Sunday, 21 December 2008

The TV List of Little or No Consequence #2

Small screen on the big screen
9 British Sitcoms That Were Remade For The Cinema

1. Man About The House (1974)
2. Are You Being Served? (1977)
3. George and Mildred (1980)
4. Bless This House (1973)
5. On The Buses (1971)
6. The Likely Lads (1976)
7. Porridge (1979)
8. Dad's Army (1971)
9. Steptoe and Son (1972)


Sunday, 14 December 2008

Themologists: Laurie Johnson

Some People Are On The Telly's second Themologist has become synonymous with sixties popular culture. His ability to compose a catchy melody coupled with his rich arrangements has created some truly unforgettable theme tunes.

Laurie Johnson (right) was born in Hampstead England in 1927. His army career was spent in the Coldstream Guards. During the fifties he spent most of he time in composing for big band (including the Ted Heath Band). After that he moved into film and TV.

Notable film credits include Dr Strangelove, East Of Sudan, It Shouldn't Happen To A Vet and Hot Millions.

His TV credits are a cavalcade of classic themes guaranteed to alert the entire household that their favorite show was about to start. For cult value, probably the most recognised and fondly remembered is the theme to The Avengers (left).

This long running iconic sixties adventure series starred Patrick Macnee with Honour Blackman followed by Diana Rigg then Linda Thorson as his dashing female sidekick. All three of women were probably responsible
for the sexual awakening of many a young boy (and God I know I'm one).

Other classic themes include Las Vegas (the theme to Animal Magic), Jason King, World In Action and Wicker's World.

As memorable as the aforementioned are, probably the most famous is his signature tune for a programme that, while lacking the cult status of some of his other programmes was at its peak, watched by millions upon millions over half a century. This was a show that ran from 1955 and has been broadcast on both BBC and ITV up until 2007. For years, a measure of achievement in life and recognition of success by your peers was either a visit to Buckingham Palace or a visit by Eamon Andrews (right) with his big red book speaking those immortal words: This Is Your Life.

Into the seventies then and honorable mentions should go to Johnson's action packed themes for The New Avengers which was an ill conceived contemporary version of The Avengers. Starring an aging and weary Macnee, the series lacked the zing of its predecessor. Even the fruitsome Joanna Lumley couldn't make up for the presence of Gareth Hunt. Also from the same production company (of which Johnson part owned) was The Professionals, the repeats of which are still a mainstay of the ITV4's daytime schedules. Warning: this tune contains high levels of wah-wah that some listeners may find disturbing.

We'll end our whistle-stop tour with a return to The Avengers and my favourite piece of music by Johnson, the Avengers Tag Scene which was used in the last sequence of pretty much every episode of the final series. This usually involved Tara King (Thorson left) turning up at Steed's flat asking what's so urgent that she should have to be called away from a Saturday evening reading Checkov. At that point the great man would emerge from behind his Swiss Cheese plant with a tray of Boluga caviar and a bottle of Dom Perignon. The languid lounge-core strains of this tune make it abundantly clear what's on the old perve's mind and that is to follow should exist in the imagination only. Take it away Maestro:


Saturday, 6 December 2008

Top Bananas

It was my complete intention to write a balanced view about the BBC programme Top Gear highlighting its many good and bad points in equal measure. Having given it some thought, I now know I cannot. I like the programme too much.

Yes, both my feet are firmly in the camp of those who can't get enough of the programme which will undoubtedly come as some relief to many of you. For a fair while now, Top Gear seems to have been the target of journalists, TV viewers and ordinary members of the public who like nothing more than to badmouth the show. Well I'm not happy about that, so I feel it's time to stand up and be counted.

The present-day incarnation of Top Gear (and let's not forget it was once a very ordinary magazine programme about motoring) is a most appealing thing indeed. In trying to quantify why, one inevitably finds that it's all things to all men (and women). Not only does Top Gear retain a notable portion of its original remit (i.e. to pass judgement on different models of car), but it's also part comedy show, part chat show and part documentary.

There's also a part which one cannot describe easily. It's the part that features the three presenters - Richard Hammond, James May and Jeremy Clarkson - getting up to all manner of entertaining shenanigans from racing a car against a light aircraft across Europe to playing darts with cars that are shot off the end of a high-powered cannon. So far as I'm aware, there's yet to be a genre created for this kind of material, so far ahead of the game is the programme and its inventiveness.

The programme undoubtedly has a huge following not only in Britain but around the world where the format has already been adjusted for specific national audiences. Yet to think that the only people who watch Top Gear are men aged between 25 and 45 is well wide of the mark. The show is enjoyed by both men and women, be they young, old or somewhere in-between.

But what is it that gets them tuning in week after week? Why is it that even the repeat showings on satellite channel 'Dave' and online via the BBC's iPlayer get such large audience figures?

Undoubtedly it's the humour of the show which is such a big draw for so many. Without that, the show would be nothing more than a gentle walk through the world of motor cars which, though informative in places, would barely register in people's consciences. A motoring equivalent of Antiques Roadshow, if you will.

Yes, the three presenters each have a pleasant and somewhat quirky personality which takes the show so far, but it's their ability to banter with each other and about the cars that are featured that really gives it a special quality. They all have a different style - Clarkson: raucous and surly, May: reserved and dignified, Hammond: enthusiastic and dynamic - yet they can all convert an average piece of dialogue into a funny and memorable one.

To add some ammunition to their comedy, Top Gear relies heavily on a constant flow of new ideas that ensure the car theme is never lost in what many think is just an hour's worth of laddish high-jinks. As well as the regular races between a car and numerous other supposedly superior modes of transport, there have been comparisons between cars and their equivalents in computer games, cars used as players in an outsized game of moto-football and caravans used as conkers in a game of... well, conkers.

