Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Same Old.. Same Old.. - What the BBC does in 2014

With comes the autumn and the end of year, for all apart what has happened in criminal cases there has been the invention of a new game of BBC bashing. But it is not what you think at all, there have seemed to be more providence then usual this year of the BBC getting it wrong. As viewer complaints rack up over some things which are right to be complained about, we come to the other end of the scale and in particular two incidents.

The commencement of the broadcast of Jamaica Inn, saw a record number of complaints that the actors were mumbling, thinking although this may have been important to the script did not stop viewers thinking they have got complete power to let the BBC know and the social media community bare arms to show their displeasure with the easy situation of journalists just sitting search social networks to take comments and turn them into a newsworthy event. By this the power held by viewers nowadays has never been greater then it ever has been, shows can be stopped by a sustained campaign or just one small piece of footage not shown in the right place can make an ordinary person into public enemy number one.

Significantly this happened with 'Alaskagate' in the Great British Bake Off, even people who don't even watch the programme knew about what had happened with the subsequent events which surrounded it, the theories about what a person had done or not done were flailing around social media such to the level where Sue Perkins decided to have her say on Twitter to say everything was above board with this event. Though it was the BBC who bore the brunt of this effect, with people thinking something like that can be changed instantly. 

But as the saying goes "With great power comes great responsibility" and on both sides this is the case, the BBC will broadcast thing which are seemingly right and the public will have their say on them. It is when the lines become blurred on simple matters, that is when things can go wrong on either side. Opinion will always be there, but when to give it on matter is a case to learn. The simple things can seem quite plain, but for every small voice comes a wave, responsibility is key to match viewers with broadcasters. Now broadcasters ask viewers what they want, where as they used to give it to them. From entertaining has now turned into a constant need to inform, too much information can confuse somewhat. In a typical Monday to Friday schedule on BBC 1 for instance, generally there are only about three or four programmes per week which actually entertain and the most of the time is informing the viewer. The Reithan model has been written large, but is it right still to be doing this?

ITV for all its commercial needs has seen a shift to more entertaining programmes in the past year, to prove popular and populist. With Peter Fincham at the helm, it is not surprising at all to see this. As not a person who came through an independent production company, he has shown his touch to know how the public want to be entertained and thus they are slowly gaining on BBC 1 and starting to pass them. For all the complaints that ITV has gone downmarket, hasn't it always been the combination of both? In the early 1970's On The Buses sat next to Upstairs Downstairs, but isn't that the case with ITV's current entertainment output and Downton Abbey.

BBC 1 will not be able to do this and compete until something is changed and the move from promoting people from the factual department goes away. With factual people comes an obsession with information, but BBC 1 does not need this as it is a 'General Entertainment' channel just like ITV is, but with the wonder-kin Danny Cohen overseeing all the BBC's television output much like Mark Thompson did, it restricts themselves from doing anything at all and forms a reliance on the same programmes. They maybe pleased with the Great British Bake Off right now, but when it has peaked and it will. Where do they go from there? It says it all that one of BBC 1's most popular shows came from BBC 2 and is produced independently. Where as in-house production has stalled, no wonder Tony Hall just wants the BBC to be another production house.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Right Royal let down or Its A Muck-up... - A look at The Grand Knockout Tournament

Having now seen 'The Royal Knockout Tournament' for myself, well since it had appeared on television. With everything that surrounds Stuart Hall's links with it, one question to come out of it is, why? The initial idea put onto paper seems a good one, get the royals and some celebrities to play some wacky games all for charity. Then again how can this fail at all, though perhaps maybe on how it can succeed at all. Apart from Mr Hall, the line up seems like a who's who of mid to late 80's celebrities from both sides of the Atlantic. The likes of Chicago Bears players rubbing shoulders with Gary Lineker, Geoff Capes on centurion guard duty, Les Dawson trying to be some sort of foil where Eddie Waring once stood.

Though itself, the actual games could be transferred into any era. But yet, it seems to be trying to hard. With Rowan Atkinson in full on Blackadder mode, with a seeming disinterested face that he's been dragged along to Alton Towers for an afternoon's 'fun'. Fun by proxy, it seems. Seemingly where seeing giant costumes and people falling in the water, maybe conceived as fun. However the reality is something different, expecting lots to wet faces, actually some of the celebrities are quite able. The site of Toyah Wicox shinning along a wet spinning log, is some what surreal and surprising when she is rather good at it. Actually, it is hardly surprising that Christopher Reeve, then at the peak of full fitness can be as adept as the character he plays on screen. Then again, the site of him flying off and smiling at the camera as he does so, maybe have been too much even for some of our star studded stars themselves.

