Thursday, 29 November 2012

Proof Read all about it – When the local press goes wrong... My tale of when the local press goes wrong

n the past couple of months apart this blog I have also been writing for my local daily newspaper, the Portsmouth News in their weekend television pull-out, sharing a TV Nostalgia column with a another writer looking at programmes past. Now I have been enjoying doing this and do it just for the love of writing, maybe naïve you might say to do something like that. But something occurred within the past week which has maybe made me think again about this.

Last Saturday, an article was posted of my work on the subject of Van Der Valk. Now for the past couple of weeks they have been using another writer Nick Collins who also works for the paper and printed his articles in the slot for the past few Saturdays. So I was relieved to finally see my work in the paper. But was shocked to read that Mr Collins had been created with my work, my intellectual copyright given to him over what I had written. So naturally, you can understand I was not happy with this. That is why I have taken to my blog to explain what has gone on.

On Monday, I contacted the editor about this matter to complain in a polite way that I should be owed an apology for this. With getting this reply, he said that the byline of the column was not changed as it was a template and “that an apology would be issued underneath this week's column in the pull-out this Saturday.” and that it doesn't make it less disappointing and he copied his features editor into the email so he could see the reply. OK, I thought. But I didn't think this go far enough at all, I suggested that an apology could go in the weekend pull out but also an apology maybe in the editor’s column in the main paper as well.

Then on Tuesday, I received an email from the man temporally in charge of the TV pages as his colleague is on leave. He said “It was my fault. I can only apologise. No excuses. I am standing in for the person who normally does the page and the page itself was templated with Nick's byline and I didn't change it.” he continued “I'm doing this week's TV pages too and running your column on This Is Your Life. I'm putting a correction on the bottom about the error last week and of course, changing the byline.”

Again I emailed the editor about this asking once again for an apology in the weekend pull out, but also in the main paper as well. This being a satisfactory conclusion as far as I was concerned to this matter. This is still an ongoing situation, I am still awaiting their reply to this... If I need to I will come back to the subject to update you what is happening, but it maybe a case of the little guy against the might of the local press. But no matter what, I shall not give up until I get the right conclusion.

In this of all week with the Leveson report coming out and with such serious issues with the press, it begs question about thing being checked before they go to print. This itself went to print in the paper itself, but in such serious times things like that can spiral out of control leading to confusion totally. I am not saying that the press should be heavy regulated or left free, that is your mind to make up. But if the smallest thing can be allowed to get through the net without checking, then something could snowball into a situation. We rely on the press to bring us the stories especially which are local to us which may not get a look in to the national press, it may seem to others that it is just full of council meetings and non-news. They do serve a purpose, with them informing communities of what is going on. Their focus is on maximising their local coverage, by organising campaigns. Though where does crusading stop and influence starts?

In some ways these campaigns are good, allow the people to have their say but when the paper wants to put an agenda on a people it can seem difficult for some people. Local papers have been a start for some of our best journalists, but like anything there's the good and the bad. The good writers rise and the bad ones fall, the careful line which is tread by them is something which the national press has fallen off by a few bad apples. Though, do we know the local press is still balanced on that line or are they are close to falling off themselves.

Leveson may have an effect on the national press, but with anything, the repercussions will surely felt in the local press too. From what has happened, we have seen the News of the World closed down because of what has happened and generally local newspapers are struggling to keep afloat as the smaller ones either go weekly or drop by the wayside. Its interesting to see what direction it all goes in, but once thing will be sure that the local press maybe never be the same again.

I have put this out there to highlight my case of what has happened, it is up to you to decide what you think about The Leveson Report's finding. This maybe a tiny part of what happens when you are a writer, but certainly I think it is a key part.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

David Croft – The Man who made Britain laugh...

At one put and another, it is fair to say that most people have come across a certain type of person in their lives, whether that be during their own leisure time, the workplace or just generally. Whoever they are, the first thought anyone has is “Aren't they a right little...” usually accompanied with a sitcom character. Its the power and effect of one man who reigned supreme over the world of situation comedy for so long, that no matter most people in Britain no matter how old they are have seen one of his pieces of work, that man being David Croft.

