their Art School credentials. Bonzo Dog was a very popular cartoon cartoon character from the 1920s created by cartoonist George Studdy and was an appropriate symbol for the anarchic type of 20s influenced music the band performed. Dada was an artistic movement which grew up after the First World War through European artists disgusted by what they knew of the carnage involved. According to the good people at Wikipedia:

‘..the Dada movement consisted of artists who rejected the logic, reason and aestheticism of modern capitalist society, instead expressing nonsense, irrationality and anti-bourgeois protest in their works’.

Eventually the band dropped the ‘Dada’ of their name mainly because they became tired of having to explain it to people and possibly as it is a tad art-school pretentious and became The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, ‘doo-dah’ being a word used by Viv Stanshall’s family to mean pretty much anything. But, thankfully, Dada they resolutely remained for the whole of their career, even their solo careers.

It was an incident involving another 20s influenced ‘band’ that led to the development of The Bonzos we now know and love. In 1966 a member of TBDDDB, Bob Kerr, knew the prolific songwriter and producer Geoff Stephens who had written hit songs for The Applejacks, Manfred Mann and Herman’s Hermits amongst many others (See Herman’s Hermits Were HUGE during the 60s. Why?). Stephens had written a 1920s style song, not dissimilar to what The Bonzos were doing at the time called Winchester Cathedral. The song had been recorded by studio musicians under the name The New Vaudeville Band and released to huge success, going top ten in the UK and going to No. 1 in the Billboard chart in the US. As no New Vaudeville Band existed and Stephens was receiving demands for a potentially money-spinning album and tour it was vital he formed a band quickly. As The Bonzos were performing similar songs in their act Bob Kerr was contacted to find out if TBDDDB would like to become TNVB. No they jolly well wouldn’t and an alternative TNVB was cobbled together. It became obvious to The Bonzos, however, that TNVB had nicked the Bonzo ‘look’ lock, stock and barrel right down to the gold lame suits Viv Stanshall wore on stage. This was the turning point for The Bonzos. Did they want to continue as they were being seen as an TNVB without the hits or did they change direction and take their chances? The answer was obvious. Stanshall and Innes began to write songs for the band and the rest became, of course, A History of The Bonzos.

Not The Bonzos

Up until this point the band were working flat out playing sell-out gigs in London pubs and then they were booked into the northern working mens’ club circuit. For me this became the strangest development in their spectacular though short career. They were, apparently, very successful and a number of the band members still speak fondly about this time. But those working men’s clubs were hotbeds of conservatism with a small ‘c’. It’s not even that long ago that women were forbidden from being served at the bar in some, so how the Bonzos with their long hair, outlandish gear, weird songs and their anarchic show went down in the mid-sixties with those bluff northerners is anybody’s guess. Take a look at the audience in any edition of The Wheeltappers and Shunters’ Social Club on YouTube and you get the idea. But it did provide the band with a plethora of material that they gleefully and mischievously integrated into their act.

The Bonzos even made it on to TV in February 1966 for their first televised appearance. Not on the terribly ‘with it’ Late Night Line-Up, Colour Me Pop (although they did appear on this eventually ) or even Ready, Steady Go but that non-threatening bulwark of junior middle-class cosiness, Blue Peter (Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie)! Many tame bands had been featured on BP during the tumultuous years of the early sixties such as Freddie and the Dreamers (Freddie and the Dreamers: The Beatles of Uncool (But Fun!)), Vanity Fair and Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours (name-checked by John in his Bonzos’ intro) and none of them could be accused of frightening the horses or servants. But viewing the footage of this early incarnation of the band just highlights the silliness, the anarchy, the fun and superb musicianship that the Bonzos stood for. But it was all about to change and the slimmed down Bonzos were about to become even more Dada, if that was possible. The old 20s playlist would also be slimmed down and some replaced by songs of such weirdness, randomness and downright brilliance that within the cultural climate of the mid-sixties, they were going to be noticed. And noticed they certainly were, not least by The Beatles.

As is so often the case with stories from this era, a number of different versions continue to float around. How The Bonzos came to the attention of The Beatles in 1967 is still uncertain, not that it really matters, but the machinations of the music industry at this time do interest rather sad people like me. I have already reported that it was Mike McCartney (McGear), brother of Paul, of similarly ubiquitous 60s group The Scaffold (See The Scaffold: The Group Who Put The (Thank) ‘U’ Into Ubiquitous) who had played with The Bonzos at various gigs who had alerted The Beatles while they were developing their Magical Mystery Tour plans (See Magical Mystery Tour: What A Long Strange Trip It Was). Other sources such as Neil Innes suggest that Viv Stanshall hung out with anyone who was anyone in the London music industry at the time and had known Lennon and McCartney. Others claim McCartney had attended some Bonzos’ gigs and knew they were perfect for the strip club scene in MMT. Either way, this was the band’s huge break and on Boxing Day 1967 The Bonzos made their second TV appearance singing and performing Death Cab For Cutie in what became one of the monumental moments in TV history and, at the time, it was perceived to be a massive mis-step by the band who, up till that point, could do no wrong. In some ways the furore that accompanied MMT tended to obscure The Bonzos wonderfully characteristic performance in the film but it did cement a fairly significant place in music history for them and it also led to further adventures with various members of The Beatles over the next few decades.

The Bonzos perform in Magical Mystery Tour

One of those was the creation of their one and only hit, I’m The Urban Spaceman, written by Neil Innes, which soared to no. 5 in the UK hit parade in December 1968. One of the worst kept secrets in pop music at the time was that the producer of this wonderfully infectious psychedelic ditty was a certain Apollo C. Vermouth, better known to his friends and millions of fans as Paul McCartney.

Do Not Adjust Your Set

Possibly the greatest TV Times cover ever.

About the same time as Urban Spaceman was being played to death on Wonderful Radio One, The Bonzos were about to have their biggest showbiz break when they were invited to become the resident band on a new children’s series called Do Not Adjust Your Set. Producer Humphrey Barclay had spotted them and realised they were a perfect fit for a children’s series that was like no other ever broadcast. It starred The Frost Report scriptwriters Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle, latterly Terry Gilliam, who would join up with John Cleese and Graham Chapman and, five months after the final DNAYS in May 1969 became Monty Python’s Flying Circus. After that comedy would never be quite the same.

For me DNAYS was a revelation. Suddenly after years of patronising middle-class children’s tea-time TV we were given a programme that didn’t treat children as…well, children. It was a comedy show that just revelled in daftness and included sketches and jokes that were certainly adult oriented, even bikini clad girls! What wasn’t to like? If the comedy was certainly dada-esque The Bonzos just added even more excitement to this heady mix. They didn’t think ‘Oh, will this be suitable for children?‘, they just did it and how brilliant it was.

The first complete series of DNAYS still exists having somehow escaped the cultural vandalism of the sixties when the tapes of most programmes were summarily wiped to be used again and save money. Series two wasn’t so lucky, however, and only one episode survives, but all are available on the wonderful Youtube and have also recently been added to the excellent Britbox roster. Fourteen episodes in total are still available and although a bit grainy and the sound quality is often poor, all are worth checking out to see where so many comedy geniuses, including The Bonzos, cut their comedy teeth.

To be honest, although I absolutely loved DNAYS, the 8 year old me did find The Bonzos a touch scary at first, though hugely fascinating. Not really knowing what to make of them as I hadn’t seen anything like this bunch of weird, hairy weirdos before it took me some time to really get a handle on what they were trying to do, but when I did…. One of my abiding memories, which I can only assume was in one of the wiped series 2 episodes as I haven’t been able to find it, was long-hair and bearded Roger Ruskin Spear playing the sax wearing a one-piece woman’s woollen dress. If that’s not Dada, I don’t know what is. Sadly I haven’t been able to find out what they performed in most of series 2 but their series 1 numbers are demented classics, the first History of the Bonzos. Admittedly most of the songs are from their early incarnation, the utter weirdness of The Doughnut In Grannie’s Greenhouse and Keynsham was a little way down the line. However….Death Cab For Cutie, The Intro And The Outro, The Equestrian Statue, The Sound Of Music (one of my very favourite Bonzos’ tracks) and Love Is A Cylindrical Piano all featured along with more early Bonzos classics such as Hello Mabel, Hunting Tigers Out In Indiah, Ali Baba’s Camel and Monster Mash.

The truncated performance of wonderful The Intro and the Outro (more on this coming up) in one of the last episodes of series 1 took the form of introductions of the band and then the DNAYS stars.

  • Michael Palin on garden rake
  • Eric Idle on temple bells (Hi Eric!)- see what he did there?
  • Terry Jones on toast (That’s kinda groovy Terry!)
  • Denise Coffey on tuba (That’s De-nice, Denise)
  • David Jason on spoons

Just to hammer home the fact that DNAYS had no truck with treating children as children, as this version of TIATO suddenly peters out, Viv tells the junior teatime audience, ‘Many of you have written in asking me if we’d play the next one. This one is especially for you Mr I. Smith of Salisbury, Rhodesia….’. A topical reference to the apartheid furore and Rhodesia’s withdrawal from the British Commonwealth in 1965.

While their calypso version of Look Out There’s A Monster Coming in episode 2 had the band blacked up like The Black And White Minstrels (which I think was part of the joke) and Limbo dancing. Badly. Of course, you wouldn’t get away with this now but it was The Sixties.

Also appearing on DNAYS was the excellent, and sadly recently departed, Denise Coffey and a certain David Jason in one of his first TV gigs. Some months ago I listened to one of the Desert Island Discs Classics on the superb BBC 4Extra and the subject was David Jason. An absolutely brilliant comedy actor, as he was in DNAYS, I found him to be a tad dull as an interviewee. However, when asked by Kirsty Young why he hadn’t joined Palin, Jones, Idle et al in Monty Python, it was clear this issue was still a running sore. Because he wasn’t asked was the short answer and this clearly still rankles. His take on it was because he wasn’t one of the Oxbridge mafia, and he may have had a point. In my head, though, I could have seen him in Python but would he have had such a glittering career if he had joined them? Of course, we’ll never know but I did find his response interesting and surprising.

Many of the songs performed by the band on DNAYS were from their first album, Gorilla, released in 1967. Their musical output was not exactly prodigious but in the short five years of their existence they produced a range of material that has remained unsurpassed. To know The Bonzos it’s necessary to begin here with Gorilla and work one’s way through the ever-changing inspired weirdness of each release. For the purposes of this little blog I’m going to consider a few of my favourite Bonzos’ creations from each album. These are by no means the only examples of Bonzos’ genius but merely a starting point for anyone wishing to explore their burgeoning back catalogue.

Gorilla (1967)

Dedicated to Kong who must have been a great bloke

Viv Stanshall sleeve notes

Of the 15 tracks of very different duration at least 5 are Bonzo classics in my humble view. I’d go as far as saying there isn’t a bad track on the album but a few of them confirmed the band’s status as Dadaists-in-chief.

The Intro And The Outro (Stanshall)

For me one of their most unique, brilliant and distinctive tracks. Stanshall takes the lead as the smarmy MC who introduces his band one by one. Beginning with the members of BDDDB he then moves into the realms of the surreal allowing each band ‘member’ to perform an incredibly cheesy solo on their chosen instrument. The track name- checks some well known media individuals of 1967, many of them long forgotten or unknown by anyone under the age of 55, but also includes a couple of very well known historical figures. Although I’ve known and loved this track for many years there were a few names I was always unfamiliar with and it was only when I began to research them for this article that I found out who they were. For example:

  • Garner ‘Ted’ Armstrong on vocals‘: A TV and radio religious evangelist who in later years became embroiled in a number of sex scandals (is there any other type of evangelist?). He was the sort of individual who would probably pass over Viv Stanshall’s radar and fascinate him. The cheesy vocal solo on the track is, for me, one of the best parts of TIATO. I’m not sure which of the Bonzos delivered it but it’s superb!
  • ‘..and Franklyn MacCormack on harmonica’: a 1930s-70s American radio announcer
  • ‘Great to hear the Rawlinsons on trombone..’ : possibly Stanshall’s first reference to the Rawlinsons of Rawlinson End, his later and one of his last compositions/ monologues from the 70s which fascinated and confused listeners in equal measure. First heard on The John Peel Show and latterly as a film starring Trevor Howard. This was heavy duty post-Bonzos Stanshall which showed his imagination was as fecund as it ever was with the Bonzos.
  • ‘Back from his recent operation Dan Druff on harp…’: Only Viv Stanshall knows what this reference was about. It’s just funny.
  • ‘What a team, Zebra Kid and Horace Batchelor on percussion…‘: certainly one of the most interesting references and Dada-ist juxtapositions in my view. Zebra Kid was American wrestler Lenny Montana. Now Lenny was very friendly with the local Colombo ‘Family’ in New York and did some favours for them, favours that included ‘enforcing’ as well the odd bit of arson on certain buildings which had maybe decided not to play ball with the Family. He eventually did some time in chokey. Well, a boy’s got to make a living. On his release and due to a variety of circumstances taking Method acting to a new level he got the part of hitman Luca Brasi in Coppola’s masterwork, The Godfather. Interestingly the word ‘Mafia’ is used only once in the film. Although The Godfather was released a while after TIATO, it’s those little connected trivia diamonds in the rough that we love so much here at Genxculture.

Horace Batchelor, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more different to Lenny Montana. The inventor of the football pools ‘Infra-draw system’, he advertised on Radio Luxembourg during the 50s and 60s where he would invite people to write in for his famous gambling system and he would lugubriously read out the address finishing by spelling out the word K-e-y-n-s-h-a-m. writer Neil Innes will have heard this regularly and it’s my guess he just liked the name of Horace Batchelor and became obsessed with it. It led to him writing an album track about Keynsham and even calling the Bonzos’ fourth album ‘Keynsham‘ (‘Tell me more about Keynsham.’) . On the first track of Keynsham we can hear possibly Viv Stanshall imitating the voice of Horace Batchelor.

Very appealing Max Jaffa….mmm that’s nice Max’: Strangely we’re not told what Max Jaffa was contributing to the cacophony but Viv certainly liked it. Max Jaffa was, in fact, a violinist who appeared for many years on the BBC Light Programme with his Palm Court Orchestra. Latterly in his career appearing in the then genteel seaside resort of Scarborough. Another easy listening stalwart who receives the ultimate commendation from The Bonzos.

Some political figures of the time also featured in the line-up.

Digging General De Gaulle on accordion…really wild General..thank you sir.’: A nicely stereotypical instrument for the famously humourless French premier.

And looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes..nice’: a most inappropriate feel-good instrument for a tyrant. Now that’s Dada.

In the groove with Harold Wilson, violin..’: Labour Prime Minister was an obvious target and his shockingly awful attempt at playing the violin was really quite daring for the time.

The band did attempt to balance out the political jibes by including a well-known Tory minister for some gentle ridicule by having Quintin Hogg (later Lord Hailsham) on ‘piggy grunt’ but boring old Hoggy got wind of this and took the band to court and had the reference banned. This line was replaced, therefore, by a reference to TV naturalist and poor man’s David Attenborough, son of Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic, Peter Scott on ‘duck call’.

The band’s admirable iconoclasm also included ‘Princess Anne on sousaphone.’ And even TV ‘royalty’ with unthreatening Irish crooner Val Doonican appearing as himself, ‘Hullo rerr..’.

Rock royalty also get a mention with ‘ Eric Clapton on ukulele..’ and just to prove how well connected The Bonzos were, it really was Eric Clapton playing. Hi Eric! The Bonzos were not only unafraid of a bit of rudeness, they positively encouraged it. Hence we have ‘Hearing from you later Casanova on horn.’

If this track doesn’t hammer home TBDDDB’s Dada credentials, I don’t know what will. A joyously warped work of genius.

Jazz: Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold

The first track to be recorded when the band began work in the studio on Gorilla. Because studio time was so expensive this was the first track they recorded and they completed it in one take. A savage parody of trad jazz, they even swapped instruments to make the finished track sound as bad as possible. Neil Innes said this was his favourite Bonzos’ recording from their entire output, demonstrating absolutely everything they were about and he’s spot on.

Big Shot

Just to prove The Bonzos could turn their hands to any genre, Big Shot is their brilliant attempt at Film Noir. Once again, more of a monologue delivered by Stanshall which tells the story of Bachelor Johnny Cool, ..occupation Big Shot, occupation at the moment, just having fun…‘ Spoken over a wonderfully low-key jazzy New York musical backdrop, Johnny meets ‘ big bountiful babe‘, Hotsy. She had the hottest lips since Hiroshima, I had to stand back for fear of being burned.

It also includes the immortal line, which still describes the impact of The Bonzos on British culture, ‘Baby you’re so far ahead…it’s beautiful!’

The dialogue becomes more and more rudely surreal (..normally I pack a rod in pyjamas…I carry nothing but the scars from Normandy Beach..) but after the linguistic gymnastics of their conversation Viv Stanshall just can’t resist the temptation of finishing on a really bad gag. ‘A punk stopped me on the streets. Hey, you got a light, Mac? No, but I’ve got a dark brown overcoat…’

The Sound Of Music

‘ That day I saw something that really moved me…it was…The Sound Of Music.’

For me this track sums up everything I love The Bonzos for. There are, of course, many other tracks that we will come to presently, but if I had to select just one Bonzos’ track I’d take to a desert island if I could only take one, it would have to be this one.

To put it into context, The Sound of Music was a film and stage musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein that, since the film’s release in 1965, had taken on an almost religious status. To my knowledge, few people criticised the whole production and with the saintly and British Julie Andrews in tow, it could only be discussed in reverential tones. My mum went to see it 7 times on its release. The film possessed a similar standing to that of the British Royal family. Irrespective of what you thought of them, criticism was not allowed in public. But The Bonzos were one of the first acts, to my knowledge, to brazenly and iconoclastically take the piss out of it, as well as the Royal family (..Princess Anne on sousaphone..), and the results were glorious! And you can almost hear what great fun they were having ripping this dirge of a musical apart, all in 1 minute and 28 seconds.

A Bonzos tour-de-force.

The Doughnut In Grannie’s Greenhouse (1968)

Described by one critic as ‘..recklessly diverse and outrageous material..’ this album was thought by many to be The Bonzos‘ crowning achievement, The Doughnut In Grannie’s Greenhouse was the band’s second LP and referred to a slang expression for an outside toilet. One report claims it was first heard by the band after Michael Palin told a joke in which this expression was used. Any reference to a toilet during the buttoned-up 60s was seen as being deeply offensive. You can almost hear The Bonzos sniggering up their sleeves like naughty schoolboys.