Clearly with the programme trying to appeal to more global audience, with Meatloaf turning up to rub shoulders with Mel Smith, knowing about Mel's Meatloaf parody can seem slightly surreal. Coming with this is that all the events are sponsored from the likes of McDonalds through to Asda putting their names to games, when maybe time spent on thinking up new product ranges might be a bit more profitable then getting involved with this. But then again the whole thing does have a whiff of Fine Fare about it, cheap and cheerful. Knowing with the afterwards, with questions being thrown at Prince Edward or lack of them it seems for all its efforts that it doesn't even have a proper feel of something special. Its more akin to a wet Wednesday trudging around a half completed theme park then actually something most people would be proud to have taken part in. Though not surprising that most of the celebrities would not have put it on their showreel at all. 

For all its efforts in trying too hard, this is the final nail in the coffin for Its A Knockout as a format. Yes, there was that Channel 5 revival with Keith Chegwin and the woman who now does 'Homes Under The Hammer'. Its is the death knell for a format that with S. Hall taken out of it, did quite well for itself. Though laughter maybe a tonic, its not laughing along with it. By the year of its broadcast in 1987, the public are laughing at it. Something from a bygone age dragged out once again to fill a gap, yet as such it does say more about why it was dragged out. An idea thought up by a Prince, filled in by the BBC and finished with a side order of fries.

The connotations are now there, allowing for something to be viewed as ironic. But for all the irony, I can't see Charlie Brooker dressing up as a foam rubber giant for our entertainment. Perhaps celebrities are above that now, with an easy choice of learning how to twirl a hoola-hoop or ballroom dancing. Celebrity had become sofa based, just like the people who were watching this. For all a level of smart intelligence, comes a need to make a fool of one's self. It its self-evident in The Grand Knockout Tournament, but yet without it would not have been half as much fun pulling it apart. Cruel but purposeful, of which it can be said on reflection that it does say a lot about 1987 itself.


Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Reaches of all Branches.. Fact or Fiction?

Over the past months we have seen what has happened in Operation Yewtree, court cases heard and tried. But what exactly has gone on, in all this we have seen performers go from one end of spectrum to the other. As such I felt it is the right time to tell you my experience, many years ago I was an autograph collector writing to celebrities to get them before Yewtree happened. During this I did write to Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris for their autographs, I realize there will be people questioning why I did this, some will be shocked and other will decry this. 

But whatever you think I am not holding them up to be idols or hate figures, only telling you my experience of this. Am I embarrassed that I did this, no. Am I pleased that I did this, no.  Maybe some people may not think this is a position at all, but there maybe other people who did the same over the years. By the wave of social media, there have been jokes, there has been opinion and debate over it all. Though where does it leave us now? At anything like this, jokes will be made, plus video clips have been drawn on to say they are banned or comments made as to alter what something might be. 

How things are read is something as well, a sketch by Not The Nine O'Clock showing children being rounded up to be taken see 'Rolf on Saturday, OK' has now got a another meaning although the original meaning was that the show was boring and they had to ship children in to be in the audience. Though how do we know that John Lloyd and Sean Hardy were not saying something else, but with them including Chris Langham as part of their original line-up for the show and knowing the knowledge about himself now. Should they be criticized for making part of their show?

Sometimes after the event things can be reflected on as such, where as Operation Yewtree ten years down, what will be the thoughts of people. How do we know that people now are doing what went on back then? We do not know, as they did in the past. In hindsight we can use what we know know, however the press who built up the celebrities and reputations have knocked them down.

Though is this self-justifcation on their part, almost a cleansing of the soul. The programmes of those who have been convicted will never get seen again, but can we just leave a blank space where once things existed? Naturally enough, people of the future will ask why, as such with the Second World War that period has not been blanked. So why should this period be blanked as well? There maybe not want to be understanding about this, which is fair enough as people also want to understanding. 

In darker times we have gone through things to be healed on the other side, but like any fresh wound, if poked healing cannot start. As much we will be reminded through satire about what has gone in this period with the likes of Charlie Brooker skimming the surface for jokes, there can be only so much which can be got out of a subject or event. 

Myself, do I question every day why I did what I did? Maybe, somethings you have to live with because what happens in the future, either good or bad nobody can tell.


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Avast, a larks with mein electronic digit... (50 years of BBC2 with a big cake and all..)

BBC2 is 50. Well, well.. Finally, its joints are getting creakier and its hair is needing some artificial help along the way. But how could you describe the channel to an alien? Well, you could always show that 40 Minutes documentary, about being an alien on earth with trees and a lady undressing herself. 

Though enough with the nudity, there's been plenty of that over the years and coarse behavior and its never done its viewers any harm at all. I don't remember Percy Thrower with nipple tassles though on Gardeners World,  how did we get to this point though? Apart from some people throwing paint at a still BBC2 ident, there have been many interesting programmes on BBC2 through the years and rather then doing a top ten as most people would seem to do about the subject or make a hilarious copycat (see 'The Big Fat Quiz') quiz.

How does BBC2 like to lift its skirt and show itself off? For instance, from Pete and Dud talking about bloody Greta Garbo at the window, onto those Goodies, onwards into space with The Hitchikers' Guide and Red Dwarf and back down to earth with a bump to The Office. The channel itself likes a good laugh and has made comedy a key part of its schedule, though along the way it hasn't been plain sailing. May we not forget, Its Ulrika plus also the second series of Look Around You, with a tiny bit of The Mighty Boosh.