Born David John Andrew Sharland in Sandbanks, Dorset on the 7th of September, 1922. He was born into a family steeped in show business, his mother Anne Croft was an established stage actress and his father Reginald Sharland, already famous for having a career as one of Hollywood's early radio actors. But his Croft's actual career started when seven appearing in a cinema commercial of the late 1920's. Though by the end of the next decade, the aspiring young actor appeared in an uncredited role in the 1939 film version of Goodbye, Mr Chips as Perkins.

His own school days were spent at St John's Wood Preparatory School and later at Rugby School in Warwickshire, but come 1942 and with the second World War happening, he enlisted in the Royal Artillery, serving in the North African campaign and also in India and Singapore. It was during his time in North Africa that Croft contracted rheumatic fever and was sent home to convalesce back in Britain. Afterwards he undertook officer training at Sandhurst Military Academy, before being posted to India just as the war in Europe was just ending itself. Assigned to the Essex Regiment, he rose the rank eventually becoming a Major during his time in the Army.

When his military service ended, Croft went back to his first love of entertainment becoming first an actor and singer, thought this was to lead to his career in writing as well. His start came though himself meeting, Freddie Carpenter who at that time produced many pantomimes for Howard and Wyndham across Britain at that time. From this, it resulted with Croft writing scripts for their pantos. But in his friendship with lifelong friend, the composer and conductor Cyril Ornadel, he met theatre producer Fiona Bentley who had just purchased the right to some of Beatrix Potter's stories and was looking to adapt and musicalise them. The task was given to himself to write the scripts and lyrics for a series of these stories to be released on records to be narrated by the Hollywood actress Vivien Leigh and starring with Croft, actors and actresses of the calibre of Graham Stark and Cicely Courtneidge.

Afterwards his career took a move into television when he joined the fledgling Tyne Tees Television to direct shows for them including early madman Ned's Shed and Mary Goes to Market, but his heart lie in entertainment and he was charged with producing the variety show The One O’clock Show, inviting the best of local talent to appear to perform their act in front of the cameras and also inviting the best of the entertainment industry to come up to to Newcastle to appear as well. But it was during his time at Tyne Tees where he produced his first ever sitcom Under New Management, it was the story about a derelict pub in the North of England. This being the earliest recorded example of Croft producing a sitcom for television. Come the mid-sixties, he moved to the BBC and using his experience of producing Under New Management, shows like Beggar My Neighbour, Further Up Pompeii plus Hugh and I were given to him to produce. But this put him into the BBC Light Entertainment department with Bill Cotton Jnr, who he was to have a fruitful working relationship for most of his writing and producing career.

At that time whilst producing Hugh and I, he met Jimmy Perry. Perry himself was tired of having just small parts in sitcoms, so he decided to write a pilot for a series initially called The Fighting Tigers about the British Home Guard. When Croft saw the script, he consulted with his agent wife Ann and said to her “I've got a script from Jimmy Perry here and I think its got something about it..” and she agreed as well. From that Croft said he liked it to Perry and that they should write it together, thus Dad's Army was born. First broadcast in 1968, the initial title sequence was to have film footage of the war over Bud Flannigan's tune of 'Who do you think you're kidding Mr Hitler?'. But when Bill Cotton Jnr. saw it, he thought it was a bit too much and so the footage was dropped for the now familiar map and arrows title sequence. The craft that both of them put into the series, made the show much bigger then the war itself. The antics of the Warmington-On-Sea Home Guard kept viewers amused and made bigger stars out of Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring, John Le Measuieras Sergeant Wilson , Clive Dunn, Arnold Ridley, John Laurie, James Beck, Ian Lavender. All of them not top line stars until Dad's Army changed their lives forever.

But it was a mark of Croft that he used jobbing actors in other parts in other of his shows and then when it came around casting for his next project, they would get a leading role for example Wendy Richard appeared in Dad's Army, which lead her to getting the part of Ms Brahms in Are You Being Served and one customer making a brief and fleeting appearance during the episode The Apartment in the 1979 series of the show was later to become Spike Hollins in Hi-de-Hi, Jeffrey Holland of course. But his memory of actors and actresses in other shows was legendary and allowing them to come into the spotlight to play major parts. As Jeffrey Holland and Paul Shane said in a BBC 2011 tribute to the man “He ruled with a rod of iron, but with a smile on his face..” “Like a smiling viper..”