Of the 12 tracks that make up the album, many are Bonzos’ classics. My own view on the Bonzos’ albums is that every single one included classic Bonzos’ tracks but TDIGG maybe includes more than any other.

We Are Normal

For me, a heavy duty Bonzos’ track that gets better with every play, and I’ve been listening to it for nearly 50 years. Clearly they were experimenting with what could be included on a Dada album and We Are Normal is about as Dada as is possible. To an aural backdrop of experimental noises we hear short-lived Bonzos’ member, American Joel Druckman interviewing people in the street as to whether they thought they were ‘normal.’ As he’s doing this Viv Stanshall hovers around in his underwear wearing a rabbit head. Some of the things the interviewees say stick in the memory. (..short, back and sides..and they are very nice people..). Strangely, no one seems that keen to declare themselves ‘normal’, not even with Viv hopping around as a rabbit (..He’s got a head on him like a rabbit..).

The ‘noises’ build and build and suddenly the band crashes in with an instrumental track played at break-neck speed. Voices come in saying ‘We are normal and we want our freedom (a reference to Peter Brooke‘s play of Marat/Sade..very intellectual!) but it’s quickly brought back to Bonzo HQ when they state ‘..we are normal and we dig Bert Weedon..’. Bert Weedon being a popular 50s and 60s guitarist of very soft rock whose LPs graced many a 60s radiogram, including my own parents. Lovely use of the fashionable 60s verb ‘dig’ meaning to like or revere.

I’m aware that to describe a track like ‘We Are Normal’ is maybe a pointless exercise as this track just demands to be heard but it’s The Bonzos at their most iconoclastic, provocative, experimental and, not forgetting, their funniest. Very much a product of its time but it has lost none of it’s weird, cutting-edge power.


Rhinocratic Oaths

Yet another bizarre classic which takes the form of a series of short spoken vignettes, all with a strange, but unresolved, conclusion. To a jaunty, jazzy musical backdrop Viv Stanshall relates the story of four very different characters and each verse creates its own very strange story in a few lines.

Who could not instantly be gripped when one verse begins:

Mrs Betty Pench was playing the trombone when she heard a knock at the door. I wonder who that is at 11 o’clock in the morning she thought.but instead of the turbanned ruffian she expected there was a very nice young man.

The characteristic use of ‘turbanned ruffian‘ makes this yet another hilarious Bonzos’ pricking of middle-class pomposity and narrow-mindedness. A favourite BDDDB theme.

With a geranium behind each ear and his face painted with gay cabalistic symbols, six foot eight, seventeen stone Sergeant Geoff Bull looked jolly convincing as he sweated and grunted through a vigorous twist routine at the Fraga Go-Go Beirkeller.’

Themes of police harassment and gay liberation sets this particular verse way ahead of its time.

Excuse me sir, but I have reason to believe you turn me on…’

The Big Lebowski of Bonzos’ tracks where each line is eminently quotable. The last line of the track being one I have used regularly for over 50 years.

Sometimes you just can’t win….’

My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe

Another Stanshall tour-de-force where he takes his vocal delivery to a new level. An examination of class and possibly boredom between neighbours, the song takes is into yet another canyon of Viv Stanshall’s crazed but brilliant mind.


A wistful homage to the misery of the Great British Seaside Holiday (Rained yesterday so we stayed indoors…..Bored with bingo, we went for a swim. Fat sea cows with gorgonzola skin.) Neil Innes does his best Antony Newley impression to give it a bit of English authenticity while Viv chips in with some of the most dull comments possible on a seaside postcard (The food’s alright, I’m OK, hope you are the same). References to penny arcades, bingo, plimsolls and a cold sea all create a feeling of stultifying boredom. Can’t help but think there’s an element of Sergeant Pepper and Lennon’s healthy cynicism in this song.


Between TDIGG and Keynsham The Bonzos released an album called Tadpoles which was essentially a compilation of the tracks they performed on Do Not Adjust Your Set. Keynsham was made up of new material which some critics felt was lacking the invention, weirdness and surreal humour of theri first two albums. Certainly things were happening in the band which were causing strain amongst the members, which is probably true of most bands after 4-5 years but amongst the problems was poor management. That said Keynsham included some bangers and allowed Neil Innes to explore his Horace Batchelor obsession a little further.


An Innes written melodic homage to one of his favourite 60s characters, Football Pools maestro, Horace Batchelor (There are no coincidences, but sometimes the pattern is more obvious.) And if that doesn’t explain Horace Batchelor’s Infra-Draw Method, then I don’t know what will. Not forgetting Stanshall’s wistful final line, ‘Keynsham. Tell me more about Keynsham..

Sport: The Odd Boy

Clearly a reflection of Viv Stanshall’s miserable time at school, this almost baroque track takes the form of a school song with the refrain ‘Sport, sport, masculine sport equips a young man for society.’ Although very funny it is one of the more introspective songs in the Bonzos’ anthology. It includes a typical Bonzos’ character in the form of ‘The ‘odd’ boy’s’ mother writing to the PE teacher requesting Stephen be excused from games as ‘..he’s a little delicate and still feels a bit snotty…hoping you will understand, signed Nelly Maynard (Mrs).’

Mr Slater’s Parrot

Sax player Rodney Slater had a parrot and Viv Stanshall wrote a song for it. What’s not to like?

We hope to hear him swear
We love to hear him squeak
We like to see him biting fingers in his horny beak

But all Mr Slater’s parrot does is say ‘Hello‘.

The song was even used in a TV ad during the 90s for Cadbury’s Mini Eggs with a Viv Stanshall voiceover.

Now that’s funny.

Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly

After The Bonzos’ finally went their separate ways, a little acrimoniously, their record company informed them that it was still owed an album. Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly was what felt like a hurriedly put together set although it still retained their anarchic, left-field quality. It was probably most notable for the first extended incarnation of Viv Stanshall’s masterwork Rawlinson End which would eventually become a long-running feature on John Peel’s show and a film starring Trevor Howard. Other tracks such as The Strain and Bad Blood gave clues as to how good The Bonzos could still be but it wasn’t quite up to the mind-blowing standard of their earlier output. But as a final contractually obligated album it was pretty damn good.

Despite releasing a final album, Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly, The Bonzos had gone as far as they could. Neil Innes would go solo and join up with Monty Python, Eric Idle for Rutland Weekend Television and The Rutles and his own excellent series The Innes Book Of Records in 1979. He very sadly died in 2019 at the age of 75. Viv Stanshall also went solo and produced his masterwork, Sir Henry At Rawlinson End and his distinctive voice became world renowned as the MC on Mike Oldfield’s 70s mega-album Tubular Bells before dying tragically in a house fire in 1995. The other Bonzos went their own separate ways but periodically meet up for joyful reunions.

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band left a hilarious, dadist, weirdly compulsive, iconoclastic, irreverent body of work which is as fresh, relevant and thankfully weird as it ever was. There was no band like them and no band has ever come close to their innovative genius.

It’s fair to say that the Bonzos are still so far ahead, it’s beautiful!

Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees!

They may have been the first manufactured boy band but The Monkees’ influence runs deep in popular (and not so popular) culture.

It’s fair to say The Monkees were the first manufactured pop band ever. They began in their own TV show which was weird, funny, zany, unconventional and like nothing we had ever seen on telly. The Monkees were good looking, cool, lovable and played catchy pop songs. Everyone, boys and girls, had their own favourite Monkee. What’s not to like? But, like Pinnochio, this manufactured band wanted to be real and this is where the story of the fictional Monkees and the ‘real’ Monkees started to get really interesting.

In the summer of 1965 two young Hollywood brats, Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, had the bright idea of putting together a fictional band for a TV sitcom with a difference. Like so many others in the entertainment industry Rafelson, a wannabe film director, had been inspired by The Beatles‘ first film, Dick Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, and thought the unconventional loose narrative and zany style could be transposed into a series for young people bored with the formulaic nature of most American TV shows. The explosion of pop music and New Wave film in the early 60s had convinced Rafelson and Schneider that this was the future of TV and film and they were eventually proved to be right. Rafelson went on to direct unconventional narrative classics such as Five Easy Pieces, starring unknown actor Jack Nicholson, and the King of Marvin Gardens while Schneider produced left-field classics like Easy Rider, The Last Picture Show and Drive, He Said and both were instrumental in creating a stable of thrusting, talented young directors including Francis Ford Copolla, Martin Scorsese and Henry Jaglom. Unknown to them at the time, they had invented the Hollywood New Wave. And it was all down to The Monkees.

However, the story could have been very different as Rafelson and Schneider had initially wanted John Sebastian and The Lovin’ Spoonful to take the parts of the fictional group. The band were allegedly up for this but their current recording contract stopped them from any further involvement in the project.

So the story of The Monkees probably began on 9 February 1964 when The Beatles made their sensational debut in front of 73 million TV viewers on American TV on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show. To make the cuddly mop-tops feel at home the producers also included some British acts on the same bill. Apart from the slightly bizarre inclusion of ‘Two-Ton’ Tessie O’ Shea appearing on Broadway at the time also appearing were the cast of the British West End production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! which had also transferred to Broadway. And playing the Artful Dodger that night was a certain David Jones who watched The Beatles from the wings and decided he wanted to be a pop star too.

The boys and Tessie backstage at The Ed Sullivan Show

Davy Jones had been a child actor in the UK and appeared as Ena Sharples grandson in a 1961 episode of Coronation Street before deciding his diminutive stature might be more suited to being a jockey. Despite being a success at horse racing he was eventually persuaded to return to acting for the part in Oliver! and after the transfer to Broadway he was nominated for a Tony. During the zenith of Beatlemania when all record, TV and film companies were desperate for something with even a tenuous connection to The Beatles, this got him noticed and he was signed to appear in TV shows for Screen Gems, films for Columbia and to record for Colpix Records. Schneider and Rafelson entered into negotiations with Screen Gems about their groundbreaking idea for a TV show and Jones was offered as it fulfilled Screen Gems and Colpix’s contractual obligations and, most importantly, he looked a bit like a Beatle and he sounded like he came from the centre of the teenage universe of the time, Liverpool! Americans, of course, wouldn’t know the difference between a scouse and a Manc accent. He was a shoo-in as a Monkee but what about the other three?

Davy Jones with the legendary Ena Sharples 1961

An advert was placed in the September 8-16 editions of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

The ad was quirky and left-field enough to appeal to a certain type of young person. The language suggested that this was not going to be a straightforward, formulaic gig. Words like ‘insane‘, ‘spirited‘ and ‘courage‘ made out that this was not going to be for everyone. And ‘Ben Frank’s types‘ was a reference to a well-known Hollywood restaurant that attracted a non-mainstream clientele such as Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison. Someone looking for a role in ‘Days Of Our Lives‘ could forget it.

Given the number of young male wannabes in Hollywood at the time, or, for that matter, any time, the ad attracted only 437 replies. Of the four eventual Monkees, only Mike Nesmith spotted it. Davy Jones was already chosen, Micky Dolenz’s agent referred him to it and it was, of all people, Stephen Stills who alerted Peter Tork to the opportunity. The story goes that both Stills and Tork were playing in the dives of Greenwich Village and knew each other. Stills was auditioned but the producers didn’t feel he was quite right so he recommended Tork.

So The Monkees were born. In Jones and Dolenz the production had two experienced actors, Dolenz had starred in the 50s TV series ‘Circus Boy‘ billed as Micky Braddock, and in Nesmith, whose mother had invented Liquid Paper and eventually sold her company to Gillette for the equivalent of $200,000,000 in today’s money, and Tork, two experienced musicians. What could go wrong? Quite a lot as it happened.

The boys all performed a particular role. Davy Jones was the handsome lead singer who looked like he could be a Beatle, Micky Dolenz was the nutty, funny one, Mike Nesmith was the clever, sensible one (although I thought he was a bit dull), and Peter Tork was the daft, not very bright one, although he was the most talented musician and a bit of an intellectual in real life.

The configuration of the band was the first stumbling block. It was decided by the producers that as they were proper musicians Nesmith would be the lead guitarist and Tork the bassist, despite Tork being a more accomplished gutarist. Davy Jones was a competent drummer but it was felt his diminutive stature would lead to him disappearing behind the kit, so Dolenz, who could also play the guitar, was taught some basic beats by multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork and Jones would be lead singer. At least this was the official explanation. My guess is that producers felt that the lead singer should be Davy Jones whose Beatle-like looks and English accent would be more appealing to the teenage target audience who were living through the peak of Beatlemania. But it didn’t matter, they weren’t a real band. They just had to pretend to be real. And this is where the problems really began to emerge.

Rafelson and Schneider had brought in mega-music producer Don Kirshner to supervise the group along with up and coming writers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Boyce and Hart wrote the iconic Monkees’ theme and their first single release Last Train To Clarksville. The single was released a few weeks before The Monkees show was broadcast and went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. In fact, only Dolenz, Jones and Tork sang on the track and the music was played by The Candy Store Prophets, Boyce and Hart’s band. To say The Monkees were unhappy with this situation was an understatement and bit by bit The Monkees would begin to take control of their music and Kirshner would go. His release of The Monkees‘ second album without the band’s knowledge was a bridge too far. Some of Dolenz and Nesmith’s songs began to appear on their subsequent albums and in the show while many of their singles were written by the creme de la creme of American Brill Building songwriters such as Goffin and King, Neil Diamond and John Stewart.

The Monkees‘ next four singles, on which all band members performed, all charted in the top three: I’m A Believer and A Little Bit Of Me, A Little Bit Of You, both written by up and coming songwriter Neil Diamond, Goffin and King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday, and Daydream Believer written by the underrated John Stewart.

The Monkees‘ fourth hit in the UK was an interesting one. Not released in the US, Randy Scouse Git was written by Micky Dolenz and reached No. 2 in the UK Hit Parade. The title was made up of three words few people in the US would recognise. While in the UK Dolenz had watched the controversial for the time sitcom Till Death Us Do Part and heard Alf Garnett refer to his Liverpudlian TV son-in-law by this name. Of course, the buttoned up British record company told the band it was too offensive and they’d have to come up with an alternate title. So the song became known as Alternate Title, just to hammer home the point the real title was more interesting. The performance on The Monkees show featured Liberace smashing a piano with a hammer. If that’s manufactured pop, I’ll be a Monkee’s uncle. A curiosity amongst The Monkees‘ back catalogue.

Video including Liberace smashing a piano. Dada or what?

What Rafelson and Schneider had hit upon was the first TV show in which music videos could be broadcast, all of which led to the band having a smash hit without having to worry about the radio picking the songs up. Whether they were aware of this is unknown but my guess is they were just trying to pull back the boundaries of narrative on TV. Both were aware of the French New Wave, Rafelson had admired Japanese cinema while in the military in the far east and both were very much part of the burgeoning US counter-culture. Hence the show not only threw out the TV rule books it also ripped them up and cast the pieces to the four winds.

Directors and writers were given carte blanche to create the most anarchic, zany and unconventional half hour of the TV week. They did this by systematically raiding the French New Wave playbook and the series included, for example:

  • Unusual camera angles and movement
  • Jump cuts
  • Flashbacks
  • Weird visual effects
  • Cartoonish sound effects
  • Hand held cameras
  • An absurdist sense of humour
  • A perfunctory observation of the narrative
  • A feeling of improvisation
  • Outlandish characters
  • Songs featured as pop videos
  • Smashing of the fourth wall with the actors talking directly to camera

In other words, nothing was off the table. Many references were made to other hugely popular shows on US TV at the time including that other 60s phenomenon Batman (See Batman: A 60s Sitcom Phenomenon).

When some of the shows had under run Bob Rafelson would gather the boys together and ask them about issues concerning young people at the time and slot their responses into the final few minutes of the show. Teenage riots in LA, long hair and generally how older people treated ‘da kids’ were all analysed for three minutes before the closing credits rolled.

Series 2 closing credits with For Pete’s Sake

For the second series the band’s increasing influence was in even more evidence. A self-penned Monkees’ song, Peter Tork’s For Pete’s Sake, became the song which accompanied the show’s closing credits. They were even successful in persuading the producers to drop the laughter track from the latter part of series 2.

By the time they had released their fourth album in November 1967, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, they were not only playing and writing some of the songs, they were also seen as being prestigious and ‘cool’ enough to attract an array of top class session musicians and guests to contribute. Glen Campbell, The Byrds, failed Monkee Stephen Stills, Little Feat’s Lowell George, and even Neil Young all weighed in on the album. It became their last No. 1 album with most of the songs being featured in the show and Pleasant Valley Sunday being the spin-off top three hit from the album. The cover is a ‘flower-power’ representation of the band with their faces obscured. An attempt to move away from the teen pretty boy image they had perhaps?

Their live tours were also hugely successful and their July ’67 gigs were opened by a certain Jimi Hendrix although he didn’t go down well with the teenage Monkees’ fans and left the tour early. However, it was an indication of how their teeny-bop image was beginning to change.

In February 1968 NBC announced it would not be renewing The Monkees‘ contracts for a third season. A few years later Davy Jones was said that The Monkees never broke up, they just didn’t have their contracts renewed. This was true in a sense with regards to the TV show but the band did stay together for a few years until the end of the 60s. Surveys showed that since 1967 more young people were listening to The Monkees music than were watching the TV show. So maybe NBC’s decision was based on this finding. It also showed the band had transcended their show and really were a real band rather than their fictional version. It was not the end for NBC and The Monkees though, and the plan was to film a series TV specials, although only one was ever made, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.

At almost the same time their TV show was cancelled the band embarked upon their most un-Monkeeish project ever. Conceived by Rafelson and a young, almost unknown Jack Nicholson, Head was to be a characteristically late 60s psychedelic film which, in Nesmith’s view, was designed to ‘kill’ The Monkees. Some felt that The Monkees, having achieved all they set out to achieve, were holding back Rafelson and Schneider from the projects they really wanted to move on to, e.g. Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces etc, and they could thank The Pre-Fab Four for providing the finance to do pretty much, anything they wanted to. In many ways The Monkees changed the course of American cinema. It’s maybe fair to say Head did kill off the fictional Monkees and leave the ‘real’ Monkees to do what they really wanted but, sadly, their time at the zenith of world pop was almost at an end.