As the channel shows itself to be a breeding ground for shows, with The Apprentice starting off on the second channel, business is a serious business. The Troubleshooters three of Sir John Harvey-Jones, Sir Gerry Robinson and now Lord Digby Jones showed there was an appetite for smart documentaries about the business world and that over time you can move from being a Sir to ending up as being a Lord. But business is entertainment as well, taking us 'Back to the Floor' and leaving us with 'Blood on the Carpet' thanks to Robert Thirkwell's well thought programmes over the years. With as much business people and other people learning more about vast sways of business aspects than reading a lifetime's supply of the Financial Times.

Though there is no business like show business as someone once sung, as well as serious programming music is the food of love for BBC2 with it having Dance Energy in the 90's, being Later with Jools, see if it will pass The Old Grey Whistle Test, plus thanks to the foresight of the BBC light entertainment department allowing Terry Henebery to come up with Jazz 625 showcasing some of the finest jazz musicians ever. But the second channel shows its class as well with its coverage of the arts. Arena, the fore-barer today's modern arts documentaries has been floating along in the moonlight for many years now looking at the Ford Cortina, how to do it My Way and with an amount of menace looking at the Beano and Dandy story. 

Ever so often it will show its sport credentials as well, starting off what has become an institution in Match of the Day from Beatleville with Kenneth Wolstenholme in 1964 to Nigel Starmer-Smith from a wind swept Rugby Special, the quiet of the green baize in its snooker coverage to the men and women of the oche in its coverage of the BDO World Darts Championship. Plus even dedicating a whole afternoon of sport on Friday afternoons during the late 80's and early 90's. Though the channel likes the smell of oil and petrol as well, apart from the Open University that is. BBC2 was the home of Formula One for many years as well Moto GP, but it likes to get itself all revved up now and again, from the pokey motoring show started by Angela Rippon and Noel Edmonds, through the sensibleness of Tony Mason, Chris Goffey and William Woolard to today's massive road trips partaken by Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond. Seemingly Top Gear is what BBC2 is about today and has always been which is fast paced, funny, incisive plus informative as well.

But as BBC2 sees itself in a mirror, does it seem to be sagging? A little, but doesn't everyone do by the time they get to fifty? When the candles are lit on the birthday cake, most probably made by The Great British Bake Off team, the second channel can look at itself and say 'Yeah, I've done alright for myself!' Then raise a glass, a cup, a mug or even an Arielator from Jed's house in I'm Alan Partridge to BBC2, you might not be old as your bigger brother or sister, though at least you kept us entertained.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Recreating the impossible, probably..

Hello once again, its been a while hasn't it?

Now you maybe wondering where I have been since the latter part of last year and why there have been no blog updates at all, partly for two reasons. I have been occupying the spare time I have in different ways, but most importantly spending time working on the most important project that I have ever done so far.

Out on there on the internet, there is so much information about television history and presentation with so many different websites such as Transdiffusion, TV Cream and TV Ark to name but there is also a lot of facts as well. For instance on the upcoming 50th anniversary of BBC2 there is the ability to read about what happened on that aborted opening night as well as seeing it in video.

Though much with archive television, some pieces of footage exist and others do not. Meaning for an opening of a new television station or franchise, that the opening programme and some of that day's continuity may exist. But via discussions with some of my friends, we wondered what day's broadcasting we would all like to see again.

From this came a seed of an idea, to pick a particular day or year's schedule and try to re-piece it back together. Now you must be wondering what exactly this has to do with my absence from here, but I can explain now.

In the autumn of last year, with the challenge laid down by my friends. I decided to do a project of such magnitude, I think no-one has ever done it before. I set out to recreate the first day's broadcast of TVS in January 1982. You might say 'Yeah, that's easy to do!' but consider this, in initial footage that I had, there was only the opening programme 'Bring in the New', the launch documentary 'Birth of a Station' and a small fragment of continuity including that lunchtime's ITN News read by Trevor McDonald.

However on the actual day, 1st of January 1982, there were over 19 different programmes on that day. But the schedule showed on that day actually differed from Thames and LWT's for instance. Some of the programmes which were networked were shown in the slot that the rest of the country was looking at them in, but TVS showed some of them at different times and had programmes which had been seen by the rest of the network a few days earlier.

Plus, also nearly all the continuity was missing, meaning that had to be reconstructed piece by piece from scratch and footage of the programmes shown on that day, had to be found in various places. Even with some of the footage missing, I had to reconstruct that as well.

You might say, all in all that it is quite a hefty task to do all that. Lo and behold though, I have managed to do that and after nearly six months, my recreation of TVS' first day is finished. Before this I have made other videos for YouTube and also made a pop video for some of my friends. This was a different kettle of fish though, I mean by stitching everything together including adverts from 1982 as well. Making it look like as it was broadcast, the continuity gives it that added touch, to seem like you are watching a truncated version of that day's programmes.