Whist Croft was still producing Dad's Army, he joined forced with Jeremy Lloyd, another actor was jobbing and looking for something different. So himself and Croft wrote a one off sitcom for the Comedy Playhouse season called Are You Being Served, with the show itself being shelved until tragedy intervened. With the Munich Olympics cancelled postponed because of the Israeli hostage crisis, the BBC had time to fill and the decision was taken to play Are You Being Served to both fill time where the Olympics would have been and also as a moral booster after such tragic events. With a captive audience, the filler programme garnered viewers who enjoyed the light relief of Grace Bros. over the heavy new coming out of Munich.

Time again Croft had the magic touch over sitcoms, co-creating It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi, You Rang M'Lord, 'Allo 'Allo and Oh, Doctor Beeching. But his knowledge of comedy was second to none as every time he picked the right person for the role in sitcoms, he managed to bring Gordon Kaye and Vicki Michelle from Come Back Mrs Noah starring Molly Sugden and Ian Lavender into 'Allo 'Allo. The second of the wartime sitcoms, but this time from the other side of the channel seeing what life was life was like in occupied France at that time. Just like Dad's Army it proved that there was no difference between either of the channel and the antics were just as silly, but the writing was still magnificent as Melvyn Hayes recalled “He'd laugh on all the run throughs, right upto the day of transmission..” Proving the jokes were good but when it came to make them right, Croft was always serious about that.

The way that David Croft rode the nostalgic angle is an interesting one, at the end of the 1970's there was a big 1950's revival and by the time the early 80's had come around Perry and Croft had the right sitcom written and made look at life in a 1950's holiday camp.
In Hi-de-Hi, Perry's experiences as a redcoat at Butlin's provided material for the show, but like all the rest of the sitcoms co-written and produced by Croft, there was always a piece of one of the writers experiences in there such as the experience of working in a department store or the experiences of the British Army abroad. With a common theme of class structure, not always would the top man be a person who was privileged, Mainwaring being the Captain and Wilson being the Sergeant, reversing roles allowing the class structure to be played out, not in a socio-political way but with the day to day working of people from different classes and seeing how they would interact with each other. But this was pretty much like Croft himself, a shy man who would observe other people and how they went about their business, mentally noting down anything which could used in the writing.

Even in 2007, Croft had created a pilot for Wendy Richard and Les Dennis called Here Comes The Queen. Proving that Croft still had an eye for a good sitcom even in his later years, but he was a man always looking to revisit ideas or make new ones. His style of scripting was unique, writing head to head with his co-creators to allow them to bounce ideas off each other, but also recording the scripts onto dictaphones to allow him to here the right intonations of the words being put to paper. Very much in the style of a self rehearsal, this method came from his time as an actor rehearsing with other actors their lines. For all his work came the honours which were richly deserved such as winning the Writer's Guild award for Best Comedy Script three years running between 1969 and 1971 for Dad's Army, earning a lifetime achievement award at the 2003 British Comedy Awards with young bit part actor who had appeared in some of his shows turned host of the awards Jonathan Ross was there to see him pick up the award.

The legacy of David Croft lives on through the repeats of his shows, the DVD's and also other projects as well. Everyone can at least claim they have seen a bit of his work if they liked it or not, but truly David Croft will be remembered in Television. Light Entertainment and Comedy circles as the man who made Britain laugh...


Friday, 16 November 2012

Chuck Barris - Truth, Stranger than Fiction and Fiction, Stranger than Truth

The name Chuck Barris may not mean much to people in Britain and who he actually is, but for nearly a decade in American television, he was the man who could do no wrong at all. Presenter, creator, executive, songwriter, these are some of things that Barris has been throughout his career. He has also claimed to be a hitman for the CIA as well, his story maybe seemingly as varied as one person can have, though is it true?

His self-described “unauthorised autobiography” 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' charted his career inside and outside the media and beyond that, first published in 1984 first put out the claim that he had worked for the CIA as a hitman during the Cold War. Though the CIA refuted claims that Barris had ever worked for them, but this adds to the myth of a man whose life seems to perpetrate its own story. His book was turned into a film in 2002 with George Clooney directing and Sam Rockwell playing the part of Barris. Though he did realise a sequel in 2004 called 'Bad Grass Never Dies', charting more of his 'true' life both with the CIA and also within the entertainment industry. But away from that he wrote a memoir of his only child, his daughter Della in 2010 and her personal struggle with drug addiction.