The psychadelic, scattergun approach to narrative and image in Head alienated the band’s teenage audience, while the older, more ‘serious’ music fans who didn’t like The Monkees anyway, were not persuaded by this. The film was, unsurprisingly, a critical and financial flop. However, critics over the past few years looking back at Head have been more generous seeing it as a product of its time and ‘well worth seeing.’ It has been broadcast rarely in the UK although I do remember watching it on Channel 4 in 1986 and really loving it. But I’ve always been attracted by the weird.

The Monkees final act together, however, was suitably strange after the completion of Head. 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee was broadcast in the US on April 14 1969 and was the first of what was originally planned to be a series of Monkee TV specials but turned out to be the only one. It was also the last time The Monkees played as a quartet until 1986. Mike Nesmith described 33 1/3 as ‘..the TV version of Head,’ and it certainly was very different to the TV shows The Monkees were known and loved for. In what seemed like another attempt by the band for pop credibility they were joined by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and, maybe surprisingly, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity, who were one of the acts that represented the psychedelic scene of the 60s.

It told the story of the band being taken through the different stages of evolution by Driscoll and Auger and along the was they perform various songs individually and as a group. Driscoll, for example, performs a version of I’m A Believer with Dolenz while the whole band perform doo-wop hits with all the guest stars.

After 33 1/3 the Monkees carried on as a trio and still had a huge fan base to fall back on, but as Dolenz observed in 1969, ‘ was like kicking a dead horse. The phenomenon had peaked.’

With the great Johnny Cash although Davy seems a little out of it

During their final year together they appeared on a range of prime time variety shows such as The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Johnny Cash Show, Hollywood Squares (Celebrity Squares to us) and a few appearances on the happening show of the time, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. They even appeared in an ad for Kool-Aid with Bugs Bunny.

Another of The Monkees’ wonderfully surreal episodes

But The Monkees‘ still exhausting schedule became all too much for Peter Tork however, and he was the first to officially leave the band at the end of 1969. It cost him a huge amount of money to buy out the four remaining years of his contract and he never really recovered financially from it for the rest of his life. During the mid-70s he even taught at Californian school for a few years.

The Monkees continued to play live intermittently for the next 40 years in various line-ups, their songs always remaining popular and their fan base staying strong. Sadly Jones died in 2012, Tork in 2019 and Nesmith in 2022.

They may have been hated by ‘serious’ music fans at the time but their legacy is huge. Everyone still knows every Monkees’ classic hit, their TV show set the template for other unconventional TV shows and an anarchic type of comedy right up to the present, without them we would not have had the New Hollywood of Coppola, Scorsese, Rafelson, Bogdanovich or even Spielberg and crucially they showed how it was possible to break free of the strictures of TV and record companies who wanted a particular look or image. And what a great pop back catalogue they left.

The Monkees were so much more than just a manufactured pop band.

It’s Route One, It’s Quizball!

..and the curious case of the guest supporters.

In my previous post on The Girl From UNCLE I stated that in the late 60s Thursday was a particularly good night on the box. This, of course, happened rarely as with only three channels, TV stations bent over backwards to try and appeal to everyone which, inevitably, they never did. But Thursday night! Not only did we have Top Of The Pops and The Man From UNCLE and The Girl From UNCLE (at least every alternate week) but we also had Quizball! And the exclamation mark is not my own, it actually did have an exclamation mark in its title! (That one was mine). And so it should have.

The first ever edition of Quizball!

To anyone under the age of 55, this programme will mean very little, if anything, although most people will be aware of the programme’s most famous legacy. But to old people like myself it was one of the most exciting TV appointments of the week. To watch it now, and you can watch the very first episode on Youtube, it seems pedestrian, formulaic, amateurish and just pretty dull. But watching in 1966 this was a rare chance to see footballers in the flesh, so to speak, to hear them talk and see them in a completely alien situation. This was BIG in 1966. Not only that but, if you were lucky, you might even see your own team on the programme. What wasn’t to like? And there was something quite thrilling to see those players you’d watched on the pitch sitting in their three-piece suits, awkwardly trying to answer questions and bantering with the opposing team.

The format was pretty straightforward, although you wouldn’t think so to watch that first episode on December 22 1966. In short, two teams representing a British football club of the time, made up of players, managers, even club secretaries occasionally PLUS a ‘Guest Supporter’, took on another team from Scotland or England in a battle of general knowledge. Now the ‘Guest Supporter’ was a particularly interesting element of Quizball! for me, which I’ll come to presently.

The question master (more on him shortly) would ask one team which route to goal they would like to take in an attempt to score. Route 4 comprised 4 easier questions, route 3 was 3 slightly more difficult questions, and so on. Route 1 was the most direct route where to answer one particularly difficult question would result in a goal. HOWEVER, the opposing team could tackle by answering a question at any point and if successful, stopped the goal being scored and took possession. (You keeping up?) To this day when commentating on a match on TV commentators will still use the term ‘Route 1’ to describe a team taking the long ball route to goal. A lasting legacy of Quizball! (its exclamation mark).

A drawn game would be settled with an extra-time question as there always had to be a winner. Teams from England and Scotland were invited to take part over the eight series which lasted from 22 December 1966 until the last episode almost exactly six years later on 23 December 1972.

The peerless David Vine in front of the state-of -art Quizball VDU

Quizball! had three presenters over its eight series, all sports commentators of some description. Presenter number one was the peerless David Vine. A host and commentator on pretty much every sport and sports’ programme during his long career, Vine had just joined the BBC in 1966 and this was his first big gig. Like the great David Coleman, Vine was the archetypal ‘safe pair of hands’ as his professional, unflustered , measured approach suited the BBC down to ground. He hosted and commentated on the Olympics, World Snooker Championship, Darts, Showjumping and was synonymous with Ski Sunday which he presented for 18 years until 1996. He was also deemed safe enough to host Miss World contests during the 70s, preceded Stuart Hall (probably not quite as safe) as first commentator on It’s A Knockout and Jeux Sans Frontieres, a number of stints on A Question Of Sport and even commentated on the 1974 Abba Euro Song Contest from Brighton. A pro in every sense of the word, his handling of the first episode of Quizball!, where players were still uncertain of the format, was masterly. After two series Vine moved on and was replaced for a year by Match of The Day’s Barry Davies, with that man Stuart Hall again chairing the final two series between 1970 and 1972.

And let’s not forget the jaunty theme tune written by the great Mr Tony Hatch. He had also written the memorable theme music for Sportsnight With Coleman, which anyone over the age of 50 will remember. (OK 55…), amongst many, many other TV themes and hit songs. (See Tony Hatch: Composer Of The Soundtrack For The 60s And 70s ). During the early 70s when football on TV was severely rationed, this theme was as exciting as it got as we knew we were going to get some grainy black and white images of a random football match. Kids today wouldn’t understand.

The first episode of Quizball! featured Arsenal and Nottingham Forest in front of a boisterous live audience at Hornsey Town Hall. Arsenal comprised manager Bertie Mee, players Ian Ure and Terry Neill and guest supporter BBC Radio DJ and former crooner Jimmy ‘TTFN’ Young. Nottingham Forest were represented by manager Johnny Carey, players John Barnwell, Forest legend Bobby McKinley (who played for Forest for nearly 20 years) and guest supporter TV farmer Ted Moult. Mckinley (who was still playing for Forest), Carey and Moult all puffed away on pipes throughout the show and each time we had a close-up of a player answering a question, a thick plume of smoke would drift past. But that was the 60s!

The first ever edition of Quizball from Hornsey Town Hall!

Celebrity farmer Ted Moult was a very familiar face on TV and voice on radio throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. A regular contestant on various quiz shows, he was the agricultural expert on radio’s Any Questions, the subject of This Is Your Life in 1965, Desert Island Discs in 1959 and the face of Everest Double Glazing ads in the early 80s. Tragically he took his own life in 1986 during a bout of depression and when bad weather threatened his farm’s crops. He did receive the greatest accolade an 80s celeb could wish for, however, having a song by Half Man, Half Biscuit named after him , D’ye Ken Ted Moult.

The ubiquitous Ted Moult

But it was the participation of these ‘Guest Supporters’ that raised the interest level of Quizball! from being merely footballers attempting to answer general knowledge questions to a show which featured a curious group of celebrities who claimed to have an affiliation with a particular football team, and it was often these celebrities who raised the competition to a level well above what it it might have been. Maybe to begin with on Quizball! the celebrities did have an affiliation with the football club but that link began to become a little more tenuous as the series developed.

For example, take Leicester City. Their guest supporter in the first series was the well known panellist of the long running radio and TV quiz series What’s My Line, Lady Isobel Barnett, who also just happened to be only one of two women to appear on the show during the six years it was broadcast. Leicester scored 9 goals on the way to the semi-final in 1966 with Lady Barnett scoring 7 of them. Although born in Aberdeen she lived in Leicestershire, hence the affiliation. For some reason when Leicester City took part in two subsequent series she was dropped and replaced by Grandstand’s Saturday lunchtime Football Preview host and producer, Sam Leitch and then Nicholas Parsons. Sam Leitch was also Scottish, born in Glasgow, and I distinctly remember him explaining to viewers when asked who he supported, that his grandad took him to watch Third Lanark as a boy. Parsons links to Leicester also seemed tenuous to say the least, born in Grantham and living in London. But who cared? They were well known to the Quizball! faithful.

Leicester City ‘fan’, Glasgow’s Sam Leitch

Dunfermline Athletic FC, a very successful Quizball! team over the 8 series, also had an odd relationship with its guest supporters. In their first appearance in 1966 they were represented by prolific Dunfermline-born Scottish actress Ellen McIntosh who, despite a narrow 1-0 win versus Sheffield Wednesday, was replaced in the later rounds by even more prolific Scottish actor Gordon ‘Mr Hudson’ Jackson. Now Gordon Jackson was also from Glasgow but he had a Scottish accent, so he’ll do the producers will have thought. In their road to the 1966 final, where they were hammered 7-3 by a resurgent Arsenal, Jackson scored 9 of their 11 goals, Jim Fraser notching the other 2. This was by no means the end of the Quizball! road for The Pars, however. Not by a long chalk. The 1967 series saw them narrowly eliminated 2-1 in the first round by Fulham. This time their guest supporter was Aberdeen-born future New Faces judge and manager of the lovely Lena Martell, George Elrick. In the 1930s he was famous for his song, I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones. But this wasn’t enough for him to be selected for the final 1970 series and what a series that was for the boys from East End Park! With yet another new guest supporter in the shape of Clydebank’s very own Jimmy Logan and a line up that included ex-West Ham centre half and Glasgow University graduate John Cushley, they trashed every fancy dan English team that got in their way. Big John scored 8 of their 10 goals which won them the trophy, defeating Lady Barnett-less Leicester City 3-1. But who’s this sitting in the guest supporter’s chair for the final? He doesn’t look like Jimmy Logan. That’s because it’s Dr Who himself, Jon Pertwee! How queer. One can only assume Jimmy Logan got completely wrecked in the BBC bar before the show. A frantic producer was sent running around Broadcasting House to find some BBC personality who was available to sit in and, lo, he bumped into the UK’s favourite Time Lord. That’s my theory at least. But with Cushley in sparkling form Pertwee could have been on Gallifrey for all the help required of him and a Cushley hat-trick won the Quizball! trophy for The Pars. I wonder if they still have it in the East End trophy cabinet? It’s also a very difficult and unlikely quiz question for Dunfermline fans: What have The Pars and Dr Who got in common?

Reigning Quizball! champions since 1971!

As a post-script to The Pars participation in this legendary programme, in the first 1966 series they defeated a Tottenham Hotspur team in the semi-finals which included Alan Mullery and Terry Venables 5-4 with a another hat-trick from the prolific Gordon Jackson and two from the underrated Jim Fraser. An unlikely fixture and result these days.

The idea that for Scottish teams all that was required was a guest supporter with a Scottish accent seemed to prevail as the series developed. Magnus Magnusson was wheeled out to represent Kilmarnock in series 2 despite being born in Reykjavik, Glaswegian Joe Brady, who played Jock Weir in Z Cars for 18 years, turned out for Dundee United and Arbroath legend Andy ‘Donald Where’s Yer Troosers‘ Stewart, of course, became a St Mirren fan for the day. Dad’s Army legend and Dumfries-born John Laurie took his place in the Dundee team of 1967 but to no avail. They were all doomed, going out to Arsenal in the first round. To be fair, maybe some of those celebs really did support the teams they turned out for..but Jon Pertwee?

Up The Pars!

My own team, Hearts, were relatively successful in Quizball! reaching the second round in 1966 where they were defeated 5-3 by a five goal Ian Ure-inspired Arsenal and reached the final in 1969 where they were defeated 3-1 by Celtic whose star player was dentist and Glasgow University graduate full-back Jim Craig. Their useful guest supporter was actor John Cairney who was a genuine Celtic fan. He tells a story about his Quizball! participation in his autobiography where the team had engineered an answer for legendary centre-forward Willie Wallace who had said nothing throughout the previous rounds. They left the final question to him, that being ‘What or who is a garryowen?‘ as a big racing man his answer was ‘The racing tipster in the Daily Record?’ It’s undocumented whether he was awarded a goal for this as Garry Owen surely was, and still is I believe, the racing tipster in the Record.

Representing Hearts were a trio of Jam Tarts’ legends, Donald Ford, Jim Cruickshank and Alan Anderson, all of whom chipped in with goals during the two competitions they appeared in. Their first guest supporter was the rather dull royal commentator Tom Fleming and it didn’t get a lot better when golfer Eric Brown joined them in 1969, but both were Hearts fans at least. For 8 year old me it was just awe inspiring to see them on TV up-close in their civvies and showing just how brainy they were!

Other notable guest supporters included ITV football commentating legend Brian Moore, making a rare appearance on the BBC, representing Spurs. It became well-known in later years that Brian was actually a Gillingham fan, becoming a director during the 1980s. He was replaced by the great Peter Cook who really was a Spurs‘ fan in 1970.

Falkirk FC had won the Scottish second division title in 1970 and were invited on to the Quizball! Champions series. Their team was made up of not one, but two, future Scotland managers in the form of a certain Alex Ferguson, who scored both their goals before elimination to Everton in the semi-final, and Andy Roxburgh. Their guest supporter was also a person of significant note, the great Greenock-born comedian Chic Murray who would soon be playing Bill Shankly in a musical. Well, I suppose if Morton had been invited…

Chic takes Route One for The Bairns

The Good Old Days (God, I hated being made to watch that awful programme every Friday night!) compere, the irrefutable, indubitable and indefatigable Leonard Sachs had the opportunity that no other guest supporter had of representing two different teams: Sheffield Wednesday in 1966 and Leeds United in 1970. But he was from the South African Transvaal so we’ll let him off.

Fulham also had multiple guest supporters over the six years of the show, starting with Tommy Trinder who was also a director of the club, DJ Pete Murray, a well known Arsenal fan, and finally boxing commentator Harry Carpenter, who I’m not sure was a football fan at all..

And a final mention to Genxculture favourite, the inevitable Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, a man who crops up regularly in the most unlikely of places throughout the 60s and 70s, who sat in for Everton in the 1970 series and despite scoring two goals in the final against a rampant Celtic, lost 7-5. Jim Craig starring for Celtic yet again with five goals. To be fair to Ed ‘Stewpot‘, he genuinely was an Everton fan despite having no obvious links to Liverpool.

Interestingly, well I think it’s interesting, during their many appearances on Quizball!, Celtic players gave the nickname to Jim Craig of ‘Cairney‘. As actor John Cairney was their guest supporter over three series, and he had starred in a Scottish TV series about a secondary school teacher called ‘This Man Craig‘, Jim Craig became ‘Cairney‘. Geddit? Probably better than just calling him ‘Craigy‘ which would be the usual footballing nomenclature.

The formidable Celtic Quizball team (well, Jim Craig)

Celtic were the only team to win Quizball! on more than one occasion, being triumphant in the ’69 and ’70 series. There was no stopping them in those days. Arsenal,(’66), WBA (’67), Derby County (’70) and the mighty Pars(’71) make up the Hall of Quizball! Fame.

Quizball! also allowed the most unlikely of teams to face each other over the state-of-art electronic VDU. For example (in the voice of the sadly departed James Alexander Gordon):

  • Tottenham Hotspur 4- Dunfermline Athletic 5 (1966)
  • Arsenal 5- Heart Of Midlothian 3 (1967)
  • Heart Of Midlothian 3- Arsenal 2 (1969)
  • Celtic 7- Everton 5 (1970)
  • Derby County 2- Cowdenbeath 1 (1970)
  • Blackpool 4- Partick Thistle 2 (1971)
  • Chelsea 3- Dunfermline Athletic 4 (1971)

One episode from each year of its broadcast apparently still exists in the BBC archives, which is surprising as most shows like this were routinely and scandalously wiped to save money. The very first episode is available on Youtube but it would be nice to see the rest (although the Stuart Hall episodes may continue to be proscribed).

Anyone watching this vintage episode would find it amateurish, lacking in excitement, even pedestrian, but there is so much to enjoy! This was a series that set the parameters of every sports-related quiz show in the future. Without Quizball! we would not have had A Question Of Sport, Sporting Triangles, They Think It’s All Over or the pretty awful A League Of Their Own. Ok, many of those probably shouldn’t have left the ideas stage but the fact is, they were all influenced by Quizball! and all have sports people participating in an informal and sometimes humorous way. And without Quizball! we would not have the common expression ‘Route 1’, which can be used in so many different contexts and is.

And as the crusty old dignitary who was wheeled in to present Arsenal with the first ever Quizball! trophy said, ‘It’s nice to know footballers have brains in their head and not just in their feet.’

We know this now and it was all thanks to Quizball!

The Girl From UNCLE: A Brief But Memorable Phenomenon

Everyone of a certain age remembers and loved The Girl From Uncle but few will recall just how briefly it endured or that it was a critical disaster

Thursday night was a great night for telly during the mid-sixties. Not only did we have Top of the Pops on at 7.00pm but straight after it was the best programme on telly at the time, bar none: The Man From UNCLE! This show was just so cool in so many ways, it was mind-blowing. From the ultra-funky Jerry Goldsmith theme music to the wonderfully secret nature of the UNCLE HQ behind the New York dry cleaners to those amazingly cute triangular UNCLE badges they used to wear to the gadgets, many gadgets, to the superb Walther P38 pistols. And that’s before you even get to the uniquely fast action edits and breathless narratives which were almost Batman-esque in their campness. And if that wasn’t enough, in the US on September 1966 The Girl From UNCLE was unleashed!