You might ask why, but it was showing people what exactly TVS would have looked like on their opening day as not many people would have video recorders to tape the whole day off the television. People say its easier to that now in a digital age, however the recreation is about a historical document as well. This is part of the nation's television culture, when a new ITV franchise came onto the air it was big news compared to today when a channel launch hardly goes unnoticed.

So that's my part of the story, if you would like to know more please do not hesitate to find me on Twitter @boggenstrovia and there we will go from there, OK?

Keep an eye out for more articles coming soon...

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Christmas that Nearly wasn't – The BBC Strike of December 1978 and Christmas Television of that year

Since December 1977, where the BBC had posted some of the biggest ratings for Christmas Day programmes ever with Mike Yarwood, contrary to belief being most watched programme on that day but with Morecambe and Wise plus Bruce Forsyth and The Generation Game posted remarkable figures for that one evening's viewing. It could be safe to say that when the viewing public arrived at the big day one year later, that the whole entertainment landscape had changed totally.

With three of the BBC's biggest entertainment stars leaving the corporation for pastures new, Bruce Forsyth moving to London Weekend Television to present his 'Big Night', also Morecambe and Wise moved to the other London ITV franchise Thames Television to make shows for them, just like that had moved from Lew Grade's ATV to the BBC in 1968.

That left Mike Yarwood as the jewel in the crown for the Beeb, where as ITV pinned their hopes on Forsyth, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise hoping to repeat the success they had done at the BBC. Forsyth being a performer for LWT, was given his own Christmas Eve special which was an other edition of his ill-fated Big Night with Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday and Christmas Day on a Monday when Thames was broadcasting, meant that Eric and Ernie along with the premi̬re of the James Bond film РDiamonds Are Forever were ITV's main offerings on Christmas Day evening with the BBC offering a festive edition of 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em' and also the Mike Yarwood Christmas Show. But the BBC had scheduled Mike Yarwood's festive offering to finish fifteen minutes before Morecambe and Wise appeared with their Christmas show at 9pm.

However it is strange to think that ITV could have won the day through maybe unseen events of that time, a clear run if you will. Because seemingly not everything in the BBC camp was settled as it had been so smoothly in 1977.

The 1970's were a time of turbulent industrial relations right across the the board with not a week going by that a strike of one kind or another would take place, looking ahead what happened at the BBC in December 1978 would be but a small drop in the ocean as what occurred in the Independent Television network in the August of 1979. Where as ITV lost revenue and viewers through a technician’s strike, the BBC in 1978 could have lost their Christmas Schedule all together.

However you have to look back to earlier in that year for an indication of what was to come not only in December but in the year to come, Alan Sapper of the Association of Cinema Technicians and Television Technicians (ACTT) had written an article in the guide of that year's Edinburgh Television Festival guide which was seen as fanning the flames to the executives of that time, with Border Television going off the air for three days in November 1978.

But at Television Centre and Lime Grove, things were stirring with the ABS union, seen as the 'BBC' union the ABS decided to take on the BBC management to get themselves better pay and conditions for their members, however with the BBC already being pressured through limited revenue streams and also high inflation of this time, they could not afford to battle the ABS, but in principal they had to try and save their Christmas schedule.

The first union action occurred in November 1978, when the BBC wanted Radio 2 broadcast twenty-four hours a day, the action taken caused the schedule to be delay until 1979. But things were to be far from peaceful for the corporation during December, wildcat strikes were prevalent leading eventually to a two day stoppage on the 21st and 22nd of December, to make sure some sort of service either on Radio or Television was to happen on these days, a singular radio service was produced known as 'Radio 10' as it was combination of all the BBC's National Radio services, leading to classical music appearing on Radio 1, pop music on Radio 4, current affairs on Radio 2 etc. Against the backdrop of the television service broadcasting a caption explaining why there was no programmes on BBC 1 or BBC 2.

Though there was a price to pay, the BBC in not seeing their prized Christmas Day schedule being wiped out gave into the ABS union by granting a fifteen percent pay rise for its technicians. Unbeknown its was this decision by the BBC management which was to have a knock on effect to their counter-parts at ITV during the next year and for the BBC the unions picked and chose when they wanted to strike causing maximum disruption for some of the corporation's key programming through 1979 with A Song for Europe being blacked out and also that year's Miss World contest leading to Eric Morley moving the coverage to ITV in 1980 citing “That it was an embarrassment to me and the contest itself..”