Though the people who know or have known Barris describe him as a shy man, with a darker side to him, but the criticism of his shows by the press, critics and the moral majority may have added to this, in his own words “I wanted to get out of the kitchen because of the heat when all this criticism happened, but in truth I should have stayed.” It seemed that he wanted to push the boundaries of what television could do and to almost play on what was happening in society as such for entertainment. Maybe the finger on the pulse, not so much reality television, but to bring everyday reality to entertaiinment.

Barris himself, born Charles 'Chuck' Hirsch Barris on June the 3rd 1929 in Philadelphia, USA. Attending Drexel University as a student and becoming a columnist on the university's own newspaper showed an aptitude for working in the media and also being able to spin a good yarn as well. Though his start in television came when he became a page and a staffer later on in his at NBC in New York. He worked his way up until he got a job at ABC as a standards and practices person on American Bandstand, who filmed the show in Philadelphia. His uncle Harry Barris was a singer/songwriter and sometimes actor, so it is quite possible that this may have influenced him to go into the music industry.

With surrounding himself with people already with in the music industry, it was only matter of time that he was to start to produce pop music both on records and more importantly on television. It was through these links that Barris wrote the song 'Palisades Park' for Freddy Cannon even though he could not read music himself. The success of the record shot it upto to number three in the American Billboard charts and becoming Cannon's biggest hit in Cannon's career. Though the royalties for the single were to prove important to Chuck, as they could be spent on a room at the Bel-Air hotel in New York, allowing him to stay there whilst pitching a programme to the ABC network. It seemed almost natural to Barris, that this would be the way to do it, by making money from something else to be able to do another thing which could lead on something or as he tells the tale.

The truth is pretty as unspectacular. Barris had been promoted throughout the network, moving to Los Angeles to the daytime programming, specifically being put in charge of what gameshows ABC would broadcast during the day. But when Chuck suggested to his bosses that most of the pitches for new possible shows were worse then his own ideas, the suggestion came up he changed from being a programme planner to a producer instead. So he did and came up with a new format and pitched to the executives 'The Dating Game' for their daytime schedules, but everything was different about what had gone on with gameshows before. The 'flower-power' set itself and the sexy banter between contestants, set the programme out from anything else on other networks let alone ABC, though it was a sign that Barris had observed what was going on around him with the flower-power revolution and wanting to get that into a show that was like nothing else. Such was the popularity of the show during the daytime that a prime-time version was produced an year on year the programme returned for seventeen years. If it was not for 'The Dating Game' though that Australia would not have made their version of it in 'Perfect Match' which would give LWT the idea to produce a British version taking the best bits from The Dating Game and Perfect Match to form Blind Date.

Riding on this success, Chuck was asked to took an idea of young newly-weds answering for electrical goods they might need for their new martial homes and started producing 'The Newlywed Game'. Though he only cajoled the couples along with their candour and allowed Bob Eubanks to pull as much detail out of the contestants as was possible without crossing the line. The combination worked once again leading to the programme having a nineteen year run on network television.

A Very Christmassy Newlywed Game...

Though Barris also produced several other gameshow formats for ABC based on the interest of the contestants, such as their humour, excitement, anger, embarrassment or vulnerability. Almost capturing the right mood for the show, by pulling out of the contestants what they thought wasn't possible, their inner feelings whilst being swept along by the action. But gameshows may have been what he was most famous for, he also tried producing other formats in light entertainment such as 'Operation Entertainment' which was a modern version of the old USO shows staged at military bases and The Bobby Vinton Show for the Canadian based singer Bobby Vinton, which outside gameshows became his most popular show.

