A review of Thames programmes for the winter of 1976-7
Benny Hill presented his versions of the New Avengers, Mastermind, I Claudius, Dickie Davies and even Bionic Baby, in the first of his self-penned specials for 1977. A third of Britain watched.
People & Politics continued into the New Year, with Llew Gardner mixing individual interviews Merlyn Rees, David Steel and Harold Lever were among his subjects with broader debates on topics like transport, and workers participation.
February and March again saw Hughie Green’s Opportunity Knocks! in its fifteenth series riding high in the network top ten every week.
Get Some In!, with Tony Selby starring in John Esmonde and Bob Larbeys comedy of National Service life, had two new series during 1977. Their average network audience for the year was over 15 million viewers per episode.
Not many programmes reach across the class and age spectrum to inspire much the same reaction from diverse people, but Get Some In! is one of them.
Countless National Servicemen (Retd.) – and their fathers – dredging up memories of wartime basic training – keep telling me that the show is not only funny but true to life.
A highly skilfully rationed sprinkle of nostalgia – in the first edition of the new season, references to Ruby Murray and Ronnie Ronalde – Tony Selby’s craven bully of a Corporal, and unselfish teamwork by the rest of the cast, make Get Some In! hard to resist.
Two popular Outside Broadcast series returned on 23 February. James Hunt was special guest in the first Drive In, with Shaw Taylor and Tony Bastable introducing television’s only regular magazine programme for motorists.
And Keith Fordyce and Claire Rayner returned in Kitchen Garden, to show how to grow and cook your own garden produce – from growing potatoes in a bucket, to cooking your own sour Borscht.
Terry Scott, Lionel Blair and Aimi Macdonald were among the personalities joining Roy Castle, to try to guess the famous parents of young guests who appeared in the new series of Whose Baby?
Mandao, a thoroughbred stallion, was the star of Horse in the House, a six-part children’s drama series written by Rosemary Anne Sissons. Kim McDonald played Mandao’s owner, Melanie.
This Week continued their regular coverage of Ireland in ‘Derry, Time to Remember’, five years after Bloody Sunday. And in Rhodesia, Jonathan Dimbleby talked with Ian Smith and President Nyerere on the failure of the Kissinger plan; in September he would return to cover the next Anglo-American plan.
Outside Broadcasts went to Wembley twice during February to cover England’s fortunes in soccer matches with Holland, and the crucial World Cup battle with Luxembourg.
Rooms continued to occupy the afternoon drama slot each Tuesday and Wednesday, with over sixty episodes in 1977 on the people and events in a West London rooming house.
Getting something new for Robin was a long-term plan. We thought there was a lot more to say about the characters but not in the setting of ‘Man About the House’, which, after 39 episodes, had exhausted their possibilities. Robin is now living happily unmarried, with the daughter of the man whose cash pays for a restaurant business…
Johnnie Mortimer, co-writer with Brian Cooke of ‘Man About the House, top 1976 situation comedy ‘George & Mildred’; and in January, ‘Robin’s Nest’.
‘Welcome to Robin’s Nest, a most professional quick-fire comedy series by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, Richard O’Sullivan (Robin) lives with Tessa Wyatt (Vicky) – and a handsome pair they make – much to the disgust of Vicky’s father (Tony Britton, who has the expert timing of a comic pro). We are often labelled a permissive society, but how many years since it has been portrayed in cinema and theatre has it taken television to present a comedy series about living together?’
The first episode of Robin’s Nest jumped into the National Top Twenty in third place. It was up to number 2 for the rest of January, kept from top position only by…
This is Your Life, presented by Eamonn Andrews, which held the top network audience for ten weeks running from January through to March. This is Your Life’s perennial audience appeal is reflected by its taking nine out of the top twenty programme viewing figures for the calendar year 1977.
ITV’s first major documentary of the year was Hazlitt in Love, a dramatised film of the famous writer’s love life, written by C P Taylor and based on Hazlitt s book ‘Liber Amoris’. Kenneth Haig played the title role with Lynne Frederick as his femme fatale.
‘Beautifully photographed sexual cliff-hanger based on the slim volume published by the essayist William Hazlitt in expiation of his obsession with his landlady’s daughter, Sarah Walker. Lynne Frederick is faun-like as the lady; Kenneth Haigh is the distressed essayist.’
