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Great moments that stay in the memory

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by Michael Grade, director of programmes at London Weekend Television

With the assertion that he has been a heavy viewer since the days of Muffin the Mule, Michael Grade makes an arbitrary and very personal choice from the programmes he has seen and enjoyed and the performers he remembers with pleasure over many years; but concludes that while it is fun to look back, it is probably more rewarding to look forward.

IF I asked you to bring to mind just one moment from the last thirty years or so of British television. what would you think of first?

This was the test I applied to several "pro's" who passed through my office at LWT at 1 wrestled with the problem set me by Television Today's editor. Edward Durham Taylor — "Give us 1.500 to 2.000 words on the great moments of television." There is nothing like a brief brief.

Some of the quick answers I got will serve to illustrate the implausibility of compiling a list of legends (to a deadline) from something like 180.000 hours of British television transmissions. "I'll never forget watching the moon landing live." said one respondent. with the television by an open window through which I could also see the actual moon. I just marvelled at the sight."

Less cosmic was another answer: "I'll never forget the look on Harold Wilson's face when he conceded the 1970 election to Ted Heath muttering the immortal words. 'These opinion polls have got something to answer for.' " Moonshine of another sort altogether.

I soon gave up the the "random sample" approach — too many different answers and no hope of a short list, let alone a consensus. A more scientific approach seemed called for. Research can provide all kinds of clues to scheduling. to the audience's response to programmes; why not use it to find the answers to this problem? Sad to say, here I drew another blankety-blank.

No matter how I tried I couldn't even find a way of formulating the question. There is no satisfactory research jargon for a problem which, in lay language. goes something like this: "I'm trying to find out which programmes on telly will be not only passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth (if not twentieth repeats), but passed on with the same swelling pride and emotion you would use to recount to your great great grandchildren that you knew a man whose grandson danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales."

Put that lot through the AGB computer. joint research or no joint research.

Only one option left, I told myself. Make it absolutely plain at the beginning of the piece that you are relying on your own memory as the sole source of research and no one else's. State clearly. under oath if necessary, that you have been a heavy viewer since Muffin the Mule. H. L. and Mr Turnip (Kaleidoscope) and the days when you had to wait until eight in the evening for transmissions to start on the one BBC channel; and further that you have personally viewed all the programmes mentioned hereinafter.

So, without prejudice, and with humble apologies to all the gems I have inevitably missed (and which I suspect will be the subject of some correspondence in the 101st year of Stage and Television Today) here goes. Here are the memories from the corners of my mind (which, let's face it, is probably square after thirty years of very heavy viewing); the stand-outs, the legends — according only to yours truly, which I at least shall be proud to pass on to my descendants and anyone else who will listen to me when I'm being wheeled in my bath chair round the Jictar Home for Distressed Programme Controllers.

Incidentally, in case you should only get halfway through my list and wish to give up for reasons of lethargy, anger, disbelief or because there is something good on telly, (I'm assuming you have taken this home to read at the weekend). don't. There is a mystery prize at the end.

I vividly remember being scared by television. We don't seem to be capable of that these days. Shocked. maybe, by Lathy Come Home, or newsreel footage from famine war-torn lands. But having your flesh made to creep. the pulse race, the stomach jump, by the realisation on a tiny two dimensional telly of some gifted author's sinister vision -- that belongs to the past. [illegible] of course, the BBC production of 1984 by George Orwell. It was so scarey my grandmother insisted on closing the doors on the front of our set and having the rats in sound only.

Quatermass in its original BBC series form is memorable because it managed to make the whole nation jump with calculated dramatic effects. Today. the kids watch that sort of thing every Saturday with the doors open. It's called Dr. Who.

Reality has provided many chilling moments, most of historic record. The news flashes that announced the assassination attempt and eventually the death of President Kennedy, ("Meanwhile our programmes continue," said the BBC: "here's Harry Worth").

Then there was the contest that turned into a funeral, the Munich Olympic Games. How one wept when the great Berlin Philharmonic played the mournful movement from the Eroica at the memorial service in the Stadium.

Incidentally, who else but David Coleman could have switched seamlessly from describing running heats on the track to that appalling, motionless shot of the room containing the terrorists and their victims? A journalist is a journalist, sport or otherwise. But there was only one man in British broadcasting capable of making that transition.

How much more effective were the genocide episodes of ITV's World at War series than the Hollywood Holocaust mini series. I cannot help feeling that Thames's outstanding series will stand the test of time. It explained — it didn't exploit.

speaking of imports, here is a list of goodies (some still playing on BBC-l. Fridays at 10.30 pm). Bilko. Wagon Train and The Fugitive, Highway Patrol, Dragnet ("Da-dada-da. This is the city. Looking east down north west street. I'm a cop. My name's Friday. I'm called Friday 'cos I was born on a Tuesday ..."), Burns and Allen, Lucy, M Squad with Lee Marvin,

The one I miss most, the one I'm taking with me to the desert island is Bilko. Timeless. Still funny.

Timeless and funny still, the equivalent British legend. Tony Hancock. Top of anyone's list of comedies to be preserved at all cost. instead of the Cabinet minutes if there isn't room when they pack the doomsday box.