Some years back, I wondered how long the programme would last given the likelihood of so many great ideas eventually drying up. One might say the repetition of some of those self same ideas shows we're already at that point, but to be honest even that doesn't seem to impact much on the show's popularity.

That's because Top Gear has such phenomenally high production values - another reason why people love it so much. Even a humble car review is transformed by the beautiful photography, the amazing worldwide locations and the floorless editing. No other programme can match it for sheer professionalism when it's really firing on all cylinders, and that's most of the time in reality.

So how come some people resolutely fail to like it? As anyone capable of picking up a newspaper will know by now, Top Gear can be controversial at times. Whether it's Jeremy Clarkson suggesting that truck drivers murder prostitutes or Clarkson again tearing up the Scottish highlands by driving a 4x4 up a mountain, the programme can be relied upon to hit the headlines on a regular basis.

But let's be honest here - it's not the programme that causes a fuss, it's Jeremy Clarkson himself, and if you haven't worked out what he's like by now, more fool you. He's been on the TV for twenty years and his reputation does now go before him, if you haven't already noticed.

At the risk of over-generalising, Clarkson is merely acting out an exaggerated caricature of himself on Top Gear. His comments and his actions - in fact his whole persona - are that of a television character akin to the likes of Alf Garnett. To be that way is to elevate himself to a higher level of recognition: he's more noticeable, more marketable and as a result is more interesting to watch on TV. Whether or not he needs to be so controversial we must leave for another day.

For now I must sum up the merits of this, one of my most favourite TV programmes. Some say this giant of a show in the BBC2 TV schedules is ill-judged and ill-conceived. Some say it offends more than it educates or entertains. Some even say that it's puerile and immature. All I know is it's called Top Gear, and quite frankly I wouldn't want it any other way.


Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Strictly Ridiculous

John Sergeant: Political correspondent, one-time comedian but not ballroom dancer. That much we can discern from the judges of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing who, along with many other fans of the show, have claimed he no longer deserves to take part in it.

Today, John Sergeant himself agreed and pulled out of the current series, fully aware of the fact that despite his popularity with much of the British public, other more capable celebrity contestants were being denied the chance to progress.

In many ways, Sergeant appears to have done the decent thing. As many of the other celebrities were voted off following high scores from the judges and low votes from the public, Sergeant remained a part of the programme by achieving the exact opposite.

Last Saturday, actress Cherie Lunghi - who has proven to be a more than capable dancer in recent weeks - became the latest contestant to leave the show via a dance-off. Sergeant and his dancing partner Kristina Rihanoff had no such worries - the general public had voted in large enough numbers to ensure he'd take part for at least one more week.

But the mutterings among those who want the dancers to be judged purely on their dancing have become all the more louder in recent weeks. All four of Strictly Come Dancing's judges, Bruno Tonioli, Len Goodman, Craig Revel Horwood and Arlene Philips, have gone on record recently as saying how unfair Sergeant's ongoing participation is, yet for all that they remained powerless to do anything about it. Now Sergeant has walked, thereby resolving the problem at a stroke.

A very noble act on his part and one that will come as some relief to the programme's makers, but the argument remains - should he have walked at all?

Many of his fans think not. Though this is strictly a dancing competition, it's not enough to suggest that only the dancing should be judged. Strictly Come Dancing is a light entertainment programme aired at 6.20 on a Saturday night, and for all the skills of the celebrity dancers, the public tune in fundamentally to be entertained. Judging the celebs' dancing is something the public do not (in the vast majority of cases) have any qualification to do whatsoever.

And that's what gives one the impression that the BBC have shot themselves in the foot again. If it had wanted Strictly Come Dancing to be a dancing competition in the truest sense of the term, they would leave the judging to the judges. They, after all, are the experts and can tell who's dancing like the next Wayne Sleep and who's dancing like... well... John Sergeant.

The BBC could relieve themselves of any need to involve the public at all, but of course there is a reason to do this: to generate income via the phone voting that takes place every week.

It goes without saying that much of the money raised from the phone votes goes towards the Children In Need charity and very welcome they must be for it, but the BBC are no mugs. By charging Joe Public to interact with one of its more popular programmes, they can also pocket a few quid for themselves. Except now that money has been spent on a contestant who, it turns out, will no longer play a part in the show, contrary to what the quantity of votes suggested.

It hurts to say it, but these are no longer innocent times, and yet perhaps a show such as Strictly Come Dancing would have worked much better had it existed in more innocent times. By allowing the judges to have complete control over the way the scores are awarded, no-one could ever complain about the outcome.

And maybe that's the whole point of this. John Sergeant's reputation as a loveable and affable personality will remain intact and the show's future will no doubt be as assured as ever too. But through failing to lay down the exact remit of the program and executing it in a haphazard way, the BBC will surely end up with egg on its own faces.

And would you pay good money to an organisation that's failing to live up to its purpose like that? Too late - in the form of the TV License fee, you already are.


Sunday, 16 November 2008

I'm stranded on a frozen planet, get me out of here

If George Takei sticks around long enough on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here he stands to be a household name in the UK. In fact he may end up becoming better known than the character he played for so many years in Star Trek. On the basis of that flimsy premise Some People Are On The Telly dons its ill-fitting Captain Kirk t-shirt and Spock ears to look back on the life and times of a Trek stalwart, Lieutenant Sulu.

Hikaru Sulu first appeared on Star Trek in the second pilot episode Where No Man Has Gone Before. As Physicist Sulu he made his debut at the same time as Scotty and Captain Kirk. Only Spock has been in Star Trek longer, appearing in the first pilot episode with and entirely different crew which was rejected by the commissioning network.

When Star Trek was finally commissioned at the second time of asking, Sulu went from scientist to Helmsman of the Starship Enterprise. Sulu was one of a number of supporting crew members who were regulars throughout the series but didn't do much more than take orders and say "Aye Captain". The Star Trek hierarchy went something like this:

Kirk, Spock and McCoy did most of the talking and all the interesting stuff.

Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and later Chekov plus an assortment of guest stars did some of the talking and most of the work.

The security guards in red shirts did none of the talking and pretty much all of the dying.

So, while Sulu is fondly remembered, this is mostly for what is said to him rather than for what he said. The phrase "Mr Sulu, ahead Warp Factor One" is almost as familiar as Beam Me Up Scotty and enjoys the benefit of actually having been said on the programme unlike the latter expression which, contrary to common belief, never was. Still and all, it's not much of a legacy is it - being famous for taking orders and doing a lot of sitting around? However, the character endured throughout the run of the franchise and beyond. In that time there were some highlights:

In the first season episode The Naked Time, the Enterprise is infected with a virus and the entire crew get drunk with hilarious and deadly consequences. Sulu spends much of the episode charging around the ship's corridors topless with a fencing blade acting like a musketeer. His shining moment is on the Enterprise Bridge as he grabs the buxom Lieutenant Uhura around the waist promising to "protect" her (well you would wouldn't you?) Tragically he is cut short thanks to a Vulcan nerve pinch and a rare one liner from Spock: "Take D'artagnan here to Sickbay."

In The Enemy Within, Sulu is stranded on a planet which is about to get too cold for human life to survive. While Kirk struggles with his mysterious doppleganger while trying to fix the transporter, Sulu is progressively covered in fake ice spray until he is barely visible.

Perhaps his finest 50 minutes was in the classic second season episode Mirror Mirror. Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura beam aboard the Enterprise from another dimension. The crew are the same but in this universe they are not part of a peaceful benevolent democracy similar to the United States but an evil and brutal imperialist regime similar to the United States. Spock has a beard and is cruel and Sulu is the Machiavellian Head Of Security. Complete with scar across his face, Sulu leches over Uhura and contrives to depose both Spock and Kirk as the two struggle for control of the ship. Takei clearly relishes his chance to be truly evil and delivers with aplomb one of the best lines from the series as he reveals his nefarious plans to Kirk:

Perhaps because of these rare moments, Sulu's character endured through the three seasons of Star Trek and his services were recalled for the follow up series Star Trek Phase II which was ditched in favour of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The movies allowed the character to develop. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home we learned that he was both in San Francisco and the Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country he finally took command of his own ship, the USS Excelsior. It was in that film as Captain Sulu, he dressed down a young ensign played by Christian Slater (then at the peak of his powers) who'd dropped in for a quick cameo. Years later, Takei would reprise his role in the Star Trek: Voyager episode Flashback which retold some of the events in Star Trek VI.

For a while, there was talk of a whole series chronicling Sulu's adventures on the Excelsior. A few audio plays were released but it never really amounted to anything. However, Mr Sulu is steeped in Star Trek lore and his inclusion on I'm A Celebrity is a smart move for both Takei and ITV. Star Trek remains hugely popular as evidenced by its constant repeats here in the UK. By all accounts he is a smashing bloke and his infectious laugh is legendary. More importantly, his presence will probably have his many followers rushing to the phones when it comes to the public vote.

Some People Are On The Telly doesn't usually do reality TV that much but is prepared to make an exception in this instance. We'll be tweeting matters IACGMOOH on our Twitter stream @spaott. The show is on Twitter too so why not join us there?


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Johnny Vegas Is Actually From Woking

Some People Are On The Telly watched Argumental on Dave last night. This is what it thought.

At a time where commercial television is getting crunched by Colonel Credit's mighty jack-boot its encouraging to see UKTV commissioning their own programmes. The network which has made a business out of repeating other channels TV shows is now making its way into the murky and treacherous waters of original TV.

The network's recent rebrand begun with Dave. The cross-channel makeover is nearly finished with only the factual and documentary stations awaiting the inevitable name change to or Plants or Trainspotting or something equally cerebral.

Dave was originally UKTV G2, a comedy repeat channel. Since adopting a blokes name it has continued to moved more into lifestyle and panel game-shows plus sport. Latterly its has become bolder with its commissioning. The channels' relaunch has been a success and has seen its audience share increase while some of their rival's is shrinking. Furthermore, as a Freeview channel its profile will grow as Digital Switchover continues. Consequently, Dave is UKTV's flagship free to air channel and it appears, has been given the programming budget to match.

The World Rally Championship's home in the UK is now on Dave with an hour long highlights programme (they even have their own mics with Dave written on them and everything). Other commissions include Batteries Not Included, a gadget programme hosted by John Cleese (apparently). Most interestingly (for us at least) however has been the launched of the comedy panel game show Argumental.

The programme essentially mixes stand-up, with game show with topical debate. Its a kind of Live at The Apollo marries Mock The Week with Have I Got News For You as its bit on the side. Its very Dave.

Former political correspondent and dancing judge botherer John Sergeant is your host. The two team captains stand up comics, Rufus Hound and Marcus Brigstocke, are joined by esteemed contemporaries as guests. Sergeant sets the debate going with a topical statement and the comics take turn in amusing the studio audience by arguing for or against the position. At the end of each round, the audience decide which team was the funnier and vote accordingly. The winner at the end of the show is... well you get the idea.

The result is funny. This Monday, the guests were Johnny Vegas and Robin Ince. The audience were treated to improvised routines from experienced comics based on such topics as Binge Drinking Is Not A Bad Thing, You Can't Beat A British Beach Holiday and Boris Johnson Is As Daft As He Looks. The comics got into the spirit of things, worked well off of each other and the little side argumants while, at times, a bit laboured yielded some decent gags. You even got to learn what the expression Daft As A Brush meant.