After the strikes, came the schedules and naturally ITV was confident with their new signings and big movies, thinking that could this be their year after 1977's lean showing and the BBC's dominance. Even ITV's presentation had a classy look about it, making the previous year's effort of the commercial channel look almost cheap but cheerful with 'The Robin Song' being accompanied by an cartoonish Santa Claus having Christmas antics. Though the BBC management, with their many years behind them including Bill Cotton and his team of Light Entertainment Producers and Directors would deliver a schedule just as good as in 1977 or it would seem, at the strike stage the BBC had prepared an alternative schedule to be run by management if the strike had not been resolved by Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday led to strange mixture of usual Sunday programming and also major entertainment programmes on both the BBC and ITV, the likes of Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan rubbing shoulders with a performance of Sleeping Beauty from Covent Garden on BBC 1, Rugby Special with a mouth watering clash between The South and Edinburgh combined with a special edition of The Old Grey Whistle Test from Wembley Conference Centre introduced by Annie Nightingale and continuing the sporting theme ITV had their usual dose of Sunday afternoon football in the vast majority of the regions with Bruce Forsyth's Christmas Eve, a festive edition of his Big Night.

Both channels decided to put on movies filled with big stars whilst people were either wrapping last minute presents or cooking in preparation for the following day. BBC 1 went all Roman with the epic 'El Cid' at five past eight in the evening, starring like in most of these epics, Charlton Heston backed up by Sophia Loren. ITV on the other hand decided to go for the master of murder, mystery and suspense for their Christmas Eve film showing Alfred Hitchcock's Charade with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn at 9pm. However ITV decided to slice Charade into two with the ITN News sandwiched in the middle of it, a perfect crime perhaps to keep the viewers watching and extending the film so that take viewers away from Andre Previn's Music Night on BBC 1 at Ten past Eleven, with no Eric and Ernie to help him this time. Though both main channels had the traditional church services in and around midnight to welcome in the big day itself.

Because of the strikes, productions were affected as well such as the Top of the Pops Christmas special, with barely no time to record after the technicians started to work again. So effectively the Christmas Special was spilt into two, with a edition more akin to the usual Christmas Day special recorded and shown later in the festive holiday. On the main day itself, Noel Edmonds linked clips from a makeshift set, supposedly the Top of the Pops office.

With other productions taking priority such as the Mike Yarwood Christmas Show, the concentration being on getting these productions in the can ready to be able to be broadcast. Buf if Mike Yarwood was the jewel in the crown, then the early schedule on BBC 1 was hardly a classic beginning with a repeat of the previous night's Carols from Kings, Christmas Day Worship from Knutsford in Cheshire with an edition of The Flumps in between at 9.50am. Hardly rousing of the main channel, but ITV's approach was to make sure they caught the younger viewers attention whilst they were opening their presents. Over two hours, they showed The Christmas Story, The Wotsit from Whizz-Bang, a festive edition of Clapperboard and the usual visit to a Children's Home topped off with Christmas Morning Service from St George's Chapel in Windsor. Meanwhile BBC 2 opened up with an edition of Play School presented by Sarah Long and Don Spencer at five past eleven in the morning.

By lunchtime, BBC 1 had shown The Spinners from a Dickensian Street at York Museum and the late sixties Elvis Presley film Clambake based around the beaches and sunshine of America, whilst ITV went for warm sunshine as well in the form of the sequel to Born Free, Living Free starring Nigel Davenport and Susan Hampshire. Seemingly both movies were enough to keep the viewers attention through the frenzy of present opening, pleasingly they were entertaining enough to the day around to Christmas lunchtime when the schedules went up another gear, the day's viewing had been pedestrian up to that point but hear on in the BBC and ITV went their own ways with their choices of what their day's viewing should be.

At ten past one, ITV had an edition of Crossroads though it fell on Christmas Day, it was to be just part of an ordinary weekday schedule. Compared to modern standards, which have three or possible four soaps on Christmas Day concentrating on the darker aspects of story-lines, this edition was seemingly straightforward and harmless but with BBC with no soaps and going for a more entertainment based schedule decided to show Holiday on Ice, as popular as Billy Smart's Circus was at that time, this special show of glacial dexterity was the perfect start to the afternoon's schedule with radio presenter Brian Matthew on duty linking the programme together, it is important to remember that in 1978 through John Curry's success at the 1976 Winter Olympics that Britain had taken to its culture the sport and performance of ice dance, so seeing a lavish production wasn't surprising at all. BBC 2 on the other hand, went for an even more cultural approach with Sounds of Christmas from the Royal Albert Hall followed by a production of The Snow Queen. Their remit to do this was ideal to offer an alternative to BBC 1 and the ITV regions, even their main film of the day Derzu Uzala at 4.20pm was a Russian Film with English Subtitles.

For all this meanwhile in the Yorkshire Television region, they were on strike as well. Leading to the strange situation of none of the their productions being seen in their own region, but on the rest of the network with 3-2-1 being broadcast to the other companies. With the possibility of with the BBC strike not being resolved by Christmas of no television during the Christmas period in the Yorkshire area. But this was the least of ITV's troubles, with a printers strike ongoing, this meant not a full run of editions of the Christmas TV Times could not put out. So editions appeared sporadically in newsagents all over the country for their own regions, however an emergency edition was published and where a specific regional edition could be printed, that these emergency editions filled in for the usual editions over the Christmas period. With BBC and ITV seemingly settled in front of the camera, the behind the scenes activities were almost hidden secretly away.

