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.


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