Tag Archives: Crossroads

Jury dis-service?… The English legal system… court with its trousers down.

Inventor and Malcolm Hardee Award designer John Ward has a weekly column in the Spalding Guardian newspaper. Earlier this week, he sent me a copy of this week’s piece, subsequently published.


Years ago I received a letter requesting my presence for jury service at the local Crown Court on a given date, so I informed my boss why I would not be at work then and possibly for a few days after depending on how the case/trial proceeded, so plans were sorted to cover for me.

I popped in a few days later and told my mum, of the people for the people, about it as she sat slooping tea in the kitchen with her friend Viv, who suggested I “might see Margaret Lockwood there”: about that time the actress Margaret Lockwood was starring as a lady barrister in a weekly TV drama called Justice.

Mum said it was unlikely as I was to be there for ten in the morning and Margaret was covering the ‘late shift’ as she came on at nine o’clock in the evening but only did an hour’s worth before the News at Ten came on.

Sorted then.

I arrived on Tuesday as requested and went through the formal procedure as a juror – this induction has possibly changed over the years – and all went well as we selected twelve were given a rundown of how things went.

On going into court, fellow juror ‘Miss Marple’ (or ‘Miss Know-it-all’ who was to sit next to me in the jury box, sadly) complained the seats were too hard and felt she “might not last the day” due to her “problem”. Ron, another juror, muttered that her problem might be she was a ‘moaning Minnie’ so no cure there then.

Seeing one person enter, Miss Marple remarked that he was “a wrong ‘un, quite shifty looking – You can tell by their ears you know.” 

He turned out to be the prosecuting counsel.

After the preliminaries were sorted as to who was who and what might be what, battle commenced in the form of the first witness for the prosecution being called and a slight hint of the pantomime to unfold in more ways than one.

He was sworn in and was asked his profession to which his head swivelled all around as it was quite obvious the term had got him stumped. The clerk to the court then said the court wanted to know what he did for a living, to which he smiled and said he was “a pint spire” much to everyone’s amazement, Judge included.

He was asked three times with the same response, until the judge requested he write it down and this duly happened. It was then handed up to the judge and he then read out the man was “a paint sprayer” to which the witness then said: “I fed fo the flurst tome didn’t I!?”

Thus was the start of the high comedy to follow over the next few days as we heard assorted accounts of the case. As possibly the late Eric Morecambe might have paraphrased it: “All the right evidence but not necessarily in the right case”.

The case we were sitting on seemed to have references to other ‘events’ that related to another criminal case as the defendant seemed to have had quite a colourful past if some details quoted, or inferred, were anything to judge by. It did leave a lot of questions – or cases – unanswered but, hey oh, we battled on regardless.

Day two arrived as well as Miss Marple but she was now armed with her purple velvet cushion to sit on.

The basics of the case revolved around the defendant and his then friend a.k.a The Pint Spire who together removed various building materials from assorted areas to build a large extension to a house, doubling its value. But, during all this happening, they fell out (another story worthy of a Carry On type film) and so The Pint Spire reported him or – as the defendant said in the box later – “He bladdy grassed me up!”

The falling-out seemed to hinge on the defendant’s wife and her alleged involvement with The Pint Spire but the details – or, rather, what we were told in court – seemed to relate to another case entirely, so we were partly confused with even the Judge’s eyebrows seemingly doing a rumba at various times.

So we were instructed to disregard certain things said.

The prosecuting counsel had tried to sweep it away by saying there “might well have been a liaison between the couple” as Miss Marple whispered to us: “It means a ‘leg-over’ in French”. The judge overheard and raised an eyebrow.

Finally it came to Friday morning with the Judge summing up. I was amazed that, while I thought he was nodding off at times, he had actually handwritten down everything said in court from day one and even mentioned the confusion over The Pint Spire’s profession.

This took about an hour or so to hear as we were then instructed to go away and come back with a verdict but he would only accept a ten to two majority if there were any doubts among us.

So off we went to the jury room to debate the case.

Miss Marple got her knitting out of her bag, then click-clacked away with the needles as she said her vote was “He’s guilty, that one” (maybe it was his ears?) as she wanted to finish a sleeve off.

British justice at its best. – The defendant was guilty as somebody wanted to finish knitting her jumper sleeve.

Due to assorted elements of the case, we arrived with a three to nine majority, so word was passed through, then we were given ‘extra time’ but by now the clock was ticking by. 

It was now ten past four – as, out of the woodwork almost, came ‘Miss Takkan’, the quiet juror, whose voice we had not even heard since her being there.

She was ‘one of the three’ but now wanted to change to Guilty.

When asked what had brought this change about, she said that she was some miles from home and might not make it in time if we were in a stalemate as she wanted to see “my fave soap Crossroads at 6.30”.

So we had the ten to two result.

The accused got a fairly light sentence (we all thought so) by way of a fine.

Miss Marple didn’t finish her sleeve, but hopefully Miss Takkan got home in time to see Benny and Amy Turtle on Crossroads. 