Here in the UK we had to wait until until Thursday October 27 1966 for the first TGFU episode which was The Dog Gone Affair. After this, however, every episode was shown out of sequence. This was also the case with TMFU going back to its first showing on Thursday 24 June 1965. The BBC, for some reason avoided showing any episodes that had 2 or 3 parts but why they showed the episodes out of sequence is anybody’s guess. It’s also the case that not every episode of TGFU or TMFU was shown in the UK. However, the BBC did show TGFU pilot, The Moonglow Affair, on April 28th 1966.

What many will have forgotten, including myself was that TMFU and TGFU were shown on alternate weeks right up until TGFU’s last broadcast on Thursday 9th November 1967 with The UNCLE Samurai Affair. TMFU would continue into the fourth series with a couple of breaks for Adam Adamant Lives! and Dr Kildare until its last broadcast on January 4th 1968 to be replaced with the slightly grittier and less fashionable character of Charlie Barlow in Softly, Softly.

The Man From UNCLE was a soaraway success on US telly, so much so that after the initial two series, someone from the NBC top brass had an idea that if we have The Man From UNCLE, why can’t we have The Girl From UNCLE? Double the fun (and even more importantly, ratings) and it would appeal to the ladies in the prime time audience not to mention the men, as she was unlikely to be played by Peggy Mount. Three characters were mooted by the writers: April Dancer, the eponymous Girl From UNCLE, her male sidekick Mark Slate and her boss, the already established Alexander Waverley, played by Hollywood big hitter Leo G. Carroll. These two new characters were to be introduced in a Man From UNCLE episode from the second series, The Moonglow Affair. At this point April Dancer was played by ex-Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, emphasising April Dancer’s glamorous character as well as obviously appealing to the red-blooded male audience of TMFU. Her assistant Mark Slate was played by the well-known and rather lugubrious Norman Fell. This Mark Slate was much older than the eventual Mark Slate, played by Noel Harrison. Fell was ostensibly young UNCLE agent April Dancer’s minder and mentor. Fell had been in many films and TV series and is maybe best remembered as Benjamin Braddock’s miserable and suspicious landlord in the sleazy boarding house he resides at when stalking Elaine Robinson in The Graduate.

The Girl From Uncle Mark 1

This pilot TGFU episode seemed successful enough to spawn a series of its own but when it came to casting April Dancer and Mark Slate, Mobley and Fell were out. Producers wanted the two main characters to be hip, sexy and there to be an implied attraction, a bit like Steed and Emma Peel (See The Avengers: Quirk, Strangeness and Charm (and bags of style)). They wanted a female star who would look great in the Carnaby Street fashions of the time and with her co-star and sidekick being British, it resonated with The Beatles and The British Invasion of the mid-60s. A young Stefanie Powers was cast as the eponymous heroine and, son of Rex Harrison, Noel Harrison as Mark Slate while Leo G. Carroll made the crossover as UNCLE boss Alexander Waverley.

The Girl From Uncle Mark II

Way back in 1962 Ian Fleming was recruited to work with producer Norman Felton to develop an American spy TV series along the lines of James Bond. Little of Fleming’s ideas survived as he withdrew from the project a year later under pressure from Bond producer Harry Saltzman. What did survive was the character of Napoleon Solo (a character with the same name had appeared in 1964’s Goldfinger) and the name of April Dancer, who had originally been an UNCLE operative in Fleming’s original vision for the series. A year after, Fleming died at the age of 56 in 1964, the name was pulled from the notes still held by Felton and The Girl From UNCLE was born.

When TGFU was first mooted many involved in the series, including David McCallum, wondered what the point of this was. Would it just be TMFU plots and storylines but with a girl instead of two guys? Was it a groundbreaking early manifestation of a feminist discourse? Did the great viewing public love the series so much they’d be salivating at the thought of another weekly episode of UNCLE? The original series had been a runaway success and was the most watched TV show in America at the time so producers must have just seen the dollar signs in their eyes and the ratings exploding through the roof. If only they’d listened to Ilya Kuryakin. That said, there was much to like about TGFU and, without doubt, it was an iconic TV series of the 60s, whatever its aesthetic shortcomings.

The classic line-up!

The producers eventually settled on a young, glamorous multi-lingual actress known as Stefanie Powers. She had already appeared in a few films such McLintock with Big John Wayne and the schlocky Die! Die! My Darling with an ageing Tallulah Bankhead and TV series like Bonanza. At only 23 and possessing sultry looks, she was exactly what the producers were looking for. It would seem that this stellar role would define the rest of her acting life but, sadly, it wasn’t to be. She claimed the failure of TGFU meant she struggled for work for the next two years and she had a point. The way the role of April Dancer panned out in TGFU hardly allowed her to stretch her acting abilities, in fact she was merely asked to just to look good. Three years after TGFU she would be cast in a series starring Robert Wagner, It Takes A Thief, based loosely on Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief. A life long friendship would ensue between the two actors culminating in what became Powers‘ defining role with Wagner, the formulaic Hart To Hart which ran for five years and 111 episodes.

Powers’ rather prosaic but lucrative post-TGFU career makes Noel Harrison’s seem positively exotic. Son of British acting royalty Rex Harrison, he appeared in minor roles in a number early sixties British TV series such as No Hiding Place and low budget films like The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (as Second Mohock, whatever that is) probably because he was Rex Harrison’s son. He was also a champion skier and represented GB at the Winter Olympics of 1952 and 1956. At the same time he had a relatively successful career as a night club singer and through his famous father, had a direct line to the US, and somehow landed a gig on America’s biggest chat show, The Johnny Carson Show. He was spotted on this by the wife of an UNCLE producer and brought in for audition. His trendy good looks and Britishness, the British Invasion and Beatlemania were in full cry at the time, ensured he was offered the role.

His most memorable achievement, however, was his version of Windmills Of Your Mind, which was the theme tune to the hugely successful McQueen/ Dunaway classic of 1968, The Thomas Crown Affair. With the music written by legendary French composer Michel LeGrande the song was originally offered to Andy Williams who, for some odd reason, turned it down and was then, somehow (a word that keeps cropping up), offered to Harrison. He would eventually win an Oscar for Best Song. The single reached a heady No. 8 in the UK charts of that year and he performed the song on Top Of The Pops on March 27 1968 followed the next week by The Rolf Harris Show. The 1999 remake of this film featured a version of the song by Sting.

His acting career would continue sporadically for the next few years and he appeared in American TV staples such as It Takes A Thief (’68), the wonderful Mission Impossible (’70), Ironside (’72) and joined up with his old mucker Stefanie Powers in an episode of Hart To Hart in 1981. Obviously, like Power, he also had spots in the Love American Style and The Love Boat, programmes that seemed only created to offer employment to actors who were down on their luck at the time. The British equivalents, as we all know, were The Bill and Casualty.

He grew disillusioned with the Hollywood scene during the late 70s and retired to Nova Scotia and eventually re-settled in Devon, England where he sadly died in 2013. You have to say though, that was quite a life he had.

The third member of TGFU triumvirate was Hollywood big hitter, character actor supreme Leo G. Carroll. Already established as Mr Waverley in TMFU, Carroll reprised the same role in TGFU, which must have been a nice little earner for him.

Carroll had moved to the US in the early 1930s and stayed for the rest of his life. He appeared in six Hitchcock films, beaten only by Clare Greet (7 very early films) and, of course, Hitch himself, most of them classics such as Rebecca, Spellbound, Strangers On A Train and North By Northwest. He established himself as a TV actor also in the long running 50s ghostly series Topper before taking the role of Alexander Waverley in 1964.

Carroll also has two interesting claims to fame, facts loved so much here at Genxculture. He is mentioned in the first song of The Rocky Horror Show, Science Fiction/ Double Feature and he appeared in the first two episodes of Rowan And Martin’s Laugh In in 1968. The show which, incidentally, replaced The Man From UNCLE on Fridays on NBC.

NBC gave TGFU the prime time 7.30-8.30 Tuesday slot and the first episode on September 6 1966 was up against some tough opposition in gritty Second World War series Combat and the Africa-set, feel-good animal stories of Daktari. Could April Dancer take on the jungle might of Clarence, The Cross-Eyed Lion? Time would tell…

The first reviews of TGFU were generally negative.

..The Man From Uncle in high heels…

…sniffed the Chicago SUN-Times. While the New York World Journal Tribune gave it a right pannin’ describing it as…

..violently sadistic and altogether repellent..

..which seems a tad rich.

The series’ big budget did attract a host of impressive guest stars such as:

  • Jack Cassidy, father of David and so impressive in two episodes of the brilliant Columbo, including the pilot episode directed by a young up and coming director called Steven Spielberg.
  • Bernard Fox, the Welsh go-to actor based in the US when a bumbling British toff was required (See Herman’s Hermits Were HUGE during the 60s. Why?).
  • Peggy Lee, legendary sassy singer and actress
  • Ed Asner who would shortly go on to make a huge name for himself in the mega-successful Mary Tyler-Moore Show and subsequently his own hugely successsful spin-off, Lou Grant.
  • Victor Buono, riding high on the success of his appearances as Special Guest Villain King Tut in the America’s most successful show of the period, Batman.

One significant guest villain from TGFU episode The Mother Muffin Affair was the legendary Boris Karloff who was only too happy to camp it up in drag in a London-set caper which also involved Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) in a crossover appearance. The involvement of the be-dragged Karloff and Buono seemed to emphasise that TGFU was attempting to be as camp as Batman which turned out to be a big mistake. The plots tended to be formulaic and involved April going undercover, being found out, being tied up and imprisoned in a variety of ways and eventually being rescued by Mark Slate. Rarely did April Dancer apprehend the villains single-handedly so proto-feminist crime fighter she was not, unlike the likes of her contemporary Emma Peel of The Avengers (See The Avengers: Quirk, Strangeness and Charm (and bags of style)). And that, with regards to TGFU, was pretty much that. It was cancelled after 29 very similar episodes in April 1967.

Both TMFU and TGFU generated hugely successful merchandise. Guns, model cars, comic strips, books, walkie-talkies, badges. You name it, it could be purchased. TMFU guns were particularly sought after in my primary school though I sadly never had one. Although all I needed to be Napoleon Solo was a pen with a lid which I’d remove and speak into the end of it, ‘Open Channel D.’

My abiding memory of TGFU was April Dancer wearing a transparent plastic raincoat. Whether she did wear such an item is uncertain, however, her clothing budget for each episode was, for the time, an eyewatering $1000, which suggests that maybe TGFU wasn’t meant to be taken as seriously as TMFU. Her costume changes were so regular that to remember only one costume from 1966 is possible though unlikely. The main criticism of TGFU was that it was a comedy version of TMFU, that where TMFU was serious, TGFU was ‘camp’ and knowingly comedic. It should be remembered, however, that both series were influenced by the phenomenon of the time that was Batman (See Batman: A 60s Sitcom Phenomenon) and series 3 of TMFU was also felt to be too camp and didn’t go down well with the many millions of fans, so a return to the more serious storylines in series 4 was necessary to ensure the continuation of the series. Unfortunately it was too little, too late and TMFU was cancelled in January 1968. TMFU did, however, spawn 7 full length feature films and seeing those as a sixties schoolboy was particularly exciting as it was the only opportunity to see this monumental series in living colour!

One of many UNCLE film spin-offs

That said, although I struggled to remember too many details of any of TGFU episodes, I loved, and still love, the vibe of the show, the look of it, I can still feel the excitement of its slightly rearranged opening titles and music and as representative of the sixties sensibility, it had it in spades. Yes, we’ve become more sophisticated in our expectations of spy and thriller series but for us of a certain age TGFU was one of the biggest TV appointments of the week. Maybe lacking in acting experience and finding it difficult to make the most of a criminally underwritten character, Stefanie Powers was perfect for April Dancer and she can proudly take her place in the museum of 60s icons. April Dancer, we salute you!

Ron Grainer: The Wizard from Oz

Few TV theme composers could hold a candle to Tony Hatch, with the exception of the great Ron Grainer

For me the composer of the TV soundtrack for the 60s and 70s was the great Tony Hatch (much more about him below Tony Hatch: Composer Of The Soundtrack For The 60s And 70s), but chasing him all the way for this prestigious title was Australian composer Ron Grainer who, had he lived longer and not died at the tragically young age of 58, could have wrested this title from Tone. Although not quite as well known as Hatch, Grainer’s TV and film themes are world-renowned and still heard regularly today. No one over the age of 40 will be unfamiliar Grainer’s output with many of his themes still played on daytime telly. It’s also fair to say that he composed some the most important and memorable theme tunes for TV series that have stood the test of time and his themes are synonymous with those programmes. So, step forward and take a bow, the mighty Mr. Ron Grainer!

Ron Grainer moved to the UK in 1952 having grown up in the Australian outback, mostly in a small mining town called Mount Mulligan and served during WW2. After a tough few years playing with a band and submitting compositions to anyone who might use them, he even wrote a song and entered it into the 1956 First British Festival of Popular Song. His entry, England Made Us received nil points from the judges.

Not put off by this disappointment Grainer wrote another song for this same competition in 1957, which had become the decider heat for the song which would represent UK in its first foray into the Eurovision Song Contest. His ditty, Don’t Cry Little Doll was performed by, of all people, Bill Maynard who would go on to have a pretty successful comedy and acting career in programmes such as Heartbeat and Oh No! It’s Selwyn Froggat! After a labyrinthine process Grainer’s song came 4th and Patricia Bredin was selected to represent UK at the still rather stuffy event. She came 7th out of 10 with ‘All.’

In 1959 ITV broadcast a TV play entitled Before The Sun Goes Down, the format of which was based loosely on Orson Welles’ groundbreaking War of the Worlds radio production. Grainer had written the music for the play which reportedly panicked listeners and questions were subsequently asked in parliament about it. Clearly people were a little more gullible in those days but it’s a surefire way of becoming noticed and shortly after he was asked by the BBC to compose the theme tune for a new programme that was about to launched. The programme was called Maigret based on the French detective novels of Georges Simenon, the show was a huge hit and Ron Grainer, TV themes composer was born.

Maigret was broadcast for four years and 52 episodes and the theme tune entered the UK charts on the 4 April 1962 performed by The Joe Loss Orchestra. A nice little earner one would imagine for Ron Grainer, but, more importantly, he was becoming known as not only a TV composer but a successful TV composer. And he was never to look back….

It wouldn’t be long before Ron Grainer was penning themes that would not only become very familiar to the viewing public but would still be played and recognised 60 years later. It would be impossible to list everything that Grainer composed during his 30 year career so here’s selection from his prolific output since the early sixties up until his sudden and premature death in 1981.

  1. Maigret (1960)
The original Ron Grainer Maigret theme

Grainer’s use of harpsichord, banjo and clavichord created a typically, even stereotypically, Parisian sound and soundtracks to many French-based programmes even today recreate this sound. Grainer won an Ivor Novello award for this composition which set him on track to becoming the go-to composer for TV theme music. It’s fair to say, though, Tony Hatch competed with Grainer from the mid-sixties for this mantle but both were incredibly creative and innovative composers who worked constantly and were responsible for iconic themes throughout the following 20 years.

Partly due to the huge popularity of Maigret, the theme became a hit record in 1962 spending 10 weeks in The Hit Parade reaching a high of 20. Not for Grainer, however, but for popular band leader Joe Loss. Nice little royalty cheque for Ron as composer, though.

Interestingly, Tony Hatch’s breakthrough theme was for tea-time serial drama Crossroads in 1964. Few people over the age of 50 will be unfamiliar with this theme and I would argue that the unusual combination of guitar, oboe and drums is key to this theme’s endurance. Long after Crossroads was destined to that multi-story car park in the sky, the theme is still synonymous with that long-running programme (See Standing At The Crossroads Of (TV) Quality). And such is the case with so many Ron Grainer themes, not least……

2. Doctor Who (1963)

What’s the UK’s most well known TV theme tune? Coronation Street? Eastenders? Steptoe and Son? Actually I’ll come back to that one shortly… It’s fair to say, I think, that the Doctor Who theme must be up there, and not just because of longevity. First broadcast at 17.16 GMT on Saturday, 23 November 1963, 80 seconds after its original launch time due to the extended news coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy, the programme has endured for nearly 70 years, although the series was cancelled in 1989 but returned in 2003 with a much bigger budget and new younger audience.

Producer Verity Lambert had wanted the theme to sound ‘familiar but different’ and by this time go-to composer Ron Grainer was asked to come up with something. His original theme was written on a single sheet of manuscript paper and sent to Lambert who then sent it to the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop for treatment under the supervision of the great electronic innovator Delia Derbyshire. The results were groundbreaking and the music became one of the first ever electronic theme tunes. Derbyshire’s sonic ‘bubbles’ and ‘clouds’ pulled back the boundaries of theme music forever.

Grainer was reported as saying ‘Did I write that?’ on hearing the ‘doctored’ version. He was so impressed he offered to split the royalty fees with Derbyshire but BBC policy at the time would not allow this.

The legendary Delia Derbyshire

The signature tune has become so familiar (I hesitate to use the overused term ‘iconic’) that it has given birth to many wide and varied versions by artists from very different genres. For example:

  • Doctor No. 3 Jon Pertwee released a spoken version of the theme entitled ‘Who is The Doctor?’ It didn’t chart although he did latterly have some success in a different incarnation with ‘Worzel’s Song‘ reaching No. 33 in 1980. Talking about incarnations, Pertwee was producer David Croft‘s first choice to play Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army. Similarly, Pertwee was second choice for the role of Doctor Who in 1970. First choice was Ron Moody who had just had a world wide smash in his role as Fagin in Best Picture Oscar winner Oliver!. Just fancy that!
  • In 1988 The Timelords (who were really KLF in disguise) released Doctorin’ The Tardis. This was a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme, Sweet’s Blockbuster and Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part 2, which maybe accounts for why we don’t hear it very often on the radio these days. Which is a shame as it’s a banging record and did get to the much vaunted No. 1 spot in the Hit Parade on 12 June.
  • In 1999 the excellent Orbital released a version of the Doctor Who theme which was used on BBC 2’s Doctor Who Night in 1999.
  • Legendary Shadows‘ guitarist Hank Marvin recorded a version in 2017 on his solo album Without A Word.
  • Matt ‘Stephen Toast’ Berry recorded a version on his 2018 album TV Themes.