But the one show he will be remember for is 'The Gong Show', a different type of variety/talent show thought its beginnings were a lot different to what the show would eventually become. The format developed by Chuck was a strange one, Barris himself had pitched it to the NBC executives as a parody show, where they saw it as a straight talent show and thought of it as such giving it to John Barbour, an actor/comedian who had previously played a part of a game show host in Sanford and Son. Barbour was given the pilot to present, but he could not get the concept that the show was trying to be a parody of this type of show. So eventually, when the network heads decided they liked the show and the one only one to understand it was Chuck Barris, they gave him the opportunity to present it and over time he developed his style playing on his personality of being almost shy to being on the screen. A couple of attributes to this was wearing oversized hats so that he was a bit hidden by them, the nervous clapping inbetween sentences and also being bumbling and jokey. With the parody angle, this always was meant to be like that, the antithesis of much more smoother and slicker hosts on other shows.

The atmosphere was meant to be eccentric, right down the interaction between himself and the judges, with a irreverent style between them both joking and playing off each other for laughs, introducing characters in to the show to give a more variety feel with them coming on at various times to do their acts such as 'Gene Gene The Dancing Machine' actually an NBC stagehand who would turn up when 'Jumpin at the Woodside' was ever played and start to dance, the unknown comic would tell really bad jokes and sometimes as Barris' expense. Opportunity Knocks, this was not.

His strange, surreal side would often come out wanting to see how far he could push the show before the executives had enough of him and the show as well. On one show in particular show, he got all the acts to sing 'Feelings' not matter if singing was their main talent or not. Another one featured two young women suggestively and slowly sucking ice pops to all intensive purposes looked like they were performing fellatio to them, though Chuck suggested that it was only in the viewers minds that they saw it like that. Though when judge Jaye P. Morgan exposed her breasts on camera just as a performer was doing in her act, NBC fired her from their version of the show but she was kept on the syndicated version though as Chuck though that it wasn't such a major thing really.

Come 1980 with the success of the show, Barris was give the chance to star in a movie version of the show with all the characters interlinked by a storyline which itself was a very common type of movie in the late 1970's and early 80's. But the film itself flopped at the box office, all the popular elements of the show were in there, the audiences didn't get it quite as much as the TV show as the 'zaniness' as Chuck put it wasn't not so much in evidence.

The height of 80's elegance...

Though with new shows being added to the rosta, such as the $1.98 Beauty Show where it was a parody of beauty contests where the judges deliberated over three rounds on personality, abilities and the final round being a swimwear contest with the eventual winner receiving $1.98, rotten vegetables as a bouquet and a cheap plastic crown as well. The whole idea came from Barris noticing that the least attractive contestant always won beauty contests with the whole contest being a 'fake' and already decided before filming, but was covered by the opening announcement to say it was fake and also with a note in the end credits to say the same staving off any controversy right from the start. But the end of the run came to pass with 'Three's A Crowd', a game show which involved husbands, wives and their secretaries to see who knew most about each other, from protests groups from both end of the spectrum declared that the show was promoting adultery, a much bigger blow was to come when the syndicated version of The Newlywed Game lost two of its biggest sponsors in Ford and Proctor and Gamble. Even worse was when the wife of Gene Autry, the owner of the studios and production base felt the content of the production was too much and too racy, so they had misgivings about keeping the show and production at the base. Though the syndication of the programme ended before that threat could ever come to pass.

By 1984, Barris was living in France and had set up his own distribution company though he could come back to produce a new version of The Newlywed Game between 1985 and 1989 for syndication and he sold his shares in Barris Industries to Burt Sugarman in 1987, eventually leading to being sold again in 1989 to Sony Pictures Distribution owning all of Barris' formats. With this new version of both The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game were revived between 1996 and 1999 being syndicated as well, though during the 90's new pilots for new shows were tried out such as Comedy Courthouse and Dollar A Second and revivals of the Gong Show.

So its certain that some of these things happened, others not so. But the mystery of the person still lingers on, perhaps he was ahead of his time with the programmes he created and produced. In a time of reality television with it having gone to a more open and creative angle now, maybe his ideas could fit in or perhaps they were of a world of their own. Though what ever was happening on Planet Barris, the truth maybe stranger then fiction but its fiction is a good as the truth..

Sunday, 11 November 2012

"Hello there Mrs S.." - Marshall, Renwick and End of Part One

So when was it that television started to take itself so seriously? I can understand with such difficult and serious subjects to contend with, that the news and current affairs departments have to be on high alert all the time. Though the rest of television has developed almost a hardened shell to itself,  but it wasn't always like this. 

