Ghosts, Monsters And Legends (And Tennis Prodigies)

One of the big pre-Christmas TV treats of years gone by were the vaguely seasonal children's drama serials that the BBC would put out during those Advent Calendar-accompanied weeks, with the last episode usually going out as close to Christmas eve as schedually possible. Heavy on the child actors, usually adapted from a novel that quickly acquired a cash-in friendly BBC books makeover, invariably CSO-saturated and generally enhanced by the mercifully unique musical stylings of Roger Limb, they were very much of their time but are fondly remembered by those who watched them through a haze of waiting for school to break up and throwing dislodged Christmas tree decorations at your siblings. Here's what you would have been watching instead of Torchwood repeats in days gone by...


1976: "Some Indian Things..."


The first such example came along in the form of an adaptation of E. Nesbit's tale of Edwardian youngsters having spiffing bird-and-rug-instigated adventures in time and space (well, bits of the British Empire) The Phoenix And The Carpet, famously starring future Rateometer-toting Doctor Who uberfan turned uberspinoffproducer Gary Russell alongside a jerkily Yafflesque Clash Of The Titans-predicting puppet Phoenix with a very obvious join in its neck. There's not much in it to do with Christmas per se, but in the genteel setting, mundane cliffhangers, disjointed psuedo-classical theme tune ending on disconcerting 'melting' tones and the heaps of shakily realised CSO sequences, you can see the template for the next decade and beyond arrive entirely fully formed. Also on this year, and adhering to much the same production style and indeed production values, was a feature-length one-off rendition of Roald Dahl's James And The Giant Peach, noted for its decidedly unsubtle blend of human-sized insect costumes, CSO-derived 'peach interior' sets, balloon-derived 'peach exterior' sets, and soundtrack of hammy panto-esque song and dance numbers.


1977: "Leave It!"


Definitely the odd one out on this list, King Cinder dispensed with the tendency towards polite Edwardiana in favour of a speedway-riding Peter Duncan taking on local protection racketeers in a hail of car chases and 'villain's drinkers'. Stunts abounded and shouting reverberated in a serial that seemed closer to Quadrophenia than the usual Blytonesque twitterings, and those in search of more festive fare, not to mention less sub-Sweeney soundtracks, were effectively left with the televisual equivalent of a sack of ashes - or, if you will, cinders - this year. Doubtless inspired a wave of dubious bicycle antics come Christmas Day, though.


1978 : "Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"


As if to make up for the previous year's paucity, this time there were two textbook serials running pretty much concurrently. The Moon Stallion starred a pre-Nyssa Sarah Sutton in a beautifully rendered but virtually impenetrable tale of something to do with a blind girl, the XTC-friendly chalk horse of Uffington, and a real horse locked in a battle of wits with some bloke who blames it for his family's misfortune. Erm, somehow. Added to this there's something about an ancient Pagan deity issuing a warning about Skylab being a tool of the forces of evil. Much raved over by some but remembered with bewildered puzzlement by so many others. Meanwhile, also knocking about the schedules was a word that even today still causes a shudder - Pinocchio. There's little to say about this darkly-hued nightmarish art deco formally-theme-tuned puppet-meets-real-actors reimagining with added overlong shrieky bits par excellence other than that we've yet to meet anyone who carried on watching it past the still-terrifying Land Of Toys sequence.



1979: "It Must Be... Magic!"


Time for a spot of shark-jumping that was even less impressively rendered than Pinocchio's dalliance with a cardboard whale the previous year (itself repeated in omnibus form this year, presumably to a viewing figure of zero), with the Children's BBC bigwigs deciding that as people had liked The Phoenix And The Carpet, they'd probably like The Enchanted Castle too. Fat chance. The same basic lineup of posh children from The Past are put through similar paces, only without a gimmicky puppet to guide them and with the added turnoff of an obvious moral at the end of each wish-fulfilment adventure. The only bits that anyone remembers are some statues coming rather cumbersomely to life, and the celebrated 'Ugly-Wuglies', little more than scary cardboard faces attached to the end of brooms and no more sinister than the average Halloween-themed Blue Peter make.


