Tag Archives: ABC

The golden age of British TV shows included a woman dusting things

In the imagined golden olden days of British independent television, ITV was actually a loosely-linked collection of regional companies with some programmes transmitted locally, some fully-networked and some partly-networked.

As a result, there were some occasionally odd programmes on air.

Keith Martin presenting at Anglia TV

Keith Martin presenting at Anglia TV

Yesterday, I was talking to Keith Martin who worked, it seemed, almost everywhere as a freelance announcer and presenter. He worked on pirate ship Radio Caroline, for the BBC Forces’ broadcaster and for, among many other ITV stations, ABC, Anglia, ATV, HTV, LWT and Thames.

“I remember,” I told him, “writing introductions for Houseparty in, I guess, the 1970s. That was just housewives sitting around randomly talking with no script.”

“Well,” said Keith, “that was a Southern Television production and was a forerunner and far more entertaining than the current Loose Women on ITV, which is done in a stationary way with a row of delightful ladies just gossiping.”

Houeparty - just women chatting

Houseparty from Southern TV – women chatting randomly

“I seem to remember,” I said, “in Houseparty, there would be a ding-dong on the door bell and someone would come into a living room which had been built in the studio.”

“It had this vast kitchen,” remembered Keith. “I suppose you could have called it a farmhouse kitchen. The programme wasn’t networked to all the ITV regions, but Anglia TV certainly took it – it was probably cheap.”

“How did you introduce Houseparty at Anglia?” I asked, “Because you never had any idea what they were going to be chatting about.”

“Most of the opening station idents in front of the programmes,” Keith reminded me, “had noises – little bits of music which someone got paid repeat fees on – but this particular programme had a silent ident, probably because Southern never thought it was worthy of even a harp being plucked. The ident used to come in silently, just like the Granada symbol.” (Granada allegedly had a silent logo to avoid paying for music.)

“When I was at Anglia,” said Keith, “I always made a point of talking over the opening logo because the programme always opened up with these women gossiping about something or other. So I would just say something like Oh, that’s not true! It can’t possibly be true! and then the sound would mix into their gossip and, a lot of the time, it made sense and it was hysterical. The engineers out the back would yell: Perfect! Perfect!”

In the 1960s, this was a TV star

A UK star with its own TV show in the 1960s…

“Who broadcast the feather duster?” I asked him.

“Oh, that was an ABC Television series,” he told me. “I don’t think it lasted very long because I suspect (the ITV regulatory body) the ITA didn’t think it was meaningful enough.

“It was just popular records playing with this woman talking occasionally to camera and she would do the housework while the record was playing. She was doing feather dustering around the house. And this was on television! I’m surprised it’s not been brought back.”

“This programme lasted half an hour?” I asked.

“Oh, at least half an hour,” said Keith. “And it was live.”

“What sort of year was this?” I asked.

“Some time in the 1960s,” said Keith. “The thing was you could tune into these programmes, switch them on and you could hear ‘popular records’ being played on television. Associated-Rediffusion did something very similar with Kent Walton (who went on to be a wrestling commentator). That was dancing and prancing. It was an excuse to play ‘gramophone records’ and the visuals were young people dancing and prancing around in the studio. Cool For Cats, it was called.

“It was all carefully rehearsed as, I’m sure, the dusting programme itself was so that, by the time the music finished, you would only have got to a particular point in the dusting, otherwise you would be dusting the same doorknob again.”

“What did the woman with the duster say?” I asked.

“Please!” replied Keith. “I’m old, but I’m not that old. I saw it as a child. How I saw it I don’t know. It would have been networked to the Midlands and the whole of the North of England.”

Ah! The golden days of television, before everything was dumbed down.

2 Comments

Filed under Humor, Humour, Television

“The Avengers” was like a Doris Day comedy – says writer Brian Clemens

The Avengers’ style was dictated by the budget

In 1979, I chatted to writer Brian Clemens, the man behind British TV successes The Avengers and The Professionals. The interview was published in Starburst issues 29 & 30.