On the downside Argumental is not at all groundbreaking. Its produced by Tiger Aspect who are old hands at this sort of thing. The format looks more like a single round of Mock The Week stretched out to a twenty minute show and Sergeant's links are a bit ho-hum (although there is nothing wrong with the delivery). Basically its nothing new but then again, its on Dave and lets face it, there is not supposed to be anything new on Dave. Thats the point of the channel.

Argumental's strength is its familiarity, both to the audience and the participants. Everyone seems comfortable with the format and knows what they are doing. Consequently, its hit the ground running and will not need a whole series to find its feet. This is just as well since it will be expected to deliver a high audience share right from the off. Multichannel commissions are rare enough in today's climate and its doubtful that the show won't be given a second chance. Fingers crossed it won't need one.

Argumental is on Dave every Monday. More details are available the official website.


Friday, 7 November 2008

Count your blessings

Countdown is such a curious televisual beast, isn't it? The longest running show on Channel 4, nay - the first show on Channel 4, it remains an incredibly popular programme among a sizeable cross-section of the British public.

Unsurprisingly for a show that's been on air for 26 years, Countdown is now woven into the fabric of popular culture, lauded, derided, lampooned and respected as it is. For such an innocent and unassuming programme, how on earth has it managed to live so long?

Maybe it's the show's undeniable simplicity. A series of rounds where two contestants have to make the longest word they can with nine randomly drawn letters is about as straight-forward as it gets. There is of course a 'number round' every once in a while to break up the monotony, plus the conundrum at the end (essentially an anagram that has to be deciphered) but that's really it as far as the quiz element is concerned.

All well and good, but that alone can't be the sole reason for Countdown's popularity. Perhaps it can also be attributed to the resident personnel who provide a cosy sense of continuity to every show.

First of all, there's Des O'Connor - variety performer, singer, comic and butt of Eric Morecambe's jokes. With all the showbiz experience you'd expect of a 76-year-old, he very capably provides smooth and polished linkage throughout the programme and brings an infectious sense of contentment to proceedings.

Then there's Carol Vorderman. Once part of the team of five that featured on Countdown during its infancy, she now shares the presenting duties with Des and has become a TV personality in her own right. As everyone knows by now, she's not just a brainless dolly bird (see 'The Price Is Right', 'Play Your Cards Right' and others for evidence of the genre) - far from it. Carol's main function on the programme is to provide speedy solutions to the show's often difficult mathematical puzzles which, if nothing else, has enabled her to launch a whole range of books, DVDs and computer games.

Finally, there's Susie Dent, resident lexicographer and Queen of Dictionary Corner. Her job is to excel with words in much the same way as Vorderman does with numbers. Though more timid and demure in character than the others, Dent nevertheless carries out her duties with a similarly admirable sense of competency.

Between the three of them, O'Connor, Vorderman and Dent form a tenacious triumvirate, but to add a further element of spice, there's always a guest celebrity to keep Dent company in Dictionary Corner over the course of any given week. With a single opportunity to regale the audience with a well-chosen anecdote half-way through every programme, the choice of celebrity can be key to adding to the show's appeal.

From comedians to politicians, from actors to sports stars, few of the guests in Dictionary Corner fail to disappoint with their stories that provide a happy contrast to the serious business of puzzle-solving. Even Susie Dent herself now has a five-minute slot in which she discusses the origins of words or phrases in the English language that inform and educate in equal measures.

As for the contestants, you'll find people of all ages and backgrounds from 8-year-old children to clergymen in their 70's. Many of them go on to become champions in their own right and one never ceases to be amazed by their tenacity and intelligence.

So the concept is simple, the presenters are professional, the celebrities are entertaining and the contestants are inspiring. What's not to like?

Some may criticise the cheapness of the show - that is to say there's little in the way of glitz or glamour to please the eye. Certainly there are no round-the-world holidays or vast fortunes to be won, but they'd be surplus to requirements anyway. This is a daytime quiz show appealing to people who like to stimulate their brain cells, not be sent into a zen-like trance by the latest talent show or reality TV epic.

Put simply, Countdown is a valuable stalwart of British television that deserves to exist because of its charm and humility. How long it continues to exist beyond the end of the year, however, is open to some debate. As has been well publicised, Des O'Connor is leaving the show to pursue further musical and performing projects while Carol Vorderman is leaving out of protest at the 90% pay cut she was asked to take.

This latter point has created much furore among many of the celebrities to have appeared on Countdown in the past. Esther Rantzen and Rick Wakeman were just two of the personalities to leap to Vorderman's defence by suggesting that Channel 4 have made a mistake in dismissing the presenter.

Putting aside the subject of whether she deserves to be paid an estimated salary of £900,000, one has to wonder how enjoyable the show will be without Vorderman along with O'Connor and many of its regular guest celebrities when it appears on our screens in 2009.

Some will be quick to point out that Countdown's popularity remained largely intact after the death of Richard Whiteley (the show's original host) three years ago, but this is potentially much more damaging. I suspect Countdown will survive for a lot longer yet, but there's no doubt it will lose many of its fans as a result.

Weakened as it may be, this long-running and much-loved programme is sure to go on for one good reason. In a world going ever so slightly mad, it offers that most precious of things - refuge for the weary viewer thanks to the good, clean, harmless fun it provides. Unfashionable as it may be, there's still a place for it on British TV which is exactly why it should be treasured and loved for as long as is humanly possible.