Now there was a show you planned your life around. Homework. girls, even football were sacrificed so you didn't miss the lad from Cheam. Perhaps only Fletch (Ronnie Barker) in Porridge as a comic creation has touched the nation's heart and approached the measure of affection felt for Tony.

Eric and Ernie head the list of legendary comedians. Why are they still at the top. still setting the pace and still in fashion (for that is what the entertainment industry surely is about)? Simple: they have no rivals. They are the superlative example of music hall trained performers who managed the transition to television with spectacular success.

It started in the early sixties at ATV after a disastrous debut for the BBC. They found the key to performing well on television as a result of an Equity strike. Being members of the Variety Artists' Federation, then a separate union, they were able to carry on working.

They were unable, however, to engage all the actors and extras necessary for the busy sketches which Sid Green and Dick Hills had written for them. The shows had to be re-written. the sketches and routines simplified to two-handed exchanges between Eric and Ernie with occasional interruptions from Sid and Dick.

Out of this happy accident they emerged triumphant. Who could forget "There's no steps my side," "the garden wall routine" with Milly Martin, "Putting on the Ritz," and many, many more?

At that time ATV dominated light entertainment. On Sundays it was Bruce in charge of Beattie and the drip-dry shirt at the Palladium (remember Pearl Bailey falling in the pit. or the Rolling Stones refusing to take part in the revolving finale?) Do you remember Robert Morley once compering the show?

Johnny Speight at that time was at ATV writing the Arthur Haynes shows. Their collaboration produced Oscar, the cheeky mute character, who drove his conscience (the voice of Nicholas Parsons) to distraction; and his tramp character. Surely Arthur Haynes is the most underestimated of our television legends.

Compered by Huw Welldone

While 1 am on entertainment, do you remember All Your Own — a sort of junior showtime for fee-paying pupils? The compere was, of course, Huw Weldon (Huw: "What are you going to sing for us boy?" Cherubic chorister: "Oh, For The Wings Of A Dove." Huw: "Well done, boy. well done.")

He became known at the Beeb as Huw Welldone.

What's My Line made stars of Eamonn Andrews, Gilbert Harding. Isobel Barnett, David Nixon, Barbara Kelly. What harmless fun it was to see the "noes" swiftly mounting towards 10 as the panel struggled with a piece of mime that was meant to depict an aspect of some mysterious profession. The one I remember best was the kiss-proof lipstick manufacturer.

Personalities who stick in the mind and refuse to be forgotten are headed. of course, by Richard Dimbleby. What is the size of the debt that BBC television owes to Richard Dimbleby for his contribution to the reputation and prestige of the BBC? He is sorely missed today.

Not in the same league and purely as light relief, I am sure you all remember Philip Harben with his flaky pastry (some would say puff), Teas-ey Weasey, Cathy McGowan ("The weekend starts here with Ready Steady Go"), The Tonight Team. Cliff Michelmore, Alan Whicker, Fyfe Robertson. Trevor Philpot, and many others.

Robin Day and Ian Trethowan reading the News for ITN. Sylvia

In the early 1960s the BBC shook the Establishment when it allowed That Was The Week That Was (quickly abbreviated to TW3) to knock down cherished idols and slaughter sacred cows. Today it would all seem commonplace but while it lasted the team made the most of it. Pictured above in the studio are (right to Sett) David Frost, William Rushton, Al Mancini, Irwin Watson, Kenneth Cope and David Kerman.

Peters, the girls on Yackety Yak (a sort of Brains Trust for brainless ladies) and so on. I suppose it is too soon to put Reggie on this list.

Soap operas gone and almost forgotten are The Groves, with granny's catch phrase "I want me tea". The House at Sixpenny Corner. and United. Legendary status has to be reserved for Emergency Ward Ten where John Alderton, amongst many others, started; and of course Coronation Street to which pride of place must be given. It is still as compulsive as ever. What a television career Arthur Lowe has had since he left "the Street."

The two outstanding drama series are easy to name. The Forsyte Saga and Upstairs Downstairs, both of which achieved extraordinary public recognition at home and abroad. Savoured moments from each for me are, of course, Soames's attempt to force his attentions on Mrs Soames (Eric Porter and Nyree Dawn Porter as Irene); and, from Upstairs Downstairs, the stroke of genius that allowed Lady Bellamy (Rachel Gurney) to leave the series with a one-way ticket on the Titanic. Sam Goldwyn couldn't have bettered that.

If there is one strand of production that lifts British programming above the rest of the world, it is in the consistent quality and range of our drama. it is so difficult to have t a be selective but in no special order these productions spring quickly to mind.

May never be equalled

Armchair Theatre, unlikely ever to be equalled for the size of audience it attracted. and in particular No Trams to Lime Street by Alun Owen, starring Billie Whitelaw.

Maigret, the first detective on British television to have a wife and a home (and incidentally one of the most memorable opening title sequences - the match on the wall lighting the pipe to that haunting French waltz theme).