Although brought up to date for the 2003 much-bigger-budget version of the series, the original Grainer/ Derbyshire version still sounds uniquely innovative even today.

3. Steptoe and Son (1962)

And talking about Steptoe and Son, Grainer composed Old Ned in 1962 for a different kind of sitcom (although this term for a type of TV generic comedy did not exist then). The plot written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson was very different to most other comedy shows as it featured working class characters and had a strong social commentary woven into the story of father Albert and son Harold who ran a West London rag and bone business. It was groundbreaking in that much of the dialogue was ruder (by 60s standards at least) than any other programme on telly. It was the first time I had ever heard the word ‘tits’ on TV when Harold bawled at Albert, ‘..because you get on my bleedin’ tits!’, an expression which became commonplace in our language from then on. I can still remember my dad guffawing at this line. During an episode when some posh fashion models were going to be arriving at their less than salubrious abode to do a photo shoot, Harold told Albert ‘..and if you need a Doyle’y Carte you can go outside!’ Sometimes the relative rudeness of the time slipped under the average TV viewers’ radar. Which was a very good thing.

The theme puts in mind the plodding nature of Harold and his horse and cart pounding the streets of West London day after day with his horse Hercules, even although Grainer titled it Old Ned. Was Old Ned a horse or just a London character? We may never know but the lugubrious melody and sound of the horses hooves created a musical motif which fitted the pathos and down-beat comedy that Steptoe and Son invented.

The theme won Grainer his second Ivor Novello award and was later reprised by Vic and Bob on Shooting Stars when Vic would go for a ‘cockney walkabout’ around the studio. The first version of this theme was recorded by those stalwarts of 70s TV variety, Geoff Love and his Orchestra, who would go on to have 70s hits wearing the sombreros of Manuel and his Music of the Mountains.

No one over the age of 45 would fail to know this was the Steptoe and Son theme. Another Grainer theme which will last for as long as we have TV.

4. Man in A Suitcase (1967)

If Doctor Who and Steptoe and Son were pulling back the boundaries of their respective genres then so was Man In A Suitcase. MIAS was a grittier, more violent, more existential action series compared to other similar thrillers of the time such as The Baron, The Champions (which did have an excellent Tony Hatch theme) or Department S and featured a mysterious American ex-FBI character known only as McGill. Having been hounded out the FBI for dubious reasons he now made a living working as a private detective all over Europe, but particularly in London. The series ran for only 30 episodes between 1967 and 1968 and featured a who’s who of British and sometimes American character actors. The theme music was catchy, punchy, big and brassy. Certainly not jaunty or inspiring as those were themes deliberately lacking in this superior and wonderfully cynical thriller series. Soft-spoken hard man with a sensitive side, McGill, played by Method actor Richard Bradford was a new kind of anti-hero and forever associated with this ear- worm of a Grainer theme.

Man In a Suitcase - TV Series Opening - YouTube
The coolest man of 1967

The theme was also used for the irritating Chris Evans in his vehicle TFI Friday for a number of years during the late 90s.

For me, one of his best.

5. The Prisoner (1967)

And talking about his best, and there are plenty candidates given his prodigious output, for me his crowning achievement was for a series which has entered TV folklore. Although over fifty years old, certain people, like myself, still analyse and counter-analyse each episode with meticulous precision. Yes, we’re talking The Prisoner here, and, yes, I do need to get a life but it’s gone too far to bother about that.

Without going into details about Patrick McGoohan‘s masterwork, suffice to say a British secret agent, which incidentally was the name of the forerunner to this series in the US also starring McGoohan, here it was called Danger Man, wakes up in a mysterious coastal village where he was being constantly monitored by ever changing authority figures known as No.2 and bullied by huge white balloons. But who was No. 1? McGoohan’s character was only ever known as No. 6 and the subsequent 17 episodes showed him trying to escape in ever more creative and sometimes downright strange ways. Nothing had ever been seen on TV that even resembled The Prisoner and it showed just how innovative and risk-taking TV, and particularly ITV, was during this period of broadcasting history. Call it Orwellian, Kafkaesque, surreal or just plain stupid, it was without doubt something very different in a wonderfully 60s psychedelic way.

But who could provide a suitably enigmatic theme to grace such an epochal TV series?

The opening titles were the same most weeks, with a couple of exceptions. A very angry man is seen resigning from a shady underground organisation and as he returns to his flat and packs to go abroad (or so we are led to believe) a mysterious undertaker arrives and gas suddenly emerges from his door and his world begins to spin. He wakes up in what seems to be his flat but on opening the blinds he is in a strange almost picturesque village. And this is where the story really begins..

Grainer’s amazing theme, stretching to nearly two minutes, provides an urgent musical backdrop to the show’s opening credits in an almost operatic way. Moving effortlessly from excitement to anger to intrigue and ultimately to mystery, no musical theme has even come close to providing such context for an opening title sequence. Like all Grainer compositions it’s catchy but it’s arrangement oozes class right down to the timpani that McGoohan insisted on. Every instrument, every flourish of the electric guitar, every blast of the brass section and dip of the organ, not only blends with the action but pushes it forward incessantly. The viewer is left in no doubt as to what is happening, how the character feels, where the action is heading.

Without doubt, the work of a master.

6. Tales of The Unexpected (1979)

Ron Grainer left the UK in 1968 to take up residence in southern Portugal, partly due to a desire for a quieter life than the one he was experiencing in an increasingly busy London and also as he was having sight problems and thought this would benefit from the Portuguese light. His output slowed down slightly due to other rustic commitments abroad but he still provided one final masterpiece for a new series which was being broadcast by Anglia TV in the UK.

Tales of the Unexpected was a series based on Roald Dahl short stories from his books of the same name as well as Kiss, Kiss and Someone Like You. Dahl introduced all the episodes from series one and some from series two and three. The series continued for over ten years and other writers provided stories in a similar genre.

The ITV series had a fairly generous budget which was spent on guest stars rather than elaborate sets and was a huge hit. Another who’s who of brilliant British character actors as well known Hollywood thesps appeared at some point in TOTU such as Rod Taylor, Jose Ferrer, Janet Leigh and Brad Dourif.

I’ve referred a few times in this little blog space to TV series which I feel are enhanced by their memorable musical themes, the obvious example being 70s Amsterdam based policier Van Der Valk.. And I would argue that TOTU sustained for so long partly due to its incredibly clever and grindingly memorable Ron Grainer theme. No one over the age of 40 will be unfamiliar with this theme and if hearing it for any reason, it will play away in their head for at least the rest of the day.

Grainer is said to have written the theme with the psalm (or is it a hymn?) All Things Bright And Beautiful in his mind. The cadences are certainly similar but it’s this theme that would be providing an ear-worm for me rather than the rather turgid psalm. Its jaunty almost fairground melody and instrumentation belies the grimness and sometimes grand Guignol elements of many of the stories. Personally, I’ve always found fairgrounds and circuses quite creepy backdrops for stories of this nature. Have a look at the opening sequence to the brilliant 70s series Journey To The Unknown and you’ll see what I mean.

A few years ago while listening to the Shaun Keaveney show on Radio 6 Music, a listener phoned in to Small Claims Court to reveal he had met the woman at a wedding who had performed the strip routine during the opening titles of TOTU. I wonder if she received a royalty every time the programme was broadcast? If so she could thank Ron Grainer for a fairly lucrative gig.

As usual Grainer hit it out of the ball park and I sometimes wonder if the series would have gone on for so long without his theme.

With a few notable exceptions this was arguably Ron Grainer‘s last masterwork. He wrote many, many other TV signature tunes as well film scores but the above are what I consider to be the shining lights in his back catalogue.

Ron Grainer died at the tragically young age of 58 in 1981 from spinal cancer. Had he lived he’d have been vying with the other TV theme maestro Tony Hatch as the greatest ever. But Grainer left enough of his prodigiously talented themes to be remembered always and to be spoken about in the same respectful breath as Hatch.

Truly the Wizard from Oz.

Memories Of A Darkened Room: Children’s Summer Holiday TV Programmes

They may have been the oddest of programmes to serve up to kids on their summer hols but they are abiding memories of a childhood spent in front of the screen.

How Much TV Should Kids Watch?

What’s your memory of school summer holidays in the 60s and 70s? Running wild and free through sunlit forests and lush green meadows? Gambolling in amongst the rippling wheat fields to the sound of chattering songbirds with a warm southern wind in your face? Me neither.

My abiding memory of summer holidays at the age of 10ish is sitting in a semi-darkened living room with the curtains drawn and shafts of morning sunlight breaking through the gaps, irritatingly, as the TV screen lit up your face and the glorious percussive opening strains and black and white credits of The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe struck up. Da da da da- da da!

Any child today would view this image as almost Victorian in its monochrome spareseness. Children’s TV was broadcast for an hour each weekday morning between 10 and 11 AM during July and August featuring badly dubbed cheap European imports, each series repeated unfailingly every year and watched every subsequent year with the same glee and wide-eyed wonder at the fact that programmes aimed at children were actually being beamed into your living room! In the morning! What wasn’t to like?

We were more easily pleased in those day, obviously. And to think back to the meagre visual TV diet we were given, and accepted gratefully, in those days, maybe said more about how compliant we were. Multi-platform, colour, flat screen, big budget 24/7 children’s TV programming was something from a science fiction series quite a few years into the future.

But it was still exciting and a welcome change to the norm. The fact that the BBC hardly bothered to change the programmes from year to year and didn’t even have the idea to repeat any children’s series they’d produced themselves is quite astounding. Of course, maybe they’d have had to stump up a repeat fee for some of the personnel involved which wouldn’t do and, of course, many of the children’s TV series would have been wiped immediately after broadcast anyway. So we were stuck with a few foreign series which, to us, seemed fine. It was, quite literally, better than nothing.

Singing Ringing Tree, The | Nostalgia Central
The Singing Ringing Tree: What’s not to like?

On top of that the productions were made in different languages and then badly dubbed into English. We were used to this though as we’d previously watched Tales from Europe on early evening telly. I wasn’t over enamoured with TFE as the dubbing irritated me a little but the stories were nuts! And this certainly did excite me. Much has been written about the weird and wonderful ‘Singing Ringing Tree‘ and it is a truly wonderful and, at times, terrifying experience. In later years when the colour version became available it added a new dimension of surreality. Other of the Tales from Europe strand weren’t even properly dubbed. Usually they just had an English language voiceover, a single actor explaining what was going on. You could hear the foreign language dialogue under this, which was never ideal. Broadcast by the BBC between 1964 and 1969 straight after Blue Peter (See Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie) on a Thursday, TFE was cheap and rarely cheerful series which had a peculiar fascination for children like myself. The narratives and characters were very different to what we were used to which was a good thing. With the exception of The Singing Ringing Tree, I doubt if any still survive and, other than The Snow Queen, I struggle to remember any of the stories featured.

So a bit of terrible dubbing for a July morning was more than acceptable.

And as a result these series have become synonymous with being young in the sixties for people of a certain vintage. Hear the theme tune to any of them and you’re transported to a time when nothing much bothered you, other than being told to go out and play. And, of course, in true Genxculture style, there was often more to those dubious summer visual treats than met the cathode-ray inflected eye.

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

Well we have to start with this, obviously. If any piece of music could be said to evoke childhood memories for those of a certain age, it’s this one. Hearing even a few bars of it takes you back to blissful summer mornings where there was nothing to worry you, nothing that needed to be done or appointments to be kept. Until, of course, your mum shouted through from the kitchenette telling you to go out and play as the sun was splitting the sky.

If you managed to escape this fate you could settle down to see how Robinson Crusoe managed to survive this seemingly idyllic island imprisonment.

Written by Daniel Defoe in 1719 it has since been seen as being the first work of fiction, using a range of narrative techniques. Some believed it was based on Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish privateer, or pirate which those types of mariners were, including the likes of that supposed British ‘hero’ Francis Drake. Selkirk spent three years on a deserted island Mas a Tiera, off the coast of Chile, before being rescued by a passing ship. They were essentially thieves on the high seas, often endorsed by royalty. Should anyone happen to pass through the cute wee village of Lower Largo on Fife’s East Neuk they will see a statue of Selkirk in the harbour.

It’s safe to describe the theme music as (cliche alert!) iconic. A word not just overused but battered to death nightly on TV and radio, but, in this case, appropriate. I doubt anyone over the age of 55 would fail to recognise the rumbling opening to the programme or the various pieces of incidental music. It’s even been reimagined by Art of Noise, no less.

Played by Austrian actor Robert Hoffman, it was his first professional role after leaving acting school. Hoffman went on to have a long and successful film career, mainly in slightly dubious European films such as Naked Girl Murdered In The Park, ermm Spasmo and the inevitable part of a U-Boat captain in 1980’s The Sea Wolves with British acting royalty Roger Moore, David Niven, Trevor Howard and the great Gregory Peck. All a bit long in the tooth to be messing about with U-Boats I’d say. Hoffman even had a part in the final days of Dallas in 1989.

In a nod to his 60s cult status as a mid-morning children’s TV hero, towards the end of his film career Hoffman appeared in a film entitled My Friend, The Lipizzaner.

What goes around, comes around, I suppose. And it’s also nice to see that, although retired from acting, he is still very much with us at the age of 83.

For me, the most memorable of Crusoe’s black and white adventures were the scene where he tries to rescue equipment from his sinking ship by building a raft and paddling out to the stricken vessel and then when he discovers footprints on the beach when he thought the island was deserted. An excellent cliff-hanger to end that particular episode. Of course, by the fourth time we’d watched the series the event had lost a little of its shock and mystery. But did we care? Did we buffalo.

It always seemed such a nice place to be marooned, the sun always shone, fish were plentiful and the little shelter he’d built himself would have made a fantastic gang-hut. Obviously when the cannibals and pirates arrived that put a slight damper on things but there had to be some moments of tension. The whole adventure was filmed on Gran Canaria, though long before anyone, other than some hippies maybe, saw it is a year-round holiday destination. At least it wasn’t Tenerife, or Brexit By The Sea as I tend to refer to it, so it maintained its mystery and exoticness no matter how often we watched it.

The White Horses

The White Horses was a curious confection of very poor dubbing (tick), bad acting (tick), unknown actors (tick) and what would now be questionable storylines (tick). The fact that the premise revolved around stories of summer holidays spent at an uncle’s horse stables which was populated by lovely white Lipizanner nags and was mainly of interested to young adolescent girls, with a equine fixation, before they’d discovered boys was irrelevant. It was a TV programme and it was on on a holiday weekday morning for god’s sake! Every weekday holiday morning. Every weekday holiday morning every holiday year! What wasn’t to like? Well, quite a lot really if you were a eight-year-old boy but we could easily put up with it as Robinson Crusoe was on next.

The White Horses was a German/Yugoslavian production first broadcast in the UK by the BBC in 1968. Surprisingly only 13 episodes were ever made, it just seems as if there were more due to the many repeat broadcasts every year.

It starred Austrian born Helga Anders as Julka who goes on holiday one sun-drenched summer to her uncle’s Lipizanner stud farm, although there was little exposition for the benefit of young viewers as to what a stud farm was. The fragrant Jenny Handley of Magpie (See Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie) might have been able to help her on that one (allegedly). Poor Helga went on to appear in many German TV series and films during the 70s and 80s but sadly lost her battle with drink and drug addiction in 1986 at the criminally young age of 38. A tragically adult demise for someone associated with children’s summer holidays.

Few people who watched The White Horses, other than the young horsey types who adored the series, will remember many of the storylines. There must have been limited opportunities to come up with narratives that always involved smart white horses saving their owners and busting crime syndicates. One slightly dodgy storyline, the very first episode in fact, featured some dastardly gypsies who tried to steal one the prize nags and hide it in plain sight by painting it brown. But Julka was too clever for them and spotted their deception! Well, it was 1966.

Everyone who watched the series, though, remembers the theme tune. And if anything transports us back all those years it’s hearing this tune, whether you liked the series or not.

Arguably it’s the theme tune that has rendered this series more memorable. I’ve already made the point a number of times that theme tunes are responsible for some series being remembered as better than they actually were. The most obvious example being Van Der Valk, a rather run of the windmill detective series set in Amsterdam (See Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie below). It was performed by that stalwart of TV theme tunes, Irish songstress, Jackie Lee. As ‘Jacky’ she reached number 10 with The White Horses theme song, voted the best ever theme by The Penguin Television Companion, indeed. She followed this up using her proper stage name, Jackie Lee, with the similarly earwormic theme from Rupert The Bear in 1970 which reached number 14 in the hit parade. Jackie can be seen performing Rupert The Bear on the legendary Golden Shot in 1970 at 16:17 below. Finally, in 1973 she recorded the theme from Inigo Pipkin (latterly The Pipkins after the unfortunate death of Mr Pipkin after the first series ended) which didn’t chart but was also memorable.

Jackie was responsible for some Northern Soul classics but was also much in demand as a session singer during the 60s and 70s, providing vocal backing on such MOR classics as Tom Jones’s ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home,’ Englebert’sRelease Me’ as well as the more psychedelic stylings of the great Jimi Hendrix on ‘Hey Joe.’

At the age of 85, Jackie Lee is still very much with us and living in Canada.

Despite The White Horses being aimed mainly at a female audience, the next offering was very much a favourite of young male viewers.

Herge’s Adventures of Tintin

By far the greatest summer holiday programme was The Adventures of Tintin but it was also the most frustrating. It just wasn’t long enough, running in at about 7 minutes an episode.

We all know now that Tintin was Belgian having been created by George Remi under the nom de plume of Herge. His first comic strip, years before Tintin was entitled The Adventures of Totor: Scout Leader of The Cockchafers. Make of that what you will but Herge was about to go global with the release of Tintin some years later. To me the characters seemed very British, particularly the Thompson Twins and Captain Haddock, who had been adapted for a British audience, but it was the English language dubbing that was so much better than White Horses.

Certain Tintin stories from the 30s and 40s have been accused of being racist and imperialistic, an accusation fairly accurate, but it pretty much went with the territory in those far off days. And the only Tintin story I ever remember seeing during school holidays was ‘The Crab With The Golden Claws,’ made in 1959, so it must have been pretty cheap for the BBC to broadcast in 1967. But so was every programme during this summer period.