The TV List of Little or No Consequence #1

A little fermented curd
The 43 Cheeses Requested By John Cleese's Character Mr. Mousebender In The 'Cheese Shop' Sketch From Monty Python's Flying Circus

1. Red Leicester
2. Tilsit
3. Caerphilly
4. Bel Paese
5. Red Windsor
6. Stilton
7. Gruyère
8. Emmental
9. Norwegian Jarlsberger
10. Liptauer
11. Lancashire
12. White Stilton
13. Danish Blue
14. Double Gloucester
15. Cheshire
16. Dorset Blue Vinney
17. Brie
18. Roquefort
19. Pont l'Evêque
20. Port Salut
21. Savoyard
22. Saint-Paulin
23. Carré de l'Est
24. Boursin
25. Bresse-Bleu
26. Perle de Champagne
27. Camembert
28. Gouda
29. Edam
30. Caithness
31. Smoked Austrian
32. Sage Derby
33. Wensleydale
34. Gorgonzola
35. Parmesan
36. Mozzarella
37. Pipo Creme
38. Danish Fynbo
39. Czechoslovakian sheep's milk cheese
40. Venezuelan Beaver Cheese
41. Cheddar
42. Ilchester
43. Limburger


Friday, 31 October 2008

Themologists: Tony Hatch

Some People Are On The Telly loves theme music. That's why we have our own Blip Stream dedicated to the best music the tube has to offer. In our our occasional series we take a look at the work of the top themologists and celebrate their genius. Let's begin with Tony Hatch:

Pinner's favorite son, Tony Hatch is probably better known for the songs he wrote for female vocalist Petula Clarke. The pair released a string of hits including the memorable Downtown.

Hatch's first TV theme of note was for British soap opera Crossroads. The daily tales of ordinary folk at the Crossroads Motel was introduced by Hatch's unmistakable and beautifully simple piano melody which became synonymous with half an hour of total boredom once the tune came to an end:

The theme was famously cover by Paul McCartney & Wings on their album Venus And Mars... and was often used for the end credits for the programme. Hatch went on to compose many classic themes: Sportsnight, with its highly energised news theme on speed style that screamed "Exciting sport right now!" Other themes include Mrs & Mrs, The Champions and Hadleigh. However, as a soap opera them composer he has few rival's. Say what you like about the programme itself, but almost everyone with a television knows the theme to Neighbours and Emmerdale right? The former was written with his one time lover Jackie Trent with whom Hatch enjoyed a successful partnership both in and out of the studio. The latter piece is a particular favourite of mine. At least the original version is when it was called Emmerdale Farm before they drooped the Farm and the oboe for that matter:

These themes are sat firmly in our collective consciousness. Sadly, like many of the Themologists we will cover on this Blog, the music will endure far longer than the names behind them. Almost everyone you meet will recognise the tunes featured on this page. Few however, will know who is responsible for them. We'll finish on perhaps a lesser know piece by Tony Hatch.

The documentary series Man Alive was a long running current affairs programme on the BBC which began in the sixties and continued into the eighties. Check out the Wikipedia page for more information on the programme itself. I don't really remember too much of the show but the them tune is terribly familiar and an absolute belter in my opinion. Next time you're walking in the metropolis, pop this in your ears and enjoy the city. Take it away Maestro:


Tony Hatch Official Site.


Thursday, 30 October 2008

They Walk Among Us: Ross & Brand Meet The Zombies

Britain has become infected. A swarm of freaks walk among us. Befuddled and aimless, they shamble through existence feeding off the misery and humiliation of others. I am talking about The Bleaters.

The Bleaters revel in public outrage and thrive on contempt for other human beings. The Bleaters swarm from one moral panic to another, feast on its remains and infect others with their virus. They exist in all walks of life. They are builders, housewives, call centre workers, middle managers, senior managers, journalists, politicians. The list is endless. So desperate are they to give meaning to their own lives that they will happily poke their noses into other peoples, searching in vain for validation.

Their latest feast is on a 78 year old actor who was a victim to a very crude and extremely public practical joke by a comedian and a chat chow host. The perpetrators (Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand) have become objects of hatred by The Bleaters. While their favourite newspaper's circulation balloons, they gorge themselves on the crass ineptitude of and for a few moments, forget about house repossessions, global economic collapse, 50,000 Congolese rendered homeless because of civil war and countless dead from an Earthquake in Pakistan.

Ross & Brand is a classic, obvious case of mass delusion. It harks back to happier times when things like this mattered and it protects us from the reality of these uncertain and unpleasant times. Its an excuse for news editors to move away from the gloom and depression and swell the coffers a bit with some mindless tittle-tattle. It's an opportunity for politicians to blame someone else for something else or to promote their own agenda which probably has something to do with the TV Licence and shares in commercial television.

Backing them up is this mass of flesh, this rump. An ever expanding demograph of outraged, pointless boneheads who are only too happy to be angry and disgusted about anything they see or hear as long as someone has told them about it first. At the time of Ross & Brand's outburst, only two people complained. The thousands of others only heard about it in the Tabloids. Some would have read the transcripts, other seen the clips on YouTube and letched over the 23 year old burlesque dancer. However, only two of them were actually listening and were able to judge the incident in its full context. Everyone else allowed Sky News and the Daily Mail to establish it for them.

This latest media driven moment of BBC bashing and moral outrage is a perfect example of self consumption. The story is no longer about Ross, Brand, Sachs or his granddaughter Georgina Baillie (who couldn't get herself down to the Sun's studios quick enough). It has become a story about the story. The Bleaters have gone from complaining about the story to becoming the story itself. They are gorging on their own flesh like cannabilistic Zombies.

How glorious then that the schedulers at E4 chose to run Dead Set through the week with almost conspiratorial timing. Charlie Brooker's Zombie horror show tells the tale of the Big Brother House's attempt to survive a Zombie outbreak. While aficionados of the genre should approve, no one should lose sight of the real horror. We are all eating ourselves and screaming out in anguish while we watch it happen.


Friday, 24 October 2008

Harry Hill Starts

A glamorous brunette relaxes in her office chair and reaches for the hem of her skirt. Slowly she lifts the hem up her thigh to reveal, the top of her suspender, her naked flesh and… a piano keyboard grafted onto her ludicrously elongated thigh.