Yesterday I posted the first half of the first part of that interview. Now the second half…

* * * * *

The two words that epitomise everyone’s memories of The Avengers are visual style. How did that develop? According to Brian Clemens an important factor was economics.

“A lot of the evolution of the style was really because they didn’t have any sets. (Director) Peter Hammond was always shooting through wine glasses because, if he moved the camera over here, they didn’t have any windows or walls. A great deal of the evolution of the style was pure economics.

Women could be tied but not killed

“But, having seen the way it was going, when we started making the shows on film (with the Diana Rigg series) I introduced certain ground rules: that there shouldn’t be any blood, that women shouldn’t be killed and the streets should only be populated with people in the plot. They tended to be empty streets because if you put Steed, who is an anachronism – a pantomime character – alongside any reality, then you’ll stop believing in him.

“It’s really in the mould of a Doris Day comedy, where there are no upstairs rooms. The world of fantasy only works if you totally believe in the world it’s enclosed in and we tried to do that in The Avengers. In some of the plots we broke the rules. We did have one where it was necessary to show ordinary, busy streets in order to then say Now there’s nobody there. Generally speaking, we abided by the rules, but the rules were always totally flexible. One could always bend the rules for the sake of an exceptional plot.”

Another part of The Avengers’ style was the inversion of the dramatic cliché.

“We did that an awful lot,” says Clemens, “like Sherlock Holmes planting clues. And we had a marvellous teaser once with the body outline marked out on the floor and this chap comes in, they shoot him and he falls into the outline. We were always doing that sort of thing.”

Co-stars included Arthur Lowe (later star of “Dad’s Army”)

The series got more and more bizarre and, as well as debunking Sherlock Holmes, famous film plots started turning up – High Noon, The Maltese Falcon and Tarzan movies were just some.

“At one time,” says Clemens, “the premise was that once we attacked a subject nobody could ever do it again for real. But, again, we were ahead of our time and it didn’t totally work in international terms because, when you got to the Teutonic masses or the mid-West, they were all taking it for real. Today I think it would have a completely different impact.”

Throughout the various Avengers series, Clemens’ influence was considerable. On the early videotaped series, he had just been an occasional writer. After the Honor Blackman series, he was offered a job as general videotape producer-director at ABC Television. He turned this down when he was offered a job as script editor and associate producer on the new filmed Avengers series starring Diana Rigg.

“What they wanted,” he explains, “was someone who knew The Avengers and knew film and I was the only person who was qualified.”

Today he has no regrets about turning down the producer-director job. “If I’d produced and directed on tape, I could be sitting with Sydney Newman now. (Former Head of Drama at ABC and the BBC.) Sydney was a brilliant man but didn’t make any impact internationally. The thing about getting involved in something that was very successful internationally was that I could go to Hollywood four years later and people had heard of me and knew what I’d done.

“I don’t hold a great brief for America. But unfortunately, as we have no film industry, if you want something to be done these days, you have to think of America as the mecca of film-making. It’s sad. I mean, five years ago, I wanted to make Britain the Hollywood of television product – which it could easily be if you could find anybody who’s willing to take a chance. And it’s not much of a chance.

“If you’re a millionaire and I say to you Give me a million pounds and I’ll invest it in television product, you might not do a Jaws, you might not make £50 million, but you wouldn’t lose your million. I don’t just mean The New Avengers. Almost anything. I don’t think anything I’ve written has been transAtlantic, but they’ve always sold internationally and I don’t just mean America. Thriller has sold in 90 countries and The Avengers has sold in something like 120 and The Professionals is selling. I don’t think indigenous success (in Britain) means quite so much. It means people in the local pub like you, but it restricts you ultimately.”

One of Brian Clemens’ Avengers scripts

One reason Clemens’ work has always sold internationally is probably because he writes strong plots and, if he has to be pigeonholed at all as a writer, he could be called a ‘plot’ man.

“Yes,” he says, “I suppose I am a plot man. Of late, I’ve tried to be more, but I am a plot man. I think that’s fair. I’ve never pretended I’m a brilliant writer, but I can think up 400 plots today, if you want them, and some will be quite new.”

So is it an innate skill?