The Tintin series was, as far as I can remember, quite professionally dubbed. Unlike The White Horses and Robinson Crusoe which was clearly filmed in a foreign language, I had no idea Tintin was actually Belgian. At this time cartoons were like gold dust. There were so few on telly, when one was broadcast it was a significant event. But each episode was only five minutes long which frustrated me hugely. We did, of course, have Cartoon Cavalcade which eventually morphed into the awful Glen Michael’s Cavalcade, it really just became a platform for his irritating and comedy-lite personality, but it probably saved STV loads of money as we were lucky to get 2 or 3 cartoons during each episode.

Glen Michael's Cartoon Cavalcade. A memory for Scottish folk of a certain  age. At its peak, Cartoon Cavalcade attracted a staggeri… | Uk tv shows,  Cartoon, Retro tv
More of the Glen Michael, less of the cartoon.

The dubbing was good because the adapters brought in some proper voice actors. Tintin was played by Gerald Campion, an actor who played Billy Bunter in the TV series of the 50s and was perennially typecast as a ‘fat’ character in various films and TV shows. Other characters were played by the UK’s most famous voice actor of the period, Peter Hawkins. Few of a certain age will remember his name but he was responsible for many voices during the 60s-80s including the Daleks and Cybermen from early Doctor Who, Captain Pugwash, Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men (Sklobalop!) and SuperTed.

Flower Pot Men - Wikipedia

The cartoon version of the story was also adapted from the original and became the pursuit of diamond smugglers rather than opium smugglers, not that I’d have known what opium was in those days anyway.

Although this was my favourite holiday programme and one that excited me hugely when broadcast, I struggle to remember much about the story. It seemed to end almost as quickly as it began and just left me wanting more.

There were other holiday programmes such as Belle and Sebastian, which I never really took to, and a few Watch With Mother -type shows but it was The Big Three that really arrested our attention. It was genuinely exciting to have these programmes to watch every morning and every year as TV was severely rationed for children in those days and despite almost knowing the script after three years of the same schedule it didn’t matter.

Tell that to kids nowadays and they won’t believe you….

Batman: A 60s Sitcom Phenomenon

Its popularity may have been short-lived, but for a brief period during the mid-sixties Batman was even bigger than The Beatles!

Like The Beatles, it’s difficult to understand just what a phenomenon the 1960s TV series Batman actually was. If you were a child between the ages of 5 and 15, for a couple of years, and it was only a couple of years, this TV programme dominated your life. If you were a sophisticated adult you’d have loved the campness and archness of the script. To watch it today brings back just how funny, enjoyable and often downright surreal so many of the episodes were. Its charm and inventiveness has not diminished, it has influenced a range of other TV programmes over the years and has been parodied regularly. Not least in sophisticated TV series of the last few years including The Simpsons, Futurama, Spongebob Squarepants, Family Guy and even Only Fools and Horses.

Nothing like it had ever been seen on TV in 1966. Not only was it a character who everyone knew through reading American comics but this was a high quality production that used eye-catching special effects (for the time), had memorable music that people still remember today (Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da -da-da-da, Bat-maaan!), where every episode was a roller-coaster ride and weird characters abounded. What wasn’t to like? It seemed to be really funny but why were Batman and Robin taking it so seriously? We know now that this was the essence of its brilliance. And some of the Special Guest Villains were certainly strangely creepy, occasionally threatening and the casting was often wonderfully bizarre. Not forgetting the trademark fight sequences with their pop-art onomatopoeic graphics (Pow! Blam! Splat!).

As a five-year old when Batman was first shown on British TV in 1966 I was obsessed. Every boy of my age and older had to have a Batman or Robin outfit. They could be bought commercially but it was easier and just as effective to have your own made. My dad, who was quite good at those things, made me a Batman outfit from some black plastic tarpaulin, my pal Graham got a long bit of yellow material from his mum and instantly became Robin, The Boy Wonder, and we’d run through the streets singing ‘Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da -da-da-da, Bat-maaan!’ It was so much fun. It really was.

For two years between 1966 and 1968 Batman dominated popular culture in a similar way to The Beatles. Memorablia such as character models, toy vehicles, sweets and trading cards were available and he even made some of those great favourites of Genxculture, Public Information Films. After Series 2 Batman’s star waned and we moved on to other things, probably Star Trek or Joe 90 and TV Century 21 comic as this was a massively creative decade in the media. But that period was really special and today this series looks and sounds even better than it did due to us being able to watch it in living colour which we couldn’t do then. In short, it’s still funny, satirical, brilliantly staged, wonderfully acted, endlessly inventive, featuring a who’s who of showbiz for the time and it’s still as camp as a Millet’s window display.

Yes, the gadgets, the cars, the weird torture machines, the fast paced narratives, the special effects, the villains all added to the excitement of the show but it was the portrayal of the central characters, Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin, that really lifted the series to a level rarely seen on TV up to that time. As creator, producer and narrator William Dozier said at the time, ‘It’s the only situation comedy on the air without a laugh track.’ The show was also influenced by very 60s TV series such as The Man From Uncle which wore its irony and bizarre gadgetry, sometimes literally, on its sleeve.

Batman (1966) — Art of the Title

Three series of the show were made between January 1966 and March 1968 and although Series 3 saw a lull in its popularity, Series 1 and 2 were hugely successful. Dozier was not a fan of the American superhero comics and felt them, particularly Batman, to be unnecessarily serious and often po-faced. Hence his idea of bringing a much livelier, colourful (for a few), bizarre, fast paced and uniquely ironic TV version of The Caped Crusader.

The success of this very unusual type of show was going to be, crucially, finding the right actors to portray the heroes and villains. The great Adam West was spotted playing ‘Captain Q’ in a series of Nesquik adverts on US TV. West was attracted by the show’s ‘scrupulously formal dialogue‘ which he played completely straight from episode 1 until the end with resounding success.

Burt Ward was straight out of stage school when he landed the audition. He had the good fortune to be teamed up with the much more experienced West for the auditions and, out of 1100 audition hopefuls, his chemistry with West was obvious. TV’s Batman and Robin were born.

The producers had originally decided that the new camp Batman series would debut as a full-length feature film to introduce the characters to the great viewing public. For various reasons this didn’t happen before the series went out and the film was eventually rolled out to cinemas after the first series had concluded. For me this made Batman more exciting as, for one thing, we saw it in eye-popping colour for the first time which was a revelation to say the least. I mean, The Joker had green hair, for example! And, secondly, a new range of thrilling Bat-accessories were revealed such as the Bat-Copter, Bat-Bike and the Bat-Boat. The children’s matinee at the Tivoli cinema on Gorgie Road was certainly buzzing that Saturday afternoon in 1966!

The show had many recurring elements which, for young viewers, was particularly exciting. Playing their ‘real’ identities as rich socialite Bruce Wayne and his ‘ward’ Dick Grayson, they would receive word via the ‘Batphone‘ from Commissioner Gordon that some heinous crime had been committed by one of the ‘Special Guest Villains‘ and could they help? Cue the most exciting sequence in the show when they would secretly enter the bat cave through a secret passage (‘to the batpoles!) and emerge in a roaring, speeded-up Batmobile to consult with Commissioner Gordon.

Clues would be left by the villains and Batman and Robin would start to solve these bizarre clues until a final showdown punch-up (no guns were used) with the villains which would be punctuated with pop art images showing the onomatopoeic words such as Blam!, Pow!, or ‘Kapow! in flamboyant colour. Of course, that element of Batman was completely lost on our monochrome 60s telly and, apart from the Batman film which we saw at the local fleapit, it would be another 15 years before we’d see Batman in the same vivid, psychedelic colour on telly.

BAT-MATOGRAPHY or Capturing Batman on Film - The American Society of  Cinematographers

In between the two part episodes (shown on two different evenings of the week) Batman and Robin might find themselves in a cliff-hanger scene at the end of part one where they were invariably trapped in a situation that might lead to their deeply unpleasant demise. The narrator, William Dozier, would then chip in asking the audience if Batman will survive. ‘Tune in tomorrow! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!‘ Of course he’ll survive! Often due to some amazing Bat-gadget that he could just about grab from his Bat-utility belt.

The laughs came from the completely straight performances by Adam West and Burt Ward. Little gags abounded throughout the episode which you had to be quick to notice. At one point the ferociously law-abiding Batman in pursuit of a Special Guest Villain parked the Batmobile outside a large public building. As he leapt out of the driver’s seat he spotted a ‘No Parking‘ sign. Despite the imminent destruction of Gotham City he doubles back to move the car when a friendly policeman arrives and tells him, ‘That’s OK Batman,’ and rolls the sign away. The future of one of America’s great cities may be in the balance but that’s no excuse for not abiding by the law and getting a parking ticket!

The soaraway success of the series led to a range of celebrities of the time making appearances in the show. Either as ‘Special Guest Villains‘ or as themselves. One recurring sequence was when the Dynamic Duo were hauling themselves up the side of a high building with the aid of the Batrope. Of course, the camera was just turned 45 degrees to give the impression of them walking up the building, which was a joke in itself. Suddenly a window would open and a ‘famous’ person would pop their head out. To us in Scotland, many of these ‘celebrities’ were unknown given our three TV stations of the time and a limited amount of space to show many American series. But some of the celebrities were well-known including Jerry Lewis (apparently very difficult and insisting on directing and lighting himself according to Ward’s biog), the great Sammy Davis Jnr, nutty dishevelled comedienne Phylis Diller, Hollywood film gangsters George Raft and Edward G. Robinson, and one I clearly remember, Werner Klemperer in his well-known role as incompetent German POW prison commandant Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes and Ted Cassidy in his role as Lurch in The Addams Family, a show which had many connections with Batman over its three year lifespan.

The most bizarre of these ‘celebrities’ popping their heads out of the window for a slightly awkward rap with the Caped Crusaders was ‘Carpet KingCyril Lord. Now completely unknown by anyone under the age of 55, he was an English businessman who became well known for appearing in TV adverts for his own Cyril Lord carpet company. With the long-running booming jingle ‘These are carpets you can afford by Cyril Lord!,’ he became, like his carpets, a household name, a bit like Victor Kiam who loved the Remington company so much, he bought it. . In the TV ad jingle I always thought the name was ‘Cirr-a-lorr.’ Clearly his fame in the US was even greater.

Like Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In which appeared shortly after Batman’s cancellation, celebrities were queuing up to appear on the show. It was even rumoured that Frank Sinatra had expressed an interest in the role of The Penguin when the show was being cast.

And talking of Batman villains.. A range of tried and tested Hollywood stars were cast as Special Guest Villains. The series began with those which appeared in the comics, or, at least, camper more outrageous versions of them, if that was possible.

The Joker: The first ever Special Guest Villain played by Cesar Romero, an actor whose biography was as long as your arm and your leg combined. He appeared in well over 100 films, most famously as The Cisco Kid in a series of 40s westerns, and pretty much every well known American TV show between the 50s and the 90s including The Man From Uncle, Rawhide, Alias Smith and Jones, Daniel Boone, Ironside, Bonanza, Dr Kildare and The Golden Girls.

Romero appeared in 22 episodes of Batman as well as the full length film. Romero refused to shave off his trademark moustache during filming and had The Joker’s thick white makeup hide it. To me he always came across as quite a menacing character, despite the series’ camp and overblown treatment of the villains. But that was how it was meant to be.

Joker (Batman 1966 TV Series) | DC Database | Fandom

The Penguin: Appeared in as many episodes as The Joker. I was never that keen on The Penguin. He just wasn’t evil enough. Played by Hollywood stalwart Burgess Meredith, he wasn’t the first choice for the role. The producers of Batman wanted Spencer Tracy as The Penguin which would have been very interesting indeed. A bit like when the producers of Columbo originally wanted Bing Crosby to play the eponymous role. However, he said he’d only do it if he could kill Batman, and that wasn’t going happen. Maybe he only said this to wriggle out of the part but, after its incredible success and popularity, I wonder if he regretted it?

Non-smoker Meredith developed The Penguin’s squawk as a way of not having to inhale the smoke from his ever-present cigarette holder.

The success of Batman, even spilled over into another hugely successful series of the mid-60s when Meredith appeared as The Penguin in an episode of The Monkees (See Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees!).

Catwoman: The most frequent Special Guest Villain, appearing 15 times over the three series. Originally played by newcomer Julie Newmar who, for the first two series, the sexual chemistry with Batman added an extra frisson to their scenes together. Was she really attracted or was she merely using her not inconsiderable feline charms to entrap him? You decide. But one could understand why Batman’s super powers of restraint were severely tested.

Meow! LEE MERIWETHER Picks the Greatest Catwoman | 13th Dimension, Comics,  Creators, Culture

For the third series Newmar, who was filming McKenna’s Gold at the time, was replaced by the legendary Eartha Kitt in, for the time, an audacious bit of casting for ultra-conservative America. Of course, this meant the chemistry between them changed as the idea of Batman being romantically linked with black woman was a bridge too far for the producers in a 60s US not exactly embracing multiculturalism. That said, this sort of intimate relationship was only a couple of years away with Kirk and Uhura in Star Trek. But it was still, almost unbelievably, a big deal on mainstream US TV.

For the film version which should have been released before the TV series but wasn’t, Catwoman was played by Lee Merriwether, who some still remember as the original Catwoman, even though she never appeared in the TV series.

Kitt’s ability to purr her lines and generally behave in a feline sort of way came naturally to her, she was perfect (I refuse to say ‘purr-fect’) for the character and her car had to be seen to be believed. Catwoman was one of my favourite villains and she still is……

Little-known sci-fi fact: Kirk's Trek hot rod was Catwoman's, too

The Riddler: Played by American impressionist and comedian Frank Gorshin, a huge star in the US but not very well known in the UK at the time. I have a vague memory of him appearing on a British variety show during the 60s. I don’t think he went down that well as his impressions were all of American celebrities and we were used to Mike Yarwood doing Harold Wilson and Ted Heath, so his repertoire left British audiences fairly cold. On further research the good people at IMDB seem to think it was The Dave Allen Show in 1969. This would be after Batman ended its three series run, however. He appeared on pretty much every American variety show including the Jerry Lewis, Andy Williams, Sammy Davis Jnr and Dean Martin shows. He also appeared on The Danny Kay Show in 1966 which we definitely did get in the UK, which may have gone out before Batman hit our British screens. Either way I distinctly remember seeing Frank Gorshin do his impressionism act before I’d seen him as The Riddler.

Another interesting fact about Frank Gorshin (well, I think it’s interesting..) is that he appeared on the same Ed Sullivan Show as The Beatles when they made their US debut in 1964. Craig Brown in his brilliant new book on The Beatles, One, Two, Three, Four, includes a superb chapter told from the viewpoint of some of the other guests on the show that day of 9th February 1964. It’s also hard to believe that ‘two-ton’ Tessie O’Shea also appeared, as did the Broadway cast of Oliver! including British performer Georgia Brown and a young cast member named Davy Jones (see Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees!). Wonder whatever happened to him? Maybe with all these British performers, Ed Sullivan thought The Beatles might feel at home.

8 riveting facts about Frank Gorshin

He appeared in 9 episodes of Batman which I found surprising as he seemed to be involved much more often. He didn’t appear at all during series 2 as some have claimed he was sidelined by the producers for making unrealistic wage demands. His role was taken for one episode by The Addam’s Family’s John Astin. However, he returned to the fold for one last episode of the third series in 1967.

Cool, Cruel Mr Freeze: With three different, very interesting and unusual actors playing this villainous part, Mr Freeze appeared in all three series of Batman.

Batman Episode aired 3 February 1966 Season 1 | Episode 8, Rats Like  Cheese, George Sanders , Mister Freeze | Batman tv series, Batman, Tv series
So cool, he had to be Mr Freeze

First up was a typically left-field choice, suave and prolific Hollywood actor George Sanders. Sounding every inch the superior and upper crust, often quietly menacing, English cad, Sanders was actually born in Russia and moved to England with his family at the outbreak of The Russian Revolution in 1917.

He ended up in Hollywood in the 1930s playing a pre-Roger Moore Simon Templar in a series of US-made The Saint films. His other notable roles included playing dodgy aristocrats in Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Addison De Witt in All About Eve, for which he won an Oscar and Roberto Rossellini’s neo-realist classic, Journey To Italy with Ingrid Bergman. The role he is best remembered for though, is voicing tiger Shere Khan in Disney’s classic The Jungle Book.

In true Hollywood style he married four times, weirdly two of them being Gabor sisters, Zsa Zsa and Magda (the latter lasting only 32 days). His voice and manner inspired Peter Sellers to base the character of Hercules Grytpype-Thynne on in The Goon Show. In 1958 he released an album of songs, some composed by him with the wonderful title, The George Sanders Touch: Songs For The Lovely Lady. I really would love to hear that sometime.

George Sanders - The George Sanders Touch. Songs For The Lovely Lady (1958,  Vinyl) | Discogs

Sanders died of an overdose of barbiturates in 1972 in a village near Barcelona. His suicide note did not dwell on disappointment but just stated he was bored with life and had had enough. His role as Mr Freeze could not have suited him more.

An even stranger choice to take over from Sanders and one that couldn’t have been more different was legendary Hollywood director Otto Preminger. Although achieving world-wide acclaim as a director of classics such as Laura, The Man With The Golden Arm and the excellent British Film Noir, Bunny Lake Is Missing, he had done some acting, mainly during the 40s and 50s. His most well known role being as Oberst von Scherbach in Stalag 17, directed by Billy Wilder. According to Preminger he’d never heard of Batman but his grandchildren persuaded him to ask for a part. Apparently Preminger knew producer William Dozier and asked to be cast. However, Preminger couldn’t adapt to the idea of being an actor rather than a director and rubbed many of the cast members up the wrong way by shouting at them to ‘concentrate’ if they fluffed their lines. He was frozen out (ho ho) and wasn’t invited back in series 3 to play Mr Freeze again. Once a director, always a director!

The next and last Mr Freeze was another legendary Hollywood actor, ‘method’ actor supreme Eli Wallach.

The demanding Otto Preminger

Egghead: Played by ubiquitous Hollywood actor, the excellent Vincent Price (much more on him dotted around this little blog space), he was the self-styled World’s Smartest Criminal. So much so he was one of only two Batman Guest Villains who worked out Batman’s real identity. His weapons of choice were always in the form of eggs, the most memorable being the Tear-Gas Eggs laid by hens fed exclusively on onions.