Trevor Nunn's studio production of Antony & Cleopatra at ATV, after which Shakespeare on television should never be the same again. The odd-ball film series The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan - "I am not a number, 1 am a human being:" what was the big bouncing ball all about? Along with The Avengers it became quite a cult.

So much drama and drama documentary of the last few years has been of magnificent quality that I am sure much of it will mature to achieve "immortality." Is it too early to say whether I Claudius, Glittering Prizes, Rock Follies. Pennies From Heaven. Spend, Spend,Spend. Bar-mitzvah Boy, Spongers. Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Z Cars and Softly Softly. The Sweeney, The Old Crowd, Lillie and Edward & Mrs Simpson and many more, will be amongst those remembered?

(Please note that the above list is very much subject to E. and O.E.)

Controversy. Volumes have been written and will be written about the great public rows of television history. Rows like Yesterday's Men and the great censorship debates (e.g. Dennis Potter's Brimstone and Treacle), Kenneth Tynan who used the first four-letter word during a BBC live discussion programme.

There was the anti-climax of the Andy Warhol documentary, which was trailed in a public debate as something really shocking. On viewing it was pretty inoffensive and the only complaints were from disappointed viewers waiting for the hard pornography the tabloids had led them to expect.

The unforgettable moment on That Was the Week That Was (apart from David Frost's hairstyle) was Bernard Levin being punched on the nose, live. by the irate husband of an actress whose West End play Levin had slated. The real achievement of that programme was that. in addition to satirical humour. they could produce an eloquent and moving tribute to J. F. Kennedy and be taken seriously.

Steptoe, Till Death Do Us Part and Monty Python amused and offended in equal proportions, but each in its own way proved that television comedy does not always have to be cosy suburbia. Trial by television in the case of Frost versus Savundra (Associated-Rediffusion) had a short life. It was compulsive television but lousy justice and has since been sentenced to oblivion.

Stanley Baxter uses the electronic medium as no other performer has. All his sketches are highlights and rumour from within LWT's Entertainment Department is that he is preparing an impression of Lew. He seldom misses his target and is never bland.

"What book would you like to take with you, apart from the Bible and Shakespeare?" Roy Plomley asks his radio castaways. For television that should read, "What costly series would you like to take with you. apart from Kenneth Clark's

Civilization and Bronowski's

Ascent of Man?"

The answer for me has to be Life on Earth. I might also ask for Your Life in Their Hands in case 1 have to resort to some do-it-yourself surgery on the desert island. it was in black and white. thank goodness.

Face to Face brought tears to

Gilbert Harding's face. The spaghetti crop April Fool hoax on Panorama brought tears of laughter to my eyes, and England's soccer World Cup victory at Wembley drew tears of joy from the nation.

Two non-events are worth recording: Danny Blanchflower's panic sprint to freedom after being accosted by Eamonn Andrews for a

This is Your Life segment; and the election confrontation that so nearly happened before the last polling day between the Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan. and Margaret Thatcher on Weekend World. Would it have changed the result? We will never know,

Before my memory starts playing any more tricks let me restate that this rambling list is not in any way intended to be anything more than a very subjective collection of personal memories. It is fun looking back once in a while. but speaking professionally. I cannot help feeling it is more rewarding to look forward.

Well, folks, it's quiz time at Tait. 'I here are prizes for anyone who Can name the quiz series that was compered on ITV by Tony Wedgwood Benn. The correct answers will be put in a hat and there are three bottles of vintage champagne for the first three correct answers are drawn

(Right) Rupert Davies as the immortal French detective Maigret in the BBC series of the same name, first seen almost 20 years ago.

(Left) ATV's production of Antony and Cleopatra by Trevor Nunn was, for many viewers, the definitive television presentation of Shakespeare. Recorded in the studio it starred Janet Suzman and Richard Johnson.

In its own way, London Weekend's Upstairs, Downstairs created the same impression on viewing audience as The Forsyte Saga had done many years earlier. It also created some never-to-be-forgotten characters in Mrs Bridges, played by the late Angela Baddeley, and the butler Mr Hudson played by Gordon Jackson.

Caption: George Orwell's 1984, produced by BBC television more than a quarter of a century ago. was the most complicated and expensive single play the Corporation had so far presented. It still stands up to present day viewing and two of its leading actors, Donald Pleasence and Peter Cushing (above) are still being regularly cast in television drama today.

Caption: The late Richard Dimbleby of whom Michael Grade asks, "What is the size of the debt that BBC television owes to him?".

Caption: Howard Schuman struck a new note for Thames with Rock Follies, the series that followed the fortunes of a group of show business girls and introduced Julie Covington, Charlotte Cornwell and Rula Lenska (below, left to right) to a wide audience.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Grade, Michael (1980-01-31). Great moments that stay in the memory. The Stage and Television Today p. 74.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Grade, Michael. "Great moments that stay in the memory." The Stage and Television Today [add city] 1980-01-31, 74. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Grade, Michael. "Great moments that stay in the memory." The Stage and Television Today, edition, sec., 1980-01-31
  • Turabian: Grade, Michael. "Great moments that stay in the memory." The Stage and Television Today, 1980-01-31, section, 74 edition.
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