Over the years there's been attempts at spoofing the way television is seen by itself, from Channel Eight trying to looking into the future with 90-year old Nicholas Parsons still presenting Sale of the Century, KYTV covering the satellite revolution and everything that brought to the screens. Plus there have been attempts such as The Kevin Bishop Show, who parodies seem to almost say "Wasn't all old TV bad? A-ha-ha-ha! I can do it because I'm popular..." and also strands of programming with Focus North, getting right down to the ground the view local news has of itself with reports and the presentation style.

Though truly the only show who got the art of spoofing just right was Andrew Marshall and David Renwick's End of Part One, the whole two series just released on two DVD's by Network. This has brought to an end a very long journey for this series to be seen once again outside of just clips or footage on the internet. The style of the two series are very different, but even in the first series broadcast made in 1978 and broadcast in April 1979, the defining features of what the programme would be remember for were there, such as the spoofing sketches and mock continuity announcements. 

"I'm just going down to the Taj Mah.. Oh, its here!"

The world of television was played though the prism of Vera and Norman Straightman who live on Funnyname Street, with all different odd characters invading their lives and also the television they watch themselves. The premise even in the opening titles is to be a parody of Coronation Street, the interlinking stories of both characters, the titles featuring rows and rows of Northern terrace housing and also Corrie-esque theme tune. This itself has a feeling of the influence from Monty Python like their sketches taking place in houses, such with the cast playing supporting parts of people who surround the Straightman's lives i.e. people they meet along the way rather then characterised of anyone in particular. 

The intertwining storylines provided by the day to day lives of the Straightman's allow the sketches to played off such as Norman going for a job as a spider, the Straightman's having a new lodger who's a parody of Superman even speaking in cartoon-esque speech bubbles when first having a conversation with Vera. But with Vera and Norman going to the cinema allows the show to widen itself up with them getting the cheapest seats to see 'Christopher Columbus - A Film by Samuel Goldwyn' and with the tickets being so cheap that they are on the film itself! Allowing them to be surrounded by the action, with the actual cast of the spoof film oblivious they are there and the patrons with the cheapest priced seats having to follow the actors wherever they go to.

"Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird, is it a plane? No its Cheapo Cartoon Man!"

The spoofs of the programmes are thing which makes the first series stand out, with World of Sport given a good ribbing and also Raleigh Gilbert who read out the racing results on the programme was given special treatment by the writers over his annoying voice when reading the results. Also The Return of The Doughnut, a spoof on the returning Saint series with Ian Ogilvy who has gets plenty of jokes at his expense as well as well a spot on parody of Weekend World although a LWT production, jokes made at its expense such as it having only about two viewers in the slot it was broadcast in at that time. Though all of these programmes were all produced by LWT and they were the biggest targets for the show, but the management didn't have a problem at their best efforts being ribbed on regular occasions by the show's writers.

But the first series was broadcast before the 1979 ITV Strike which started in August of that year, which partly may have been the reason why there wasn't another series broadcast until October 1980 and would have been made earlier that year. Such as the backlog created by the stopping of production, that all new production would have been halted to allow what was still to be done to be cleared first. So any new series or returning series would have have waited at least till Spring 1980 to be filmed, but this had a unique effect on the series. By this time Marshall and Renwick had gone to work on BBC 2's brand new sketch show 'Not the Nine O'Clock News' using this to keep their writing hands in whilst End of Part One was off the air. With them writing for Not the Nine with its more topical humour, meant they could change End of  Part One to more a satirical type of show and also expanding the spoofing to be more elaborate and more cutting against its targets.

Though with the first series being more lighter and being shown mainly in a Sunday Afternoon slot, led the schedulers at LWT and also Michael Grade thinking this was the right slot for the show as it appealed more to older children and they made sure that the schedulers got the message in episode five  where they included a sketch called 'Kiddies Time' with a very twee style and what they thought Children's Television was like similar to Monty Python's 'Storytime' sketch which itself turned that the story being read out by Eric Idle was smutty and couldn't be read out at all. Even putting on the screen in captions what they though of this and alluding to a 'Unexpected Nasty Bit' which is going interrupt the sketch going on, building up to it with a spoof warning and countdown until its stated that they've lost it. Well, until the end of the episode a final quickie sketch to state an vinyl album of the show is out for release now, featuring the nasty bit as its cover... A man being beheaded by an axe, rather violently.. 