Pause for Batman: Egghead | Cez'L

Chandell: played by, of all people, Liberace! He was probably the most well known of all the Special Guest Villains and not only did he play the villain, Chandell, a cute little reference to one of his trademarks, the chandelier, but he also played his even more crooked brother in some groundbreaking split-scene photography. But in one of his final scenes we see him in jail wearing prison stripes as does his grand piano. A superbly subtle and funny Batman touch!

Batman gegen Liberace | Das Batman-Projekt

Liberace went on to appear in many cult series of the 60s and 70s including Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Kojak and The Muppets. And in The Monkees he even smashes a grand piano.

Liberace’s life was arguably so full of excess, intrigue, and hyperbole that nothing he did professionally was as overblown as his private life. And, in Batman, he found a role that suited his larger-than-life profile. To be honest I don’t have a particularly clear memory of Liberace’s appearances on Batman at the time but on viewing some of them today, he was perfect for the show. There may be more to come on Liberace within his little blog space in the near future……

King Tut: Played by Hollywood actor Victor Buono, King Tut appeared in eight episodes of Batman over the whole three series, Only Joker, Riddler, Catwoman and Penguin appeared more often. Playing a mild-mannered professor of Egyptology who turns into the evil King Tut when he receives a bump on the head, it’s hard to believe Buono was only 28 when he played the role.

A stalwart of many films and cult 60s telly, Buono also appeared in Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, The Man From UNCLE, I Spy and even The Flying Nun. For me, though, King Tut wasn’t weird, evil or threatening enough to be an acceptable Batman villain and the episodes involving him are only sketchy in my memory. Like Egghead, King Tut was the only other villain to guess Batman’s identity but, luckily for the Caped Crusader, another blow to the head made him forget by the end of the episode.

King Tut managed to steal the Batmobile in his first appearance.
King Tut’s first appearance saw him steal the Batmobile. No mean feat!

Many other Special Guest Villains appeared in Batman, some memorable like The Archer and The Minstrel, played by Hollywood actors Art Carney and Van Johnson. Other members of Hollywood royalty queued up to play villains on Batman. Some scarcely remembered such Minerva (Zsa Zsa Gabor), Clock King (Walter Slezak), Lola Lasagne (the formidable Ethel Merman) and Louie The Lilac (Milton Berle). The British acting contingent was represented by Joan Collins as The Siren, one of the last Special Guest Villains in series 3, Maurice Evans was The Puzzler, he would soon play a career defining role as Dr Zaius in one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, Planet Of The Apes as well as Samantha’s father in Bewitched. A fellow-simian colleague of Evans from Planet of the Apes was Roddy MacDowall who played Bookworm in Series 3. The Sandman played by Michael Rennie, who also played Harry Lime in the long-running US TV series of the 60s The Third Man as well Klaatu in the 50’s cold war classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. But it was a case of too much, too late for Batman and the third series proved to be the last. Another network eventually decided to take over the franchise but by that time the expensive sets had been demolished and it didn’t happen.

One interesting guest who was not a Special Guest Villain was a certain Jay Sebring. Sebring was a fashionable Hollywood hairdresser who appeared in a Catwoman episode on December 15 1966 during Series 2 where he was billed as Mr Oceanbring (geddit?). On the night of August 9 1969 he would be one of the five victims of the Manson family at the Cielo Drive home of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski in the Hollywood hills.

Jay Sebring: The Hollywood Hairstylist Murdered Beside Sharon Tate

Batman’s massive popularity in the UK even led to Adam West making a Public Information Film in the UK showing children how to cross the road safely. For some reason the producers of these films always seem to think a famous person would hammer the point home more effectively. Maybe they were right but when you think of the many other ‘celebrities’ who, over the years, also helped children across the road it does make you wonder. Recently departed Dave Prowse (Darth Vader) as ‘Green Cross Man,’ Alvin Stardust (You must out of your tiny minds.…), Les Gray of Mud, Boxer Joe Bugner, footballer Kevin Keegan and JohnDr WhoPertwee with his frankly baffling ‘SPLINK’ campaign. Out of that lot I’d listen to Batman every time. He’s more believable.

Another campaign that Batman and Robin got behind, that few will remember, involved children launching themselves out of high buildings. Or so we were led to believe by some tabloid newspapers. Whenever something takes off (wrong description maybe!) like Batman did in 1966, people look for the downside of the fandom and phenomenon. According to some newspapers, children, believing Batman could fly, were emulating him by jumping out of high windows, although I don’t remember a single specific incident of this type being reported. Any young child, like myself at the time, would have known full well that Batman, unlike Superman, could not fly. They’d watch the TV programme, read the comics or talk to other Batman fans. Another example of the media wrongly believing children to be stupid. Anyway, Batman was asked to nip this supposed pernicious behaviour in the bud. And at the end of certain episodes a short insert was tagged on. Batman and Robin would speak directly to their young viewing public and remind them that Batman could not fly.

As with any phenomenon, irrespective of how short-lived, the spin-off memorabilia was huge. For a while everything was Batman related. Action figures, sweets, outfits, toy cars, posters and sundry other memorabilia were everywhere.

Holy Vintage Collecting, Batman! It's the Top 1966 Batman Cards 2

My own personal favourite out of all this Batman-related tat were the trading cards which were released in 1966. Three different versions (black, red and blue symbols) were available, each with either a description of the scene depicted or part of a larger puzzle on the back which could be constructed when all the relevant cards had been collected. The cards showed scenes which included Batman’s most prolific foes such as The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman and The Penguin as well as a few newly created adversaries such as the supernatural Jack Frost and even some dinosaurs. The lack of authenticity of some of the cards to the TV series certainly didn’t put us off collecting all three series. Some of the cards also depicted scenes from the TV series. Although essential collecting for the 6/7/8 year old, I don’t quite remember the same frisson of excitement one felt when collecting the Civil War News or Battle cards of a couple of years previously. (See AieeAiiieee! The Blood-Soaked Realm Of 60s Children’s Trading Cards below). By the time the cards became available, Batman’s popularity was on the wane slightly.

Like all, mainly male, 7 year olds in 1966 I received a toy Batmobile for my Christmas. Unlike much Bat-related merchandise of the time, Batmobiles were high quality, sturdy items made of metal. When you rolled them along the ground orange plastic flames emerged from the back exhaust of the vehicle, small cannons at the back could launch missiles (which you’d lost by Christmas afternoon) and a metal cutting tool (I think that’s what it was, I was never that sure) which could be pulled out on the front bonnet. Like James Bond‘s car, the Aston Martin DB5 which was popular around the same time, these toys are worth a small fortune now and, of course, I have no idea what happened to mine.

To be honest, I’d lost some interest by the time series 3 came along. There seemed to be a plethora of strange and sometimes not very engaging characters and it didn’t seem the same when The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin and Catwoman were not involved. I think I now appreciate these episodes more as an adult but this wonderful highly stylised, highly camp treatment of Batman maybe had a relatively short shelf-life, like a very expensive, flamboyant meal. The first few courses would be amazing but eventually you’d have had enough. But for a couple of years in the mid-60s Batman was a hugely important element of the zeitgeist and Adam West and Burt Ward’s brilliant portrayal of the Dynamic Duo as well as the over-the-top characters made it essential viewing.

So if you want an excursion that is still as cool, camp and clever now as it was all those years ago, you know where to go.

Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel

BAT-MATOGRAPHY or Capturing Batman on Film - The American Society of  Cinematographers

Dee Time: When The Sixties Really Began

From hero to zero in three years, but no one epitomised the sixties more than Simon Dee

For many people who lived through this tumultuous decade Simon Dee epitomised the guy who had it all: his own Saturday evening chat show, viewing figures of 18 million, rubbing shoulders with anyone who was anyone in the 60s, having a hopelessly glamorous life, being paid a relative fortune (£250,000 when he defected to ITV, nearly £4 million today) and being known by everyone. Then it all disappeared, almost overnight. Where did it all go wrong? The general perception is that his huge ego got the better of him and made him too many powerful enemies, which is true to an extent. But there was more going on in Simon Dee’s broadcasting career than met the eye and even though he became a victim of his own success, it wasn’t always his fault and he became very much a casualty of the extremely limited media of the 60s and 70s.

Dee hosted one of the most popular programmes of the late 60s. BBC’s Dee Time‘s five series ran between 1967 and 1969 and broadcast 157 shows and subsequently on ITV with The Simon Dee Show in 1970. The format rarely changed, two or three guests to chat with Simon and a couple of musical guests to pad out the variety. At first it went out twice a week, on a Tuesday and Thursday, but as its popularity grew it reverted to just once a week on the greatly coveted Saturday tea-time slot, hence Saturday Dee Time! It was the first show of its type and at its peak attracted up to 18 million viewers, but, of course, there were only three channels then and, therefore, less competition. But that’s not to denigrate the influence and public profile of Dee Time. Anyone growing up in the late 60s would have watched Dee Time. The format may sound very conventional now but Dee Time featured pretty much anyone who was anyone during this groundbreaking period and aspects of the show, as well as Dee himself, demand some sort of analysis. For me, the highlight of Dee Time was not only the range of guests who dropped in ‘for a chat,’ and there was some very odd combinations of people indeed put before a Saturday tea-time audience, but also the who’s who of, often quite spectacular, 60s musical acts who regularly graced the studio.

Nicholas Henty-Dodd, aka Simon Dee, was born in Manchester in 1935 attending private school, obviously (who at the BBC in the 50s and 60s didn’t?) before doing his National Service then a series of dead end jobs before being recruited as a DJ for pirate Radio Caroline in 1964 courtesy of a friend who ran the station. He was eventually taken on by the pre-Radio One BBC in 1965 to present a programme called Midday Spin where he played new releases of ‘pop’ records. I’m always surprised, in a way, as to how so many 60s and 70s DJs just walked into these jobs without any apparent musical background or knowledge. Probably elderly producers just thought if someone was young, looked the part and could talk in a reasonably fluent manner they could do the job (See The Moronic World of 70s Radio One DJs below). But, to be fair to Dee, he was interested in music and this was reflected in the wide and varied styles of music he played on his show.

However, he fell foul of the management when he played Scott Walker’s brilliant version of Jacques Brel’s Jackie twice during one show, despite the song being bizarrely banned by the station. It may have been the references at various times to ‘opium dens,’ ‘ authentic queers’, and ‘phony virgins’ that worried the strait-laced Broadcasting House top brass, even although few people really listened to the lyrics. However, the great Scott Walker had already performed it all at peak viewing time on The Frankie Howerd Show on a less traditionally driven ITV at the same time. And it was this surreal juxtaposition of high art and downmarket variety, so redolent of the times, that made Dee Time such a strange experience. I have discussed at length the weirdness that was Sunday Night At The London Palladium (Tarbuck Memories: Sunday Night at the London Palladium below) and TV at the time was trying to cope with the biggest change to society since the Second World War, the explosion of 60s youth culture. TV was desperately attempting to keep its older, less demanding, viewers happy with more conventional fare while, at the same time, trying to attract the huge and growing teen viewership who wanted something very different. It was a precarious balancing act and Dee Time along with SNATLP tried to appeal to both markets often creating a curious vibe and decidedly odd viewing experience.

Strangely, Dee was spotted by BBC Light Entertainment executive Bill Cotton’s mother while he was advertising Smith’s Crisps on an ITV ad. Clearly Dee was well-known enough to be offered such a, presumably quite lucrative, gig. And after a perfunctory meeting with Cotton at the BBC, was propelled into the maelstrom that was the Sixties scene and his own TV chat show, despite having little or no experience of this medium. Luckily for him tea time chat shows were relatively new and no one really had anything else to compare him to.

The BBC desperately wanted Simon Dee to be the epitome of 60s glamour and despite some of Dee’s guests being resolutely of the entertainment old school, his opening and particularly his closing credits sequence were very definitely all about swinging London, even though the early shows were filmed in Manchester. The opening credits were nicked wholesale from The Johnny Carson Show with a disembodied voice (sports commentator Len Martin) bawling the names of tonight’s guests and finally announcing ‘Here’s your host, Siiiiiii-mon Dee!’

But the closing sequence was even better. After Dee had wished the viewing public goodnight the credits roll and we see him driving through a multi-storey car park in an open top white E-Type Jag. Waiting for him, and filmed from a low-angle to accentuate her model-like figure, is a dark- coated blonde in kinky boots, dressed a bit like The Girl From Uncle. She jumps into the car as it zooms off (and if you’re quick you’ll see her being rather unceremoniously knocked backwards by the power of the acceleration!). The camera follows the car round and round swinging ..erm… Manchester at high speed and from dizzying angles until the credits have rolled. And if that doesn’t yell ‘Sixties!’ I don’t know what will. Phew! The fact he was married with two children obviously wasn’t important, it was his image that really mattered.

Careful getting into that car, love….and who the hell is Graham Leask?

It’s safe to say Dee was no Michael Parkinson. Never seen as a particularly fearsome interviewer, his style was laid-back, chummy and unthreatening to the point of trivial, but well suited to the early evening viewership. And there seemed little thought put into who should appear on any show. Guests were rarely selected to compliment each other or create a theme. It was more a case of ‘Who’s hot and available?’ Of course, it wasn’t possible for every show to feature a ‘happening’ interviewee or musical act and certain shows featured some unlikely bedfellows. Unlike Parkinson where the final part of the show was for all the guests to get together for a discussion, the vast majority of guests on Dee Time were interviewed alone. As is the case with so many TV shows of the time, only one complete Dee Time has survived with a few odd sections of others. For once it wasn’t a case of all the shows being wiped to save money, but all shows were live and, for some reason, probably to save money, just weren’t recorded. When some of Dee’s guests are considered, however, this was an omission just as culturally reprehensible. Because of this there is some debate as to who appeared on which show and even as to who was just there for a chat and who was performing. If the shows themselves weren’t deemed worthy of preservation, it’s unlikely many production notes or schedules were kept. There are discrepancies, for example, between IMDB and Richard Wiseman’s fascinating account of Dee’s career, ‘Whatever Happened To Simon Dee?‘ In most cases I’ve relied on the latter but, either way, the list of guests Dee attracted was an A-Z of the sixties.

Whatever Happened to Simon Dee?: The Story of a Sixties Star: The Rise and  Fall of Television's Icarus: Wiseman, Richard: 9781845130503:  Books

Although a number of clips from shows still exist, though precious few, one of only two known episodes still in existence would appear to be from November 2 1968. How this episode survived is unknown. The opening routine shows Dee standing in a cloak looking superior. Clearly this was a ‘happening’ item of fashion featured in the tabloids that week which had garnered some ridicule. ‘We’re all wearing them,’ he haughtily declared. Then when an assistant came to take the cloak away Dee said ‘Can I have it off, please?’ Cue shrieks from the audience and Dee putting his fingernails in his mouth in shock at what he just said. Almost certainly scripted, this was the level of innuendo that made audiences guffaw guiltily in the 60s. Some things never change, I suppose.

His first guest is Graham Leask (Graham Leask, I hear you ask?), a young lad who exports snakes to Europe, according to Dee. Clearly a warm-up amuse-bouche before the main courses of Susannah York and Lionel Jeffries. A slightly awkward encounter ensues with Dee almost realising as he spoke that this was really pretty dull. It reminded me of the wonderful chat show spoof The Larry Sanders Show, when they were short of guests they’d bring in ‘The Sea-Shell Woman’ to eat up a bit of time by displaying the sea shells she’d collected while Larry struggled to feign interest. If Graham is still with us, and he’ll be around 65 now, he must be rather chuffed that his appearance on Dee Time is one of the few interviews that survived the 60s and 70s BBC cultural purge. What were the chances of that?

But Susannah York certainly brightened things up. Although clearly uncomfortable being interviewed, Dee chivvied her along getting her to talk about the films she had recently completed. Interestingly, one of them was The Killing of Sister George with the great Beryl Reid, who would be a guest on DT a few weeks later. During this exchange I couldn’t help but think ‘Will they mention it?’ And lo, they did before quickly moving on after an irate director presumably bawled into Dee’s earpiece (if he had one in those days). ‘It’s about lesbians‘ says Dee casually, ‘But we can’t can’t talk about that on this show.’ I wonder how many of the great viewing public knew what a lesbian was in 1967? And was that the first time the word ‘lesbian’ was used on tea-time telly? I was quite impressed that Dee even mentioned the word in a fairly matter-of-fact way without trying to make a joke about it. For the sixties this was extremely unusual. Gay people were mercilessly lampooned in comedy shows but lesbians were, to my knowledge, never referred to. It did demonstrate Dee’s devil-may-care attitude to celebrity interviews and the show was always likely to throw up little morsels of interest like this but sadly we’ll never know of any other similarly awkward moments, but there would certainly have been plenty, if only we could still see them.

Next up was well-known British character actor Lionel Jeffries who had just completed filming ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘ and he caused uproar and a certain amount of embarrassment when he revealed the clip they had just shown from the film did not feature him in a sentry box, as Dee had said, but as he described it, ‘a bog, a lav.’ Arguably, this was more controversial than mentioning lesbians. The audience collapsed in uncontrolled paroxysms of unbridled hilarity. They’d have been nudging each other conspiratorially in the audience giggling, ‘He said ‘bog!’ They may not have known what a lesbian was but they certainly knew what a ‘lav’ was. And it didn’t come much more risque than to make a reference to a toilet in the Great Britain of 1968.

It really was a smashing display of talent!

Some of the shows’ lineups were wonderfully weird in a very sixties unsophisticated way. From the great to the good to the definitely not so good to the pure rubbish. They all happily accepted an invitation to be lightly sautéed by Simon Dee. I always think about what it must have been like in The Green Room prior to broadcasting, and the show was, of course, recorded live so all guests would have been sipping Campari and munching on Ritz crackers. Some of the musical acts may even have been puffing on a ‘reefer’ while engaging in polite conversation with the likes of upper crust fossil the Duke of Bedford or Genxculture favourite Anita Harris.

The first ever episode on 4 April 1967 was a superb indicator as to what this show was all about and where it was going to go during the next two and half years. An uneasy combination of MOR, cutting edge rock and 60s anodyne run-of-the-mill chat.

Kiki Dee: Never a household name during her long and continuing career, in fact she wasn’t even going to have a top 20 hit record for another 6 years when she got to number 13 with Amoureuse. But she was a reliable musical guest with an ever-so-slight ‘alternative’ edge on many variety shows and not quite in the easy listening ubiquity league as Clodagh Rodgers, Vince Hill or Anita Harris. It’s unknown whether Kiki was a chatting to Simon or just singing but probably just singing.