It's Saturday night on ITV but what decade is it and what programme are we watching? Is it the 1970’s and Morecambe and Wise? Nope, its 2008 and the first of the new series of Harry Hill’s TV Burp is back on the telly.

The thing is, I’m not actually watching it on Saturday early evening as an antidote to Strictly Come Dancing. I’m watching the late night narrative repeat on Monday. You can schedule this programme pretty much wherever you like and it doesn't seem out of place.

Hill and his production team are exploiting a formula as old as TV itself. The first TV clip show was introduced about two minutes after John Logie Baird invented the Television. Clip shows enjoy the merit of being cheap and of high quality thanks to all the hard work done by the makers of the shows that the clips are from. All that needs be done to finish things off is the links between the clips. So far, so hum-drum. That was until Hill came along and decided to use the format as a vehicle for his own brand of comedy mania.

The result is, not only a show as funny as Have I Got News For You but a lot more accessible. The comedy is cheeky but only in the Carry On sense. It's not political so is unlikely to rub people up the wrong way. There is no underlying message or agenda. It is the classic example of not sacrificing a good gag in order to make a point.

For the uninitiated it is difficult, perhaps, to understand how Hill’s surreal style of comedy could work in such a conservative format. However, the show’s real genius is how he merges the links into the clips by momentarily duping the audience into thinking they are still watching the clip only to find Hill wandering in to play Alison King’s (the aforementioned glamorous bruntte) leg like a piano, for example - albeit with strategically placed body doubles.

The hijinks don’t end there. Frequently, the actors or personalities will appear in Harry’s world (specifically his studio) or turn up in other show’s 'clips' or take part in an extended gag. Few, who saw it, will ever forget the cataract sequence:

There are set-pieces like this that are too numerous to mention and lose a lot in translation, frankly. You’d have to see them. Which brings us to another reason why this programme is so special. Once they’ve been transmitted, you most likely won’t get the chance to see them again. It takes a bit of doing to get the licences to broadcast all these clips from other TV shows from other networks. The possibility of these episodes being screened beyond the same week narrative repeats are remote and it’s hard to imagine the series being collected as a box set for the same reason.

That’s what makes the programme so precious, the fact that if you miss it, you’ve really missed it. This is a rarity in today’s on-demand/multi-channel TV landscape and make the TV Burp even more special.


Thursday, 23 October 2008

Brain Games: Part 2 - Only Connect

It's fair to say that while most TV quizzes are pitched at a level that give the contestant or viewer a feeling of reasonable intelligence, there's also an extreme minority that are capable of inducing so much mental paralysis that you're left with the reputation of a half-witted moron or at best an audience member for The Jeremy Kyle Show.

One such example is BBC2's University Challenge which, as discussed yesterday, is aimed at the sharpest academics in the country and considers any interlopers with an IQ of less than 300 to be intellectual timewasters.

Another example has recently surfaced on BBC4 and, ironically, is broadcast the moment University Challenge ends on a Monday night. It's a new series called Only Connect and is already following hard in the footsteps of its predecessor.

While the show has a similar approach to testing your brain to its limits, elsewhere there are a number of noticeable contrasts. For a start, the show is fronted by Victoria Coren, the altogether more affable alternative to Jeremy Paxman whose wit has thankfully been passed down undiminished from her father, the late, great Alan Coren.

There's also no studio audience which makes for a curiously silent programme at times, but is no worse off for it as there's a frequent need to rack your brain for an answer to a question without any interruption.

Only Connect also relies heavily on computer-generated captions to show those questions on-screen, and here's where the premise of the quiz is laid bare for all to see. Two teams of three people with a similar interest or background (i.e. Scrabble players, Naturists, that kind of thing) are given a series of clues about a topic which connects them (hence the title of the show).

In Round 1, the task is to guess what that connection is while in the second round the contestants try to ascertain the last missing item in a sequence based on a similarly mysterious subject.

Here the programme is a little more generous in its ability to appeal to the viewer as the subjects can be anything from 'American Presidents' to 'Christmas Number 1 Hit Records'. No requirement for having a PhD in Nuclear Physics is required to play this quiz, but a brain that can think logically certainly is, especially in Round 3.

This is where each team is presented with a grid showing sixteen words or phrases that can be sorted equally into four subjects. The snag, however, is that some of the words or phrases potentially fit into more than one subject. Take the following example (click pic for a larger version):

A quick scan of the choices available quickly shows a few possible groupings. 'Bread', 'Lolly', 'Brass' and 'Readies' could all be ways of referring to money, but what about 'Dosh'? That would make a list of five, so which one belongs to another category?

Therein lies the rub. Without the aid of a pen and paper, the teams have only two and a half minutes to identify the unique solution to the puzzle. It looks very straight-forward, but it's deceptively tricky, and as Ms. Coren herself says, a good sense of general knowledge is not enough here.

The final round of the game has a different format but is no less tricky. The teams are given a category up front and are shown four items that fit it - except all the vowels have been taken out and the remaining consonants regrouped. Confused? Here's an example for you to try...

If the subject was 'Film Musicals' and the clue said 'SN GNNT HRN', what would the answer be?

If you said 'Singing In The Rain', you'd be right. In addition, if you watched Only Connect and thought it had all the hallmarks of a show that could run and run, you'd also be right. At least that's the popular belief among people leaving comments on TV-related internet forums at the moment, and I for one agree.

Only Connect is a great quiz programme which offers a fun way of exercising the brain and lets you down gently if you don't happen to know some of the answers. The puzzles are perfectly formed, the presenter is splendidly jocular - in fact there's little at all to dislike here.

And while we might take umbrage at the way the BBC seems intent on making us going to bed with migraines through all this mental activity on a Monday night, there isn't really a case to be had. The BBC deserves great credit for giving us two engaging and entertaining quiz programmes to start our week with, and I'm sure many of us are very grateful for that.

Just pray to God they don't move Mastermind to Monday nights too...


Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Brain Games: Part 1 - University Challenge

You'd think the programme schedulers at the BBC would have sympathy on the Great British public, but don't you believe it.

As people across the land arrive home from work on a Monday evening, the first priority for many is to kick off their shoes and vegetate happily in front of the telly. Feet up on the couch and with full glass of Rioja in hand, there's a collective desire to recover from the start of the working week in an atmosphere of cosseted bliss where the TV provides gentle entertainment and mellow pleasantry.

What a shame, then, that the BBC has an altogether more sinister agenda for its license fee payers - to fry their brain with a relentless quiz-based attack on their mental equilibrium.

University Challenge, the trusty old workhorse of BBC2's Monday night schedule, continues to attract viewers of… how can we put this… a masochistic nature. And that's not meant to be an insult - moreover, the sort of people that watch University Challenge seek only to gain personal satisfaction from answering two or at best three of its ridiculously difficult questions during the half-hour it's shown.

Fronted by Jeremy Paxman, the show seeks to find the brainiest college or university in Britain just as it has done on and off since 1962. Each week, two teams convene in front of Paxman, a man whose authoritarian style of presentation is at times gloriously brusque to the point of being downright rude. More of which later…

The questions fielded by both teams cover any number of subjects including physics, mathematics, art and history, but all to an academic standard which would preclude the attempts of many ordinary mortals from answering correctly. Indeed some of the questions are so utterly long and convoluted that it's any wonder the show doesn't last twice as long in order to accommodate them. Here's a short example:

What term is used for the speed required for an object to travel in a parabolic orbit around a larger body and thus is the minimum speed required to overcome the larger body's gravitational attraction?
The answer - Scale Velocity - barely does it justice.

Fortunately Paxman is more sympathetic to those students who fail to provide a correct answer here than to a question about a well-known piece of classic literature of which he considers himself something of an expert. Contestants that prove less competent than he at identifying, say, the opening line to Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing' can expect a response so full of wrath that a lengthy spell of counselling on the part of the respondent is frankly inevitable.

And it's that which makes the achievement of answering one of Paxman's questions so deliciously enjoyable. If you're lucky, your best chance of doing so may come from one of the rare sorties into popular culture that occasionally arise.

Last week, a sizeable cross-section of the population moved nearer their TVs as one when the pictures of three computer game consoles from the 1980's and 90's were shown. Contestants and viewers alike were asked to identify them, and for many the momentary act of remembering a golden age spent playing a Super Nintendo or Sega Saturn was more reason than enough to justify watching the programme in the first place.

But boy is it hard work. University Challenge makes no allowance for ignorance or stupidity. If the programme has any message for its viewers, it has to be that if you can't answer any of the questions, watch something else or shut up.

Should you take the first option by switching to BBC4 when University Challenge ends, you'll only find a slightly less remorseless barrage on your senses than the one you've just experienced.

Only Connect merely repackages the quizzical challenge offered by Paxman and Co. in a way that skilfully lulls you into thinking you've found a show which is less taxing on the brain. How wrong you'd be to think that.

Only Connect is BBC4's way of completing your Monday night mental meltdown, and we'll be reviewing it in greater depth tomorrow in the second and final part of 'Brain Games'.


Monday, 20 October 2008

Stateside Schama

It was my absolute intention to write an incisive piece about the new BBC series The American Future: A history featuring Simon Schama. God knows I tried to focus on the beautiful photography, the well researched narration, and the sheer wonderment of discovering some of the lesser known passages of the USA's past. Yet for all that, I failed miserably for one specific reason... his name? Simon Schama.

I am, for my sins, a newcomer to the work of Mr. Schama. Perilously little of his previous series - A History of Britain, Rough Crossings, Simon Schama's Power of Art - have I seen, but in the wake of other America-related programmes (no doubt scheduled because of the upcoming Presidential elections) it seemed now was as good a time as any to get well acquainted.

Unfortunately I found myself strangely distracted by the presenter during the first episode of his new series. It's probably me, and if so, I apologise. I'm not normally one to become obsessed with a person's physical presence on-screen, but in Schama's case I'll have to make an exception.

First and foremost, I had to overcome my nagging curiosity: just why did the esteemed historian look so familiar? Had I seen him before or was there some mysterious celebrity twin brother of his doing the rounds on TV at the moment? For five to ten minutes I sat there in front of my TV totally preoccupied with where I'd seen him (or someone like him) before. It was then I realised there was more than a passing resemblance between Schama and Ian McKellen.

Ten minutes gone, then, and fifty more to look forward to - all of them, presumably, spent under the strange delusion that Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings trilogy was now trying to educate me on the subject of American history.

I was then struck by the palpable sense of seriousness with which Schama delivered his dialogue. Put simply, he reminded me of one of those old men that sits anxiously by their front room window waiting to hurl vitriol at any kid that dares kick their football over his garden fence. Each line was delivered with a tangible scowl and a belligerent air of authority. I suppose it was that which made him such an arresting person on my screen, really.

There's no doubt he's a man passionate about the subject he's describing, and his credentials as someone that's studied world history go without saying. I just found him an intriguing alternative to the Michael Palins and Clive Jameses of this world who obviously present a different kind of programme but nonetheless do so with a more positive persona and a lighter touch.

It may seem I'm being a little unfair. Underlying this struggle to come to terms with Schama the Man I had great admiration for the way he described the resourcefulness of the early settlers in the American West. The tale of how farmers made use of the natural environment, its rivers and wide open spaces for personal gain and prosperity was incredibly enlightening and very interesting indeed. Putting the struggles they faced into a modern-day context, seeking the similarities with the Americans of today, was done with great skill and was typical of the quality documentary-making the BBC remains excellent at.