Wish You Were Here…? Outside Broadcasts’ midwinter preview of summer holidays, took viewers out and about in Britain with Judith Chalmers and Chris Kelly. During January they travelled from Pitlochry in Scotland and Killarney in Ireland, to Jersey, North Wales and resorts in England.
Christopher Neame and Ann Hasson starred as Romeo & Juliet in a special Schools production of Shakespeare’s play, transmitted in eight episodes.
This Week started the year with an exclusive interview by Peter Williams of Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, just two days after his arrival in Britain. The following week saw the second part of John Fielding’s Soho gangster expose on the murder of ‘Scarface’ Smithson.
Denis Norden’s afternoon programme Looks Familiar had a rare scoop on 12 January when David Niven provided a memorable half-hour’s nostalgia about life in Hollywood during the ’30s and ’40s.
Elizabeth Shepherd, one of the heroines in Romance, described a romantic as ‘someone who does not pine for the loss of her past and has an absolute belief in the possibilities of the future.’ It was this image of the romantic heroine that was revived in six love stories based on classic romantic novels taken from a century of the British love story. Producer Peter Duguid explained his aims in bringing romance back to television:
‘Many of these novels were considered so risque by contemporary readers that they produced a storm of controversy.
‘But while today’s viewers will find little to outrage in our series, I believe we have recreated for television a genre that has been underexposed to the point where it has become, perhaps, undervalued: full-blooded, rich in romance, with a hero, a heroine, often a villain, and a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
‘It is these easily recognisable values which made the originals so popular, and we have tried to respect them in our television adaptations. I hope that viewers will share and enjoy the magic of these marvellous love stories.’
Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, adapted by Gerald Savory, director Waris Hussein, starring Elizabeth Shepherd, Simon MacCorkindale.
Moths by Ouida, adapted by Hugh Whitemore, director Waris Hussein, starring Cathryn Harrison, Nigel Davenport, Maria Aitken.
The Black Knight by Ethel M Dell, adapted by John Kershaw, director Peter Hammond, starring Sinead Cusack, Edward Fox, Simon Williams.
High Noon by Ruby M Ayres, adapted by Julia Jones, director Barry Davis, starring Celia Bannerman, Lynn Farleigh, John Fraser.
House of Men by Catherine Marchant, adapted by Ray Jenkins, director Piers Haggard, starring Mary Larkin, James Laurenson, Michael Kitchen.
Emily by Jilly Cooper, adapted by Eleanor Bron, director Alastair Reid, starring Gemma Craven, Ronald Pickup.
Elegance, style, wit and charm
Take a dash of Wuthering Heights, add a dollop of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, stir in lashings of true romance… marvellous, good old-fashioned stuff.
For sheer escapism, stories with a beginning, a middle and, usually, a comforting end, it will be difficult to beat Romance.
Money-Go-Round, Good Afternoon’s special feature on consumer news, marked its hundredth edition in March with Joan Shenton and Tony Bastable surveying the changes in eating, shopping and life-styles over the past hundred years. Good Afternoon continued daily at 2.00 pm, featuring guests like Alan Coren (on the Silver Jubilee) and Yehudi Menuhin reflecting on his life in music.
March saw the debut of a new 13-part children’s series Jamie and the Magic Torch, from Thames’ animation subsidiary Cosgrove Hall Productions.
In March, This Week’s coverage ranged from Peter Taylor investigating the success of ‘The Hustler’, a sex magazine that is now America’s third best-selling periodical, to John Fielding’s widely-acclaimed expose of The Poisoning of Michigan a This Week Special which told a horrifying story of death and disease resulting from chemical pollution.
While Rock Follies of ’77 was in the final stages of production, the original Rock Follies series was being repeated in Britain, taking America by storm on the Public Broadcasting Network, and winning the Best Drama Series award in the British Academy awards, and two Royal Television Society awards.
The zingy highlight is sure to be Rock Follies – a five-part, five-and-a-half-hour sock-it-to-’em musical soap opera about three smashing birds, long past their teens, who set out to become England’s top group. This funky bundle from Britain, produced by Thames Television, was a rollicking hit over there and ought to score pretty high Stateside as a likeable, offbeat showbiz saga. Throughout, Rock Follies provides a unique and exhilarating change of tempo: less snob appeal, more sex appeal.