End of Part One was seen as a television follow on from Radio 4's 'The Burkiss Way' featuring almost as silly pythonesque humour, which itself had started on Radio 3 as the 'Half-Open University' as a pilot in August 1975 with the 'The Burkiss Way' starting broadcasting in 1976. Not only does the writers link this with End of Part One but also Fred Harris and Denise Coffey who was in the first series only as well as the producer of the first series Simon Brett who produced the first series of End of Part One. The style of the show having its credits in the middle of the show, sketches stopping halfway through and restarting later plus straight spoofs of programmes and continuity as well. All of these devices were used in End of Part One taken from 'The Burkiss Way'. So the links are there between the two shows, with even The Burkiss Way's final series finishing on Radio 4 on the 15th of November, the week before End of Part One finished on ITV on the 23rd of November. 

The cast itself with Harris and Coffey who had been in The Burkiss Way were joined on End of Part One by a pre-Only Fools and Horses Sue Holderness, actor Tony Aitken who had previously been seen in Porridge, David Simeon who had been in Z-Cars, Fawlty Towers and The Liver Birds amongst his credits and finally Dudley Stevens mainly a stage actor and also had done some music hall but previously had been in Crossroads as an upper-class landowner during the mid-seventies. All of them with comedic experience but with the ability to play character roles and this is what makes the series better for it as well. But the targets as such, were the programmes the viewers had seen also with the noticeable things as well that went on during their broadcast such as Nationwide or Mr and Mrs being spoofed as so sweet that its not safe for diabetics and the presenting style of Derek Batey, maybe barbed but always right in how its done and any average viewer could recognise the obvious things though its the hidden things which make the programme even better.

So finally there is a record of this show after many years being recognised with Harris, Coffey, Holderness, Aitken and Simeon still alive, presenting and performing but also as a tribute to Dudley Stevens who died in 1993. Finally at the end of the series Norman and Vera reappear poisioning the characters in the last spoof, hopefully thinking they'll be the stars of the programme now the rest of the cast are dead. Only for the LWT end caption to appear to snub that thought out straight away. 

It may not be in the top level of great shows and Marshall & Renwick may have written shows which have been better recognised both together and alone. If they hadn't have had End of Part One, then there wouldn't be no Whoops Apocalypse or Hot Metal, no family with 2 point Four Children or no Victor Meldrew saying "I don't believe it!" plus the magic and mystery of Jonathan Creek. Whatever they have both done since, they both have to thank Vera and Norman Straightman of Funnyname street hopefully with a bunch of Roses Chocolates... 


Monday, 5 November 2012

"And its Bob's Full House tonight as well.." - Why Bob Monkhouse and Bingo on the Beeb is still beloved after all these years...

Over the past couple of weeks, Challenge has started to repeat one of seminal gameshows to be broadcast on television in the United Kingdom, that of course being Bob's Full House. 

Previously the channel has shown all the available editions of Bob Monkhouse's time on Family Fortunes, so it came as no surprise when they said they had purchased Series One of Bob's Full House. Following on from the success of its purchase of the earlier series of Bullseye as well. This takes the modern viewer back to the day when the gameshow were the kings and queens of the screen. So much so, that at one time BAFTA used to present an award to the best gameshow host.

Going back to the early eighties, all sorts of shows were on the air such as Punchlines where contestants had to match the joke read out by Lennie Bennett to the Punchline given by one of the celebrities opposite them, which in turn could be said that the show also took aspects from one of Monkhouse's former shows Celebrity Squares. Also in the London Weekend Television camp came Bruce Forysth in Play Your Cards Right, the idea imported from the United States' Card Sharks. Though Forsyth wanted to swap with Monkhouse, so that he could do Family Fortunes instead. ATV held their ground and Forsyth along with his Dolly Dealers turned the cards for nearly six years on top of the new millennium revival.