I never saw Margaret Lockwood but then she did the nine to ten shift anyway.

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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How to write, structure and maintain a TV soap opera like Coronation Street

Many moons ago, I used to work a lot for Granada TV in Manchester, home of Coronation Street which, since its birth in 1960, has been the UK’s regular ratings-topper.

I never worked in the Drama Department at Granada – mostly I was in Promotions with slight forays into Children’s/Light Entertainment.

But I remember having conversations with two Coronation Street producers at different times about the structure of the soap and they both, pretty much, ran it along similar lines.

The first, crucial pillar to build a soap on is a central location.

In Coronation Street, the BBC’s EastEnders and ITV’s Emmerdale this is a pub – the Rover’s Return, the Queen Vic and The Woolpack.

River City in Scotland and Fair City in the Republic of Ireland have also taken the pub to their soapy hearts.

The pub allows you to have a central core cast – a small staff and ‘regulars’ who live locally – and a logical reason why new characters bringing new plots will enter and leave the ongoing storyline.

ATV’s ancient soap Crossroads used a variation of this by having the central setting as a motel.

In the case of Coronation Street, there was (certainly when I worked at Granada) a formula which went roughly like this…

DRAMATIC STORYLINES

  • one main storyline peaking
  • one main storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next main storyline
  • one subsidiary storyline peaking
  • one subsidiary storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next subsidiary storyline

COMIC STORYLINES (as with dramatic storylines)

  • one peaking
  • one winding down
  • one building

I have always thought that EastEnders fails in ignoring or vastly underplaying the possibility of comic storylines. When Coronation Street is on a roll, it can be one of the funniest shows on TV.

I confess shamefacedly that I have not actually watched Coronation Street lately (well, it HAS been going since 1960, now five times a week, and even I have a partial life).

But another interesting insight from one of the producers at Granada TV was that Coronation Street (certainly in its perceived golden era) was also slightly out-dated. It appeared to be a fairly socially-realistic tableau of life in a Northern English town, slightly dramatised. But it was always 10-20 years out-of-date. It showed what people (even people in the North) THOUGHT life was currently like, but it had an element of nostalgia.

This was in-built from the start. The initial ‘three old ladies in the snug’ of the 1960s – Era Sharples and her two cronies) is what people thought Northern life was like but, in fact, that was a vision from the early 1950s or 1940s or even 1930s. So modern storylines were being imposed on a slightly nostalgised (not quite romanticised!) vision of the North.

In other countries where pubs are not a tradition, of course, you have to find another central location.

But, in my opinion, if you lessen the humour and harden the gritty realism, you may maintain ratings figures in the short or medium term, but you are gambling. And if your spoken lines sound like written lines (as they often do in EastEnders) then you are a titanic success sailing close to an iceberg.

But what do I know?

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Why Chris Tarrant’s TV show OTT was taken off air – a naked Malcolm Hardee

Partial Tiswas reunion in Birmingham yesterday

Partial Tiswas singing reunion in Birmingham yesterday

I went to a Tiswas reunion in Birmingham yesterday, organised by the Tiswas Online website (who are currently offline, in a suitably anarchic way)

I was told four completely unpublishable TV sex stories (none involving Tiswas but three involving BBC Television Centre).

Buy me a tea and a muffin and I’ll tell you.

The most interesting anecdote, though, was told to me by one of the Tiswas Online stalwarts, Peter Thomas.

He told me why Chris Tarrant’s attempt at a late-night ‘adult’ version of TiswasOTT – was taken off-air.

Tiswas was originally produced by ATV but then ATV lost its broadcast franchise partially because it was seen as a London-based TV company not a Midlands company (it had the ITV Midland franchise) but also largely, it was said, because the regulatory body was embarrassed by the low standard of its Crossroads soap opera, which had become the butt of comedians’ jokes.

The company which took over – Central Independent Television – was, in effect, the same as ATV – it had much the same staff, premises and programmes (even Crossroads). But it had new shareholders.

One of these was Boots, the chemist company.

Peter Thomas told me: “The wife of a director at Boots was appalled when she saw The Greatest Show of Legs perform the naked balloon dance at the end of the first OTT show.”

The Greatest Show on Legs, at that time, were Martin Soan, Malcolm Hardee and ‘Sir Ralph’.

“She found the whole thing to be immoral and perverse,” Peter told me. “So pressure was put on the Central board to tone down the show.”

The writing was on the wall, despite the fact the Greatest Show on Legs were invited back again.

“Chris Tarrant & co had expected a second series,” said Peter, “but Central would not let them do it live – It would all have to be pre-recorded so Central could vet everything… and Central would not give them a studio. So OTT became Saturday Stayback, an alternative comedy sketch show filmed in a pub.”

This terrible dog’s dinner of an idea, of course, did not succeed.

Peter tells me this story of the decease of OTT was recounted by Wendy Nelson, former newsreader for ATV Today and Central News in the documentary ATVLand In Colour, in which he and other Tiswas Online people were involved.

The Greatest Show on Legs’ OTT appearance is on YouTube:

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Television