“I think it must be, yes. Or it may be that I’ve seen so many plots I understand them so well… I understand that, if you change one brick, you’ve got a different plot.”

Another trait that often surfaces in Clemens’ work is a quirky humour.

“You see,” he says, “humour is enduring. It’s like Dickens. Nothing could be more dated than Dickens – he’s talking about social injustices that have gone 50, 60, maybe 100 years ago. But, because he’s funny and he’s warm, we still relate to him. I think modern writing and modern concepts… People are resisting being funny or warm as if making people laugh or cry weakens them. I think that’s ridiculous. It’s just as dogmatic as certaiun MGM products of the 1950s which portrayed the American way of life as it wasn’t.

“Now we’ve got another way of life (on screen) which isn’t really like that either. It’s only showing one half of the truth. I don’t believe people can survive in our society without crying or laughing. You couldn’t. How could you exist in some of those coal mining places up North or in Wales if you didn’t have that asset of being able to release the optimism within you? I think it’s terribly important.

“Over the last six or seven years on television we’ve had a lot of programmes showing that people who lived between 1910 and 1950 had a terrible time. My father and mother grew up in the East End of London just beyond the turn of the century. My father’s written about it and told me about it and I’d rather be there then than here now. I run two cars and have a good life, but his life was richer.

“He was an engineer, but he lived in a real slummy area and all his memories are rich – even the bad memories are rich. My memories are bland compared with his. I didn’t suffer and struggle at my age as he did at the same age. At the end of the First World War, my father walked something like 22 miles a day just looking for work. He didn’t like it at the time but, along the way, he met all sorts of interesting people.

“At least he knew he was alive. Sometimes I think you have to have a little bit of suffering to me made aware that you’re alive. I think the antithesis of that is California, where they’re all very much alive but many of them might as well be embalmed.”

TO BE CONTINUED… HERE

Leave a comment

Filed under Television, Writing

UK comedian Nik Coppin accused of racism in Oz by white Peter Goers who “couldn’t tell” the colour of Nik’s skin

Nik Coppin not wearing a baseball cap and not looking down

(This was also published by Indian news website WSN – We Speak News)

British comedian Nik Coppin wrote to me last night:

__________

This situation in Adelaide has really hit me for six. Not because I can’t handle the shit that Peter Goers has sent my way, but I really can’t believe that an interesting and amusing story about Australian history and sport was met with such closed-mindedness, rudeness and ignorance!

It’s not just the way he verbally abused me in the studio and tried to get me to bow down on the phone, but to actually put in print that I am racist????”

__________

Last week, Nik was a guest on Peter Goers’ radio show on state broadcaster ABC. Nik (who is half English and half West Indian) told Goers he had chosen to support the Essendon Australian rules football team because the team (who play in black and red) were once nicknamed ‘the Blood-Stained Niggers’ and now have more aboriginal players and fans than any other AFL team.

Goers told him he was a racist and to “Get the fuck out of my studio!”

Laughing Horse boss Alex Petty, who is partly staging Nik’s show, was also part of the radio interview.

“It was one of the most bizarre radio interviews I have ever been involved with,” he told me yesterday. “The interviewer even thought Nik was a Canadian. The next day, he said to Nik: “I couldn’t tell that what colour your skin was, as you had a baseball cap on and looked down a lot”For telling an anecdotal story about the change of racist attitudes in Australia, a middle-class, out-of-touch and unprofessional white man calls mixed-race comedian Nik Coppin racist! It is completely unjustifiable.”

I occasionally have my blogs printed in the Huffington Post.

It is a fairly automatic routine. If I submit ‘em, they get published. But there was one which I sent them which was noticeably not printed. It discussed and used the word ‘nigger’.

I asked a black chum of mine whom I have known for over twenty years what she thought. “Love the article,” she said, “Interestingly, I have to say that I hate it more when I hear one black person call another a ‘nigger’, probably because it‘s being used when another adjective or noun would do.”