Over at the BBC, the big banker gameshow was Blankety Blank with Terry Wogan but soon to be hosted by Les Dawson in 1984, plus with Paul Daniels coming on the scene with Odd One Out as well. The BBC needed something new and different, when Bob Monkhouse left Central and Family Fortunes in 1983, the next port of call was the Beeb. First of all he presented his chatshow interviewing legendary plus up and coming comedians as well on BBC 2. But the gameshow itch was waiting to be scratched by both the management and also Monkhouse as well.

Though the story of how Bob's Full House came to air is not quite as smooth as the show turned  
out to be. When the idea was first presented by its devisers Terry Mardell and David Moore in 1983, it was a different beast originally called 'Top of the Shop'. From where it actually came from through so many different versions before the final version came to screens on the 1st of September 1984, that thirty-seven revisions were made to get it to the right format with one version even suggesting putting bingo cards in the Radio Times to allow the viewers at home to 
play along with the quiz at home. Which would have made it a sort of national lottery before the idea had been even thought about in this country.

The final format settled on was easy to understand, by cutting down the numbers from 90 to 60 meant that the game could be simplified. The space given was taken up with a monologue at the start of the show and the time to allow Monkhouse to talk to the contestants, very much like he had previously done on Family Fortunes. But when it came down to the actual game itself, the simplicity was in the types of questions, part general knowledge but also part fact based as well allowing Bob to do a joke about the question before moving on to the next contestant. 

With the first round for the four corners of the bingo card, it relaxes the contestants into the game by asking them questions individually. Most of these are fun, sometimes silly facts usually of a true or false nature, pretty much almost really easy to get into the game and win the first spot prize. The game itself as a contest starts with the 'Monkhouse Master Card' with each ten numbers referring to a subject with the contestant can choose from on the gameboard. Thus going for a subject which they may know about such as Cooking, for instance with that subject taking in the numbers 11-20 and choosing the number 14 for example. Getting it meant that number was lit on the players bingo card in front of them. Though get the answer wrong and it would be open to all the rest of the contestants to answer, get it right and they could lit a number of a subject they didn't like on the board. Though get it wrong and they would be frozen out of answering the next question if it was their turn or not, more commonly know in the game as being 'Wallied'. Though ever the pro Monkhouse had a catchphrase for the reveal of the subjects "In bingo-lingo its clickety-click... Its time to take your pick of the six!" and also when the subjects were mixed up "Please mix the six, if you'll please..." The style of the catchphrases used by Bob makes the game even more fun then it already is.

The final part of the game where contestants are aiming to light up all the numbers on their bingo card ramps up the excitement as all the contestants try to answer the questions quick fired by Bob to them all the time. Every so often he reminds the audience and the viewers at home of the situation of play with the refrain "Boggenstrovia neeeds seven for a full house, Rob neeeeds four..." etc. Again making the game flow as natural as it can, seemingly making the last part of the main game almost exciting as the actual game of bingo itself whist waiting for the final number to come out of the bag for a big prize. The moment is as thrilling as anything ever experienced on television before, not knowing who will win at all. 

Once the full house is completed then finally its time to play for the big holiday and the chance to win money to go with it in the Gold Card round. The uniqueness of this round is not only the time limit of two minutes to answer the questions, but also the number of questions to do it in, fifteen to be precise. Seeming easy, but sometimes very difficult. The actual skill is in picking the right numbers to be able to form the letters which make up the place name of the holiday the contestant will be sent on if they find all the letters, but the tension is played to it fullest with the contestant not sure where the letters would be and trying to get all the questions right or have enough to be able to find all the letters at the end. Bob does make play of this with the first letter being reveal such as a 'B' making light of it with the joke "An 'B'... I hope it isn't Bognor!" Though this puts the player at their ease, allowing them to smile and have a laugh at this. Once won, the prize is revealed and the contestant congratulated by Bob to wish them a happy holiday and to say goodnight to the viewers and invite them again to join him again to watch the show next time.

It is Bob's enthusiasm for both the game and the participants themselves which makes the show great, he is one big part of it but its the game aspect which is bigger then anyone. The prizes may seem cheap to us now, the style is different to what a newer generation is used to, but this is why Bob's Full House maybe, just maybe be the best gameshow that has been broadcast on British television. Maybe, you have a different opinion on that. But for me the doors are always opened for you and me on Bob's Full House and I for one am glad that they have been reopened for us by Challenge TV....