And that was the point I fully intended to make, except the personality - for that is what Simon Schama now is - initially got in the way of my viewing pleasure. Maybe the effect of this sullen-faced professor will wear off as I watch the other three episodes in the series, but for now I'll have to deal with the presenter as an enigma in his own right.

He is without question an historian with as many compelling facets to his character as the very subject matters he discusses, and that makes him the sort of presenter you want to watch again and again.


Saturday, 18 October 2008

Read All About It: The story of Darts on ITV

This November sees the Grand Slam Of Darts on ITV for a second year. The tournament features the best players from the sports' two governing bodies - the PDC and the BDO.

The competition represents a rare moment of rapprochement between the two bodies that split acrimoniously in the early 90's. It also emphasises the return of the tungsten ticklers to ITV for the second consecutive year. In fact the Third Channel has announced a deal to screen the Grand Slam on ITV & ITV4 for the next three years.

In addition, there will be further live coverage of other PDC events: The European Championships, the Players Championship and a pro-celebrity tournament. Truly the PDC is making a big step onto a larger stage.

Many viewers will only be familiar with BDO Darts coverage on the BBC or PDC on Sky. There was a time, however, when ITV was the home of the game and it covered it enthusiastically throughout the 70's and 80's. The most prestigious competition at this time was the News Of The World Championship.

The News Of The World was an annual tournament, which began life during the inter-war years. It was the forerunner to the World Championships at the Lakeside in Surrey, which started in 1978. Before then, the NOTW winner was seen as the de facto World Champion.

ITV's coverage began in 1970. Early footage shows players with throwing actions which would be regarded as bizarre by today's standards in front of a packed Alexandra Palace teeming with raucous predominantly working men enjoying each others company. Cigarettes and alcohol were in attendance both on and off the oche.

Some of the players featured were real darting legends: John Lowe, Leighton Rees, Bobby George and Eric Bristow were just a few names that resonate through the ages.

The TV coverage was basic by today's multi-camera swishy graphic standards. However, the site of barmy drunken geezers screaming their heads off is a familiar one to fans of Darts on TV today. Your commentator was sports journalist Dave Lanning whose West Country lilt pre-dates the legendary Sid Waddell, a man synonymous with Darts on TV. Indeed Lanning can still be heard commentating on all the major PDC tournaments on Sky alongside Waddell.

The News Of The World was not the only darts competition on ITV. Numerous regional and international tournaments took place on the stage and in front of the cameras. Darts also featured in Yorkshire TV’s Indoor League produced by Waddell. The programme was hugely informed by working men’s culture and featured pub games like Skittles, Shove Ha’penny, Bar Billiards and of course Darts. Take a look at this clip to see how unashamedly, gloriously regional the programme is. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Throughout the decade, coverage of the News Of The World continued, mostly on Saturday afternoon sports show World Of Sport presented by Dickie Davies. The image of the dart player as overweight boozer so classically lampooned by Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones in their classic Not The Nine O Clock News sketch (below) was defined by the News Of The World Championship and consequently by ITV.

The tournament itself endured until 1990. By this time it had been superseeded by the World Championship. Despite a brief revival in the mid-nineties (to allow Phil Taylor the opportunity to win the trophy) it has been consigned to history.

Its demise pretty much coincided with the end of ITV's coverage of the sport. After that it was BBC all the way until a small group of elite players (including Taylor) deserted the BDO to form the WDC, which then became the PDC. There are now two World Championship tournaments and a never-ending debate as to which is the best.

The 90’s proved something of a wilderness period for Darts. While the BDO continued to screen their World Championships on the BBC, Sky soldiered on with the PDC. Eventually it paid off with big TV audiences, massive purses and loud boisterous crowds watching the modern greats John Part, Raymond van Barneveld, James Wade and of course Phil Taylor winning hundreds of thousands of pounds. In 2002, after years of waiting, Sky managed to capture the holy grail of the sport, the nine-dart finish. Something only recorded on the BBC. This time, it was live and somehow it sealed the games renaissance.

In recent years the PDC has became bolder in its ambitions and last year organised the Grand Slam, bringing top BDO players to be screened live on ITV. After a lengthy hiatus (interrupted by a one of match between Taylor and van Barneveld, then the BDO World Champion), darts is back and for these who don’t have Sky Sports, there is an opportunity to watch the best players in action for free. Game on.

ITV will be screening the European Championships from October 30th, the Pro-Celebrity Challenge from 14th November and the Grand Slam of Darts begins the next day. A further tournament will be screened in the New Year.

ITV Darts official website


Friday, 17 October 2008

Welcome to SPAOTT...

Yes, welcome everyone. This is Some People Are On The Telly - a website dedicated to the mutual enjoyment or otherwise of the medium that is television.

The bastard child of Some People Are On The Pitch and The Onion Bag, SPAOTT has come about through a desire to share our viewing habits with you, our like-minded audience.

We'll be writing about a broad range of subjects from programming to advertising, to continuity and all-out nostalgia. If you like what you see (or if you don't, quite honestly), leave us a comment after any of our articles. And that's not all...

Every so often, we'll be live-blogging some of our favourite shows on Twitter, which is where you can become part of what we'd like to think of as the biggest virtual front room ever. If you haven't already got a Twitter account, now's probably a good time to get one as it'll enable you to join us for a regular online experience we think you'll enjoy.

So there it is, without waffling on any longer than we have to. Some People Are On The Telly - the website that does for TV what Gary Glitter did for the Vietnamese Tourist Board.


Contact SPAOTT

If you'd like to send us your comments, complaints, compliments or if you'd like to write for us, send your message to the following address: spaott [at] the-onion-bag [dot] com.

If you liked SPAOTT, why not try...

Some People Are On The Pitch
Football for the discerning enthusiast, featuring news, nostalgia, trivia - all served up with a decent side-order of humour.

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Modern-day football shot through a comedy prism. Brilliantly surreal and always cuttingly satirical

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