Morecambe and Wise's move to Thames wasn't as straightforward as everyone thought, their main scriptwriter Eddie Braben was still contracted to the BBC until 1980 which mean when the duo moved to ITV that both Barry Cryer and John Junkin were charged with writing their first show for Christmas, competent writers both the actual Christmas special didn't feel that it was good as the last BBC show. But when put in a impossible position with the Christmas show of 1977, through the quality of the material and also the high ratings, anything less than Eric and Ernie had down before at the corporation would have been seen as a step down from where they had been.

Where as Mike Yarwood was the big star of the day with a festive edition of 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em' earlier in the schedule, Michael Crawford could be said with his broad comedy had appealed the most to the audience, matched with Michael Parkinson and his guests doing seasonal bit of business as characters from pantomimes it could have said that the BBC were pleased, but they couldn't even put as big a movie première as ITV had done with Diamonds Are Forever. BBC1 came up with a TV movie of True Grit : A Further Adventure as their main film of the day, it seemed like the corporation had to put a movie of any kind to match ITV, but knowing they could not beat the opposition, they used a movie which would appeal to their audience but to fill a slot.

However in the spread of Christmas, movies were put on to appeal almost weekday evenings with The Wizard of Oz making another appearance as well on the 27th of December as well Carry On Girls later on that day. Though Boxing Day, if Christmas Day had been targeted, then that day on the 26th was to be purely entertaining. The BBC's mixture of intelligent entertainment and also mass appeal, the usual Grandstand appearance, Disney Time, Its A Christmas Knockout and Jim'll Fix It were enough to keep the viewers in the afternoon and the early evening and later The final of Mastermind 1978 plus The French Connection with Gene Hackman showed the BBC were in for the long run over Christmas.

Meanwhile ITV decided to hit as hard as they could by engaging their viewers with programmes and films they wanted to see, Holiday on the Buses, Christmas Star Games and Sale of the Century were perfect ITV viewing with the ever popular Charlie's Angels and Benny Hill as well topped off with The Day of the Jackal providing the template for many ITV Boxing Days to come.

Looking back over this Christmas itself, the whole look for Christmas was to change for the next thirty five years, however taking out the soaps from the schedules it is interesting but not surprising that the 2013 rating battle was won by a broad comedy in the form of Mrs Brown's Boys where as in 1978 Frank Spencer was one of the winners of that Christmas and that the schedule have been straightforward in the past couple of years, ever day has had movies and entertainment instead of just giving up after Boxing Day, it might seem that the schedule wasn't the strongest but the spirit of Christmas past is still there. If it wasn't important to both channels in the past few years, the remarkable thing is that there is competition again. Where as ITV would have given up, the fight is back there and the BBC has thought they need to up their game.


It'll be interesting to see what Christmas 2014 will bring to all channels, but one thing is certain there will be a winner come Boxing Day, the Christmas Day crown is there for the taking.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

All Tinsel and Turkey... Christmas night in the Stars of BBC and ITV...

Christmas brings many things, presents, food and television in abundance. As the schedules have been released for this year the usual soaps and also big hitting programmes dominate, but it wasn't always like this. At one time there was a one stop shop to see all your stars in, the BBC coming together if you will. The show which dominated the big day itself for more than fifteen years was Christmas Night with the Stars, a place where the stars shone so bright and you could get the likes of Cliff Richard rubbing shoulders with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Usually in ten minutes sections of
the most popular sitcoms of the year, the best light entertainment shows and the biggest stars. This was a show of might by the BBC to show the viewers their selection box of personalities.

The first show in 1958 was hosted by magician David Nixon, performing tricks himself as well, the line-up was a stellar one with the cream of British comedy appearing in sketches such as Ted Ray, Charlie Chester, Charlie Drake combing with future stars Tony Hancock and Kenneth Connor, the nature of the show meant that Dixon of Dock Green appeared with Billy Cotton and also the Beverly Sisters performing, though the interest comes in the cast with future Benny Hill writer Dave Freeman performing with Charlie Drake and the writers of the show reads like a who's who of comedy writing. The partnerships of Galton and Simpson are there with Muir and Norden plus Charlie Chester as well. This was the cream of the talent the BBC had, meaning something was there for everyone. To say that the BBC wanted to get a march on the fledgling ITV franchises was an understatement, though this showed ITV on the biggest occasions that the Beeb were willing to fight for their audience. Plus with the Light Entertainment department getting new directing and producing talent into their ranks, this would set the BBC up for the 1960's.

With the BBC's intentions clear to fight for the audience which was out there, the sixties was to be a decade which would change light entertainment for ever. A decade of pushing the boundaries, where Britain would change in itself. At the start of the decade with the opening of the new Television Centre in 1960, one of the newest purpose built television studios in the world. The raising of the standard, made the programmes even better. The first show of the new decade featured Sid James from Citizen James, Harry Worth on film plus regulars David Nixon and Jimmy Edwards. It might seem the programme had hardly changed at all, but by 1962 Eamonn Andrews has taken on the role of presenting The Black and White Minstrels, Dixon of Dock Green and The White Heather Club. But backing these favourites up were two shows which were new and were to show the BBC had started to change in its comedy output. The Rag Trade starring Peter Jones, Reg Varney with support of Miriam Karlin and Esma Cannon, the show had been on the air since 1961 but 1962 was the first time when the honour of appearing on the biggest show of the year was bestowed on it.