Lance Percival: One of those guys who turned up everywhere during the 60s and early 70s. Everyone knew him but ask anyone ‘What did Lance Percival do?‘ and they would struggle to come up with anything more specific than he was some sort of comedian. In fact, when any show, (comedy, chat, sitcom, variety, satire, quiz) wanted someone vaguely amusing to appear he would be near the top of the list. For someone with limited talents he was never off the telly or the cinema screen for 20 years. He made his name performing topical calypsos on That Was The Week That Was (something he probably wouldn’t get away with today) and his career pretty much took off on an ever so slight upward trajectory after that. Tall, angular and gangly he looked a bit odd and this added to his comedy cache. To give a rough idea of the pies he had bony fingers in, he appeared in programmes and films as diverse as the Carry Ons (inevitable), the shockingly unfunny ‘Confessions’ films, two series of his own show, more interestingly voicing a character in Yellow Submarine, guest supporter on Quizball, celebrity guest on Bullseye, compere of a rubbish 60s celebrity panel game He Said, She Said and appearing on a raft of undemanding chat shows as a mildly witty guest. In fact, he appeared on Dee Time on four separate occasions.

Lance Percival looking like ..Lance Percival

Mike Newman: Who? I know, I had to look him up but he was an Irish comedian and he appeared on no less than six occasions, that is six occasions, on the first series alone of Dee Time in 1967. Clearly someone on the production team liked him and he was obviously available. But it must have been a punishing routine for the poor guy if he was performing his act on each of those shows and having to come up with a new routine every time.

Libby Morris: a Canadian comedian who didn’t seem to be doing much of particular note professionally at the time of this appearance in April 1967. That said, she was a well known and reliable face, like Lance Percival, of the time. To her credit she had appeared a number of times on both The Johnny Carson Show and The Merv Griffin Show in the US. The most interesting parts of her CV , for me at least, were having voiced some characters between 1963-68 on Gerry Anderson’s early puppet series Space Patrol and appearing as the mother in Alexander The Greatest with the wonderful Adrienne Posta in 1971 (See Adrienne Posta: The ’70s ‘It’ Girl below). But she did the rounds of The Golden Shot (See Like A Bolt From The Blue..The Golden Shot, David Nixon’s Magic Box, The Good Old Days, Call My Bluff, Celebrity Squares and Blankety Blank over a thirty year period. Respect! She appeared on DT once more during the three year run.

And this is where it gets really interesting……

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: With musical guests like this Dee Time was certainly hammering its alternative credentials into the ground here. After the blandness of the opening chat line-up this was a programme desperately trying to cement its ‘happening’ musical sixties credentials. This was Hendrix’s first early evening appearance on British TV and he would make a return to Dee Time the following year. He would go on to appear on It Must Be Dusty also the following year and famously on Happening For Lulu in 1969, where the band balked at having to do a duet with Lulu and stopped their performance of Hey Joe half way through to launch into a tribute to the recently disbanded Cream, Sunshine Of Your Love. This led to them being, allegedly, banned from the BBC for life. Unusually for the Beeb, this footage still exists.

Jimi Hendrix Experience - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cat Stevens: It’s unknown as to what Cat Stevens actually sang on this first edition, most probably ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun‘ which was riding high in the hit parade at the time, but his appearance alone, along with Hendrix, inspired radio sociologist Laurie Taylor to suggest this programme was the, ‘…forty minutes that could arguably be thought of as the moment the Sixties finally arrived onto …British television.’ Stevens would appear twice more on Dee Time and would also appear on Dee’s short-lived vehicle on ITV in 1970

Other weird lineups included….

11 May 1967: with the great Beryl Reid (wonder if he mentioned lesbians again?) and musical guests The Move, then seen as the wild men of rock, jazzy/ bluesy group The Peddlars (who would appear a number of times on DT) and, bizarrely, Donald Peers. This juxtaposition of The Move and Peers made shows such as this so fascinating. The now virtually forgotten Donald ‘The Laughing Cavalier Of Song’ Peers was a 50s crooner of some note whose signature tune was ‘By A Shady Nook By A Babbling Brook.’ Clearly this was the producers of DT throwing the older generation a few crumbs to try and maintain their interest. It was a ploy that continued throughout DT’s run but it was flogging a very dead horse as DT was all about the Sixties and everyone knew it. That said, Donald Peers appeared quite a few times over the next few years. One could just imagine oldies watching at home pointing to the black and white grainy screen and saying, ‘Now that’s a proper singer!

20 June 1967: This was an edition I actually remember. Or at least some of it. Heading the bill was 60s musical sensation Lionel Bart. Well known for his West End Theatre smashes Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be and Oliver!, Bart performed one of his own songs on DT. What I remember vividly, and this was very Sixties, he sat on the darkened set singing and each time he completed a verse he’s take a long drag on the cigarette he was holding and slowly exhale the smoke in time to the music. This disgusted my non-smoking parents who commented on how revolting this looked. I can’t remember whether Bart indulged in some unthreatening banter with Dee, but also on the bill was Warren Mitchell, riding high with ‘Till Death Us Do Part which had begun its long run the previous year, safe pair of chat show hands LeslieDing Dong’ Phillips and second musical act, up-and-coming American crooner Neil Diamond, who was yet to have a UK top twenty hit. Making up the numbers was rock- a- boogie duo with the rubbish name, The Young Idea, who were in the charts with a version of The Beatles‘ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends. They wouldn’t bother the charts again.

2 March 1968: This edition is also worth noting due to the wide and completely random nature of the guest line-up! This was a fusion of the new, the old, the curious, the sophisticated and the downright bizarre. In a way, a perfect Dee Time storm. The old was represented by former radio quiz inquisitor, occasional actor, including the role of the dad in the original film version of Billy Liar, and soon-to-be sitcom star in ‘For The Love Of Ada’ Wilfred Pickles. For a slightly younger but still fairly mature audience we had Frankie Vaughan. His best days were a long way behind him but he appealed to the parents of 60s pop kids. And talking of pop kids another musical act featured in this edition was perennial popsters Dave Dee (no relation), Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch performing their current chart hit and their only Number One, The Legend Of Xanadu. A left field choice next was Esther and Abi Ofarim with their gibberish hit, also a Number One, Cinderella Rockafella. They divorced soon after and Esther Ofarim was, surprisingly, given her own BBC 2 variety show special, Meet Esther Ofarim. It would a fleeting liaison. And finally, now-disgraced Liberal MP, stalwart of Radio 4’s Just A Minute and TV chef Clement Freud who was always a lugubrious but witty chat show guest. Phew! Poor old Si must have been knackered after all that.

And talking of allegedly disgraced former Liberal MPs, Jeremy Thorpe appeared on the 10 February 1969 and the interview was reviewed very favourably by the ‘clever-clogs’ newspapers (as Alan Partridge might describe them) due to Dee’s questioning on Parliamentary reform and televising the Commons. But, truth be told, this wasn’t what the punters tuned in to see of a Saturday evening. And having politicians as guests was a rarity. Towards the end of his BBC tenure in 1968, however, Dee Time hosted a number of members of the aristocracy on a couple of his shows. Why this was has been lost in the mists of time but one can imagine Dee wanting to show that they were ‘just like you and me‘ and doing a bit of brown-nosing while he was at it. And talking of the mighty Partridge, it reminded me of an episode of his radio chat show ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You‘ in 1992 when one of his guests was the Duchess of Stranraer and he spent the entire interview trying to wangle a weekend invite to her country pile.

Often the chatting guests may have been on the bland side and some completely forgotten (Susannah Young? Ross Hannman? Arthur Murphy?) but many of the musical guests were, not to put too fine a point on it, mind-blowing! Anyone who was anyone from ‘the pop scene’ appeared on Dee Time and one does wonder what a 60s older tea-time audience would have made of some of the more wonderfully psychedelic acts such Traffic, The Turtles, The Move, Procul Harum, The Kinks, The Herd (with a young Peter Frampton), The Troggs or even Cat Stevens! DT did, of course, feature many slightly more house- trained performers such as The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, The Bee Gees and that most British of bands, The Tremeloes (4 times!). Solo acts, more in keeping with the older part of the audience’s taste, included Genxculture favourites Clodagh Rodgers and Anita Harris, the wonderful Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw not to mention the amazing Nina Simone. Blander fare included the singer with the most un- ‘with-it’ of names, the virtually forgotten Malcolm Roberts, Julie Rodgers (who made a career out of one hit), the inevitable Vince Hill (who made a career out of no hits), Cilla Black popped in a couple of times to screech her latest single as well as Jackie ‘Mrs Tony Hatch’ Trent and Lena Martell (who I once met and she was lovely). And let’s not forget those twin colossi of 60s pop, Pinky and Perky (as they said at the time, ‘£100 a week and they live like pigs!‘). Suffice to say, Dee Time was a treasure trove of the musical great and the good (and the not so good), which makes it even more galling to think the vast majority of these performances have been lost forever.

Some rare grainy footage of the wonderful Kinks performing on Dee Time

For every legendary act that appeared on DT there were almost as many who disappeared without trace. Simon Dee was a great believer in featuring acts who he thought deserved some exposure, which showed he maybe wasn’t the pop expert that Radio Two DJ Steve Wright is (OK, that’s a joke). For example, The Warm Sound, The Frugal Sound, The Dollies, The Gentle Power Of Song, The Tinkers, The Bats and The Nocturnes maybe didn’t make the splash they hoped to make after an appearance on Dee Time. Each one of those now utterly forgotten acts probably deserve some sort of analysis as they will all have their own story to tell, and I have no doubt a few will be of interest, but, sadly, that’s for another time on Genxculture. There is still too much to explore in the fascinating Simon Dee story…..

For one thing, it’s a little known fact that the warm-up act for much of Dee Time’s BBC run ws a certain Larry Grayson who reportedly went down a storm with the audience. Now, during the 70s and 80s I have to admit I was never a fan of Grayson. I didn’t think he could hold a candle to Bruce Forsyth as compere of The Generation Game. However. Having watched his act on a mid-70s edition of that surreal variety masterpiece Sunday Night At The London Palladium ( See Tarbuck Memories: Sunday Night at the London Palladium) brought to us by those wonderful people at Talking Pictures TV, I’ve really changed my opinion of him. He was really quite superb. His timing was second to none and I very much stand corrected on that one. Everard will be pleased….. But back to Simon Dee.

His fame and ubiquity wasn’t limited to the small screen, either. At the height of his fame he appeared in the classic 60s film The Italian Job at the behest of one of his showbiz pals, Michael Caine. In Dee’s own very 60s words, ‘I played a poofy Savile Row tailor and I was so good that the poofs started chasing me.’ He also claimed to have been propositioned by Brian Epstein when invited round to his Belgravia house to discuss a project that never happened. Was there anything Simon Dee didn’t do in the 60s? If you believe him the answer is no.

Mr Fish: Making a Splash in The Italian Job | Mason & Sons UK/EU

Dee was receiving £250 a show when he was broadcasting twice a week from Manchester up until September 16 1967. This equated to nearly £4000 a show today. As he was appearing twice weekly that was nearly £8000 a week which was pretty decent in anyone’s language. Due to the popularity of the show it was eventually given the hugely prestigious Saturday tea-time slot and despite this massive promotion, the BBC continued to pay him £250 a show, so the number of shows a run was halved and so was his salary. One can see Dee’s point that he was effectively being given a pay cut. And this is where his problems really began. Fallouts with his producer and Head of Light Entertainment at the BBC, Bill Cotton, led to Dee being accused of having a huge destructive ego and unreasonable wage demands. So much so at one point, when Dee became extremely unhappy about losing his opening Johnny Carson-esque monologue due to the producers believing it wasn’t working, he went AWOL and this worried his producers so much that they had Tony Blackburn standing-by to do that night’s Dee Time incase of a no-show by Dee. He did show up in time to do the show but with his lawyers, who Cotton had to deal with. Cotton won out in the end, not surprisingly, but it was the beginning of the end for Dee at the BBC.

The question of his salary, of course, came up again shortly after and many people who worked with him reportedly began to complain of his ego growing and getting in the way, although just as many seem to disagree with this notion. Again, the popularity of Dee Time and his perceived importance to the show inevitably led to him becoming a little to full of his own importance but this tends to happen any most personality driven TV vehicles and I wouldn’t really blame him for this. But in swinging London he was everywhere, at every premiere, fashion show, up market night club, driving around in his Bond Aston Martin DB5 bought from Bond villain Robert Shaw and he was even dating Bond girl Joanne Lumley, amongst others! It’s undocumented what his wife thought about this. According to Dee he even was considered for the part of Bond himself after Sean Connery jumped ship. Although unsuccessful in his audition, Dee’s contention that it was because he was thought to be ‘too tall’ for the part seems a little unlikely given Connery was six feet two.

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Something had to give. And, of course , it did, the story of his demise almost writing itself.

The BBC top brass became thoroughly pissed off with Simon Dee and his final request for a pay rise fell on, not only deaf ears, but a growing desire to cut him loose. They began the disengagement process by moving his show to a Monday evening and rubbing salt into the wound by replacing Dee Time with Happening for Lulu, a lot like Dee Time but with Lulu, and the writing was well and truly on the wall for him. His demise at the BBC was the worst kept secret on Fleet Street and when ITV came calling, waving a bulging cheque book, they were only too happy to let him go and Simon couldn’t believe his luck when they offered him an eye-watering £1,000 a show and a two year contract. Too good to be true? You know where this is going….

ITV also happened to have David Frost in its ranks, a more serious, tougher interviewer and he was reportedly unhappy that the network had brought in another chat show personality, albeit a more lightweight one. Bizarrely, they scheduled Dee’s new show straight after Frost’s show late on a Sunday night at a time when most of the viewing public went to bed earlier. Dee was convinced Frost was trying to sabotage his show and there may have been something in that. Mind you, Dee was also convinced he was being monitored by MI5 and CIA and there may have been something in that also. His new show was a ratings flop and the straw that broke the camel’s back was an interview with the new Bond (funny how Bond keeps cropping up in the Dee story) George Lazenby who was high as kite and expounded his weird theories as well as naming names on the assassination of JFK, which was only eight years previously. dee was dragged over the coals at ITV for allowing Lazenby to waffle on about such rubbish and this was the beginning of the end for the show. It’s believed also on the show that night was John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Quite a coup even in those days although John Lennon‘s stock had fallen hugely with the break-up of The Beatles and his taking up with Yoko. She was blamed for the break-up of The Beatles and, therefore, the media and much of the Great British Public hated Yoko with a vengeance. She was vilified in a way that was not only racist but also misogynist, a situation that still exists, but to a slightly lesser extent, today. Due to the Lazenby interview, however, their participation is virtually forgotten and, of course, no known record of the show still exists.

The Beatles On TV - The Simon Dee Show - ITV - UK (1970)

Another sign that Dee’s reputation wasn’t quite what it was involved, weirdly, the England 1970 World Cup Squad. They had been booked to appear on the Sunday night show to debut their shouty new single, Back Home, even before it had been featured on Top Of The Pops. This would have been a huge triumph for Dee not to say a massive and badly needed ratings boost. But boring old Alf Ramsey vetoed the appearance at the last minute as it would mean keeping the boys up too late. Despite the show being recorded at tea time on the same Sunday as the broadcast went out. It’s unlikely this would have happened if Dee had still been on the BBC.

To be fair, the guest list for this run of the show was less than impressive. Although details are sketchy and few documents relating to the show have been kept, as well as the disastrous Lazenby interview, American comedienne Carol Channing, reportedly a very difficult interviewee, cheery cockney songster Joe Brown, stalwart British character actor Patrick Cargill, and Dee favourite Robert Morley all appeared but hardly set the pulses racing. Other guests of some note included Ned Sherrin, Samuel Becket muse Billie Whitelaw, Laurence Harvey (who’s girlfriend Dee allegedly had a dalliance with, although whether Harvey was bothered is unknown), Terry Thomas and 70s TV sex-bomb Peter Wyngarde. One of the few shows show of any real interest involved the always good value Vincent Price, who apparently poached a piece of haddock in a dishwasher on the show, and, oddly, paranormal author and extreme Right-winger Dennis Wheatley, which may have been worth staying up for but few did. And, to be honest, it was thin gruel. The show did go out with a bang though. Reports vary as to who appeared on the very last Simon Dee Show but some believe that on 21st June 1970 the recently sadly departed Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Bruce Forsyth and Harry Secombe (can’t win them all!) made up the very last edition. Other reports believe it was the Archbishop of Canterbury doing a solo gig which wasn’t so good, but we’ll probably never know as no recordings of those shows seemingly exist.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for Dee inadvertently involved, bizarrely, unthreatening MOR crooner Matt Monro. Dee had wanted him to provide the musical entertainment in one of his shows but the producers didn’t, for some reason. Dee took a strop similar to the one he took at the BBC and went AWOL again. The producers had reliable 50s DJ Pete Murray on standby in the same way the BBC had Tony Blackburn waiting in the wings the previous year. Dee did turn up in time to do the show but the big-wigs at ITV had had enough and cancelled the show. Although their story was that The Simon Dee Show was never cancelled, Dee’s contract was just never renewed. A bit like the way The Monkees ended. They didn’t split up, they just didn’t have their contracts renewed.

And that was pretty much that for Simon Dee. It has to be remembered that with only three channels and two networks there was nowhere for him to go having burned his boats at both the BBC and ITV. Today he’d have ended up on Channel 5 or Channel 4 or even the darker regions of cable TV such as Dave but in a strange sort of way it was this severely limited media structure that made him so big but also destined him to obscurity. His life sped out of control and went downhill very quickly and included a couple of short jail terms for petty offences which the tabloids made the most of.

In fact, Channel 4 brought him back for a one-off Dee Time in 2003 and one critic wrote that Dee reminded him of

Alan Partridge- a toxic mix of naff, bitterness, strange vulnerability and pompous self-regard.

The talentless Elizabeth Hurley, whose acting career took a similar trajectory to Dee’s when it was discovered she couldn’t act, said he was the personality Austin Powers was based on. I’m not so sure though, and anyway, how would she know?.

Was it his massive ego that resulted in such a humiliating fall? No, it really wasn’t. He was just a victim of his times. Maybe a touch of humility would have made a difference but humility didn’t really go with the territory.

His life went from 60s superhero to ultimate zero but, you have to say, it was quite a ride.