Nik told me last night:

__________

The word ‘nigger’ is a very interesting one. Powerful, perhaps the most powerful in the language, but I feel that it exists in a very strange and grey area. It’s not a swear word as such, like ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’ – words that can’t really be used in any context without being deemed offensive – but, aimed as a term of abuse, it is far worse than any other.

However, in the context of a story, especially an historical one, why can it not be used? To not use it at all, even to outline a point or tell an anecdote is surely like brushing racism or certain aspects of it under the carpet, is it not?

I have experienced racial abuse from both sides of the black and white coin, so I, too, exist in some ways in some kind of grey area, in that I get it from both sides and could also be seen as racist against both sides, again depending upon the context. The British comic Ian Cognito ironically went on stage after me, years ago, when I was a new act and said: “If your mum was white and your dad was black, surely you would be grey? That amuses me to this day.

A story I have told that has actually sparked some degree of controversy was when I tried to stop an African man from sexually abusing a drunk young girl in the Meadow Bar in Edinburgh and, after repeatedly and politely asking him to stop, he told me that I was nothing to him – not a true black man – so to stay out of it. He repeatedly called me a “worthless half cast bastard”. He racially abused me to exert some kind of power over me in light of me not letting him have his way with a vulnerable young female friend of mine.

I have been there before with being called ‘hybrid’, ‘mongrel’, ‘half cast’, by black people (as well as ‘nigger cunt’ by white people) so, given that I had given him so many chances to play nicely with the girl and retract his racist abuse of my heritage, which he refused to do, I dropped the N-bomb on him. He, like many I have told the story to, became offended. After what he had done and said? Where is the sense in that? Even less sensical, he told me that I shouldn’t call him that because he had mixed race children! WTF????

I am not proud of myself for dropping that N-bomb on him and I should have perhaps taken the moral high ground, but I feel he deserved it in that instance. I make a wee joke of the story when I tell it in front of audiences by saying that all the Scottish locals in the Meadow Bar were looking at a black man and mixed race man racially abusing each other and thinking “I thought WE were racist!”

The really interesting thing about this story is that most people only flinch at the use of the word ‘nigger’. Him attempting to sexually molest a young girl – that’s OK – him calling me a worthless half-cast bastard – ooh, strange and not nice – but you called him a WHAT????

‘Nigger’ is a terrible word to use, especially when using it offensively or aggressively, but is it worse that being called a ‘hybrid, ‘mongrel’, ‘worthless half cast bastard’? It seems that it is in most people’s eyes. And should we really be banning it from everything and everywhere, even stories of the past? I don’t think so and we certainly should not jump to conclusions about someone being racist just for using the word if relevant and in context… should we, Mr Peter Goers?

Racism is a horrible and backward thinking way of life, but there are massive differences between race hate, a joke about a race, a racist joke, a story about race etc. People seem all to quick to lump anything to do with race in one basket, which is totally wrong in my opinion. By all means stamp out racism, but don’t do it by way of brushing it under the carpet.

True racists and race-haters are terrible, nasty people that have no place in modern society, which is why they whisper and meet in places on the quiet so often. When your ’cause’ makes you have to do that, then surely you must realise that your plight has failed. And since intelligent and forward-thinking people know that these people are to be looked down upon and shunned, I like to use the term, ‘Racists are the new niggers’.

Which is why I simply can’t let Mr Goers off the hook if I can help it. He has by calling me a racist, in effect, called me a nigger himself. I am not that stupid or ignorant to think or feel that way about any race of people with derision, scorn or hate. I simply don’t have that capacity within me.

I will be using these stories, examples and opinions and many more in my shows next year. Not necessarily at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, but certainly at all the festivals in 2013.

__________

Yesterday, in a list of things to see and things to avoid printed in Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Mail newspaper in Australia, Peter Goers gave Nik Coppin “Minus Four Stars” as a “racist Fringe comedian”.

Alex Petty told me yesterday: “The implied accusations of racism by Goers (on the radio) have been put in print by the same person and this is going to be taken to solicitors, the Australian press complaints process and the editors and owners of ABC Radio and the Sunday Mail.”

This story may well have some way to run. And with good reason.

5 Comments

Filed under Australia, Comedy, Racism