By 1964, the programme had moved away from including shows with a dramatic narrative. So Jack Warner became the host as Eamonn Andrews had moved to ABC, but the focus was more about the light entertainment stars. The Black and White Mistrels were present with Billy Cotton, the traditional had there place in there but with pop starting to rule the roost, the show acknowledged this with appearances from Kathy Kirby and The Barron Knights. Two stars who were to become two of comedy's biggest stars performed sketches in the form of Benny Hill and Dick Emery, their comedy seemed the same by the end of the decade Hill had moved to Thames Television and Emery was still present on BBC1. Though with comedians there was a place for the all-round entertainers as well, Roy Castle being one of them. The future Record Breakers host had his own show, singing and dancing showing off his talents on a weekly basis, Castle was very much a British 'Sammy Davis Jnr.' , though his career though bubbling along didn't hit the heights as many people thought he would do at that time. Alongside Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd, Freddie Frinton and Thora Hird performed a shortened version of their sitcom Meet the Wife, but 1964 also saw the launch of BBC2 and one their biggest comedies which had been repeated on BBC1, The Likely Lads was asked to film an insert for the programme with Rodney Bewes as Bob and James Bolam as Terry reflected on the Christmas season in their own inimitable way. It was a sign that a new wave was sweeping through light entertainment.

Come the end of the decade, with the new ITA franchises in place and the BBC looking towards newer talent, it gave the 1968 a new fresh look which would start the new era of light entertainment at the BBC. In this year, the show was a powerhouse, the host being the newly arrived from ATV, Morecambe and Wise hosted the programme. Just having Eric and Ernie on Christmas Day was a bonus, allowing them to perform at their best, though the supporting cast was one which the BBC could be proud of. The personality led variety show had come to define light entertainment by the end of the decade, ITV had led with the Tom Jones show but the Beeb could count on Cliff Richard to do pretty much the same job but in a more boy next door style, the might of pop was important to the very important teenage audience so both Lulu and Petula Clark were included too. Both performers would go on to have their own personality led variety show the same as Cliff Richard with in the next five years following the programme.

Though the biggest star the BBC could offer was Rolf Harris, this antipodean bundle of many talents had his own show on a Saturday night inviting the top singing stars of the day, performing dance routines with Duggie Squires' Young Generation containing a future Blue Peter presenter in Leslie Judd and future Light Entertainment executive who would put his own mark on the genre in the 1990's, Nigel Lythgoe. Add in the combination of jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, comedy from Marty Feldman and with new to that year comedies Not in Front of the Children and more importantly Dad's Army filming sketches for the programme, it is little wonder what the new ITV companies did for 1969, they thought back. They launched the All Star Comedy Carnival, taking the best of what ITV had to offer from all the regional franchises and showcasing them in one place. That first year one of the main attraction was the Granada series 'The Dustbinmen' featuring a pre-Are You Being Served Trevor Bannister.

With the start of the 1970's, it saw the death of Tom Sloan in May 1970. The head of the Light Entertainment group had been influential in bringing so many shows which would define the BBC's output in the 1960's such as Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, Dad's Army, the Val Doonican shows and even Dixon of Dock Green. His influence over the BBC's biggest department meant that he could persuade the performers to make appearances on Christmas Night with the Stars, but all backed up with his team behind him like Stewart Morris, Yvonne Littlewood, Roger Ordish, Terry Heneberry, Michael Hurll and most importantly Bill Cotton Jnr. Cotton Jnr. himself had been a producer for in house BBC productions since 1956 including his own father's Band Show, so he was the natural choice to take over the role. The 1970 cavalcade of stars had Cilla Black appearing with Dick Emery, Terry Scott, June Whitfield and Stanley Baxter. But the star power the show had meant, Clodagh Rogers could be seen alongside Nana Mouskori, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis contributing to give a transatlantic feel but none could top an appearance by Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra that's without noting the 'Galloping Gourmet' Graham Kerr as well. This provided a combination of laughs, music and even cooking as well, all the things for a perfect Christmas party.

So with this wealth of talent on the one programme, what could ITV do for their All Star Comedy Carnival of that year? Well, at 6.30pm, the programme started with the mixture of The Lovers with Paula Wilcox and Richard Beckinsdale, Hark at Barker meant that Lord Rustless would get a place in the Christmas schedules for Ronnie Barker, the Doctors in the House were there from London Weekend with the jokes coming thick and fast from Yorkshire Television's Jokers Wild with Barry Cryer presenting and his future Kenny Everett writing partner Ray Cameron on writing duties. To add in variety, Des O'Connor brought a snippet of his own show with Des singing, even down in Weatherfield there was a seasonal visit to Coronation Street with the regulars of the Rovers Return pondering about the festive season in a especially written mini-episode. This of course pre-cursing the days when the soaps and their story lines would become a integral of the Christmas Day schedules. All linked together by Max Bygraves and with musical accompaniment from Geoff Love and his orchestra as well, even popular BBC sitcom stars Warren Mitchell and Rodney Bewes turned up on the programme. Though it is surprising that the programme that followed the show On the Buses wasn't part of the comedy carnival itself with it being one of ITV's top rated shows at the time, but maybe keeping separate from all the other shows meant the rest of ITV's comedy and entertain could be showcased without them being overshadowed by a mini-episode of such a popular show. On reflection, ITV's effort may have seemed weaker in comparison for that year to the BBC's effort but it did offer an alternative to the BBC though.

1971 saw more change with the BBC's Light Entertainment department bringing new shows to their schedule with the Generation Game, Parkinson and the Two Ronnies, Messrs Barker and Corbett being reunited with each other. Bill Cotton's stamp was firmly on the department now, but come Christmas Day the stars were rolled out once again including mini episodes of Dad's Army, Till Death Do Part sharing the limelight with efforts from Lulu and her show, Mike Yarwood making an impression on the audience both in the studio and at home. It was a show of force once again from the Beeb, but ITV counteracted pretty much with the same shows of the previous years but with the inclusion of The Fenn Street Gang and Please Sir! Which they had left behind, Father Dear Father came from Thames and Lollipop loves Mr Mole from ATV. Plus Les Dawson made a mini-episode of Sez Les which was doing great business for himself and also Yorkshire Television as well. Mike and Bernie Winters hosted this year, they themselves had made a contribution of a music item with Opportunity Knocks' Hughie Green on trumpet/guitar, ITN newsreader Gordon Honeycombe on sax, illusionist David Nixon on double bass, Eamonn Andrews on trombone and the whole of the World of Sport team providing the rhythm section, plus Mike Winters playing the clarinet. This is one of those occasions where you wish the footage has not been lost, just to see this spectacle. Not only for the sight of Dickie Davies on drums or the fact what song they actually played, with the Christmas TV Times of that year handily saying it would be an old favourite.

But with this chance at the BBC came a new policy to do with Christmas television, all the stars who had roughly ten minutes to showcase themselves and their programmes during Christmas Night with the Stars seemed such a tight time to do so. So it was that 1972 was the last Christmas Night with the Stars for another twenty four years, introduced by The Two Ronnies after their success with the own show in the previous year. As in previous years Dad's Army and Mike Yarwood did mini-episodes of their own shows, with this year two additions to the line up of The Liver Birds and The Goodies, themselves fresh from their own success on BBC2. Plus Lulu appeared as well as The Young Generation with this year Nigel Lythgoe being credited as the choreographer of their dance routine, the credits for this show read like a who's who of the BBC Light Entertainment department, the Two Ronnies directed by Terry Hughes, Dad's Army by David Croft, Jim Franklin producing The Goodies as well as Michael Hurll and Sydney Lotterby. In addition to both musical directors Ronnie Hazelhurst and Alyn Ainsworth and a stellar list of writers including Michael Palin and Terry Jones, Barry Cryer and Neil Shand to name a few. This was the way to go out, as from 1973, the Christmas specials would out on their own and longer then before. The BBC worked out that each show could do even more by each production
being able to work on their own efforts, thus focussing the talents of the crew, the writers and the performers. That idea was to have massive success as the Christmas schedules of the BBC would continue to dominate for many years to come.

The swansong for the All Star Comedy Carnival would come for ITV in 1973, up against the BBC's new style Christmas Day schedules. They could offer Jimmy Tarbuck in a mock house with the going on with Man about the House, Les Dawson making another appearance with Sez Les, My Good Woman from ATV and Billy Liar from LWT plus Spring and Autumn from Love Thy Neighbour's Vince Powell. But not even the might of the Wandsworth School Choir and Fyfe Robertson could overthrow BBC1's offering. So it was not surprise that after this year's edition that ITV took the same approach as the BBC of pitching the best of their shows up against each other, for Christmas Night with the Stars, the style of that programme was used for the Funny Side of Christmas in 1982. Again the best of BBC comedy all in the same place and with revivals in 1994 on BBC2 featuring the likes of Steve Coogan performing and again ten years later in 2004 presented by Michael Parkinson, but this version seemed more like an extend version of his chat show. For the All Star Comedy Carnival, the idea has not been revived by ITV and looks likely not to be any time soon.



Some people may say that these programmes, maybe they were of their time. But however without them we would not have got to the Christmas Day schedules today, they were the first to introduce soaps on Christmas Day, they were the first to have the leading comedies of the day back to back, they were the first to have top variety in the same place and they were the first to introduce new comedies to a wider audience. Whatever way you want to look at it, Christmas would not have been brighter places without them.