1980: "Pa-P-Parrrrrrr!"


LT Meade's A Little Silver Trumpet would probably have done nothing bar gather cloth-bound dust on the shelves of second hand bookshops were it not for a viewer who, having enjoyed (and presumably understood) The Moon Stallion, wrote in to suggest that this forgotten children's novel was ideal source material for a run-up-to-Christmas adaptation. No trace in this straightforward Social-Status-Swap melodrama of the huge splurges of olde-worlde-psychedelic fantasy that had dominated other recent offerings, and the discovery of a fifty pound note somewhat implausibly stitched inside a dress was about as dramatic as it got, but they still won tons of awards and got a 'lost' book spruced up and reissued into the bargain, so they must have been doing something right. Also on offer over this Christmas was The Bells Of Astercote, a plague-haunting superstition-debunking yarn that was the first entry in the Children's Department's sadly short-lived attempt at emulating A Ghost Story For Christmas.


1981: "You Are A Dirty, Messy, Stupid, Lying Clown!"


Despensing with the traditional vague sense of olde worlde Winter in favour of an altogether different form of chilliness, Adric-riffing Cold War thriller Codename: Icarus concerned itself with a shadowy British military installation covertly recruiting child genii to assist in the development of futuristic weapons for the purposes of Commie-obliteration. With its Nazi allegories, impressive military action sequences and ambitious wrestling with the concept of scientific progress versus the nature of good and evil, this was high-reaching stuff, but writer Richard Cooper was really only warming up for the infinitely more bonkers Knights Of God a couple of years later. If all this Red Menace stuff wasn't quite your 'bag', there was always the first and best Grange Hill Christmas Special, in which Tucker and Doyle united to fight a bigger foe (and stop him from stealing the school's, erm, 'disco equipment'), penned by Professor Phil via some suggestions made by a Blue Peter competition entrant.


1982: "I'm Just As Good As You, 'Beetle'!"


Back to reality for the sport-centric culture clash of Break Point, effectively Billy Elliot two decades ahead of its time, only with fairly realistic tennis taking the place of fairly unrealistic ballet dancing (and indeed real Eighties fashions taking the place of "ha ha, that's how people used to dress back then!" Eighties fashions). Famously, the cast were selected on the basis of playing a few sets against the producer rather than reading out any of the script, and in a real case of life mirroring art, Jane 'Beetle' Pearson went on to become a real life tennis champ. All very well and good for its undoubted feelgood factor, but those in search of the more usual fare had to content themselves with feature length Radiophonic Workshop-submerged spectral possession chiller Ghost In The Water.


1983: "Walk On The Drugget, Children!"


For some reason there was no new Festive fare this year, and instead viewers had to content themselves with a repeat of the decade-old evacuees'n'cursed skellington serialisation of Nina Bawden's much-favoured by older sisters novel Carrie's War, which to be fair was pretty much in line with what had been occupying the same slot in more recent times. Unusually, but thankfully, ITV chose this exact moment to step into the breach with the far more satisfying The Witches And The Grinnygog, light-heartedly charting the attempts of a pair of Rod & Todd Flanders-esque brothers to retrieve a mislaid stone gargoyle thing off their local church wall from a landscape gardening-fixated parishioner. And which, thanks to the rights-buying documentation-trashing hijinks of Disney, is now contractually unavailable to anyone anywhere. Yeah, thanks for that, 'Mickey'.


1984: "Have You Got Any Cheese For Me?"


What is there to say about The Box Of Delights that hasn't been said a million times already? From the first glimpse of that creepy title sequence (especially the flash of lightning across Abner Brown's face) to the very last Roger Limb-boosted orchestral swell, and through every last second of Patrick Troughton's performance, the effects may have aged yet it remains as spellblindingly Christmassy as television is ever likely to get. Plus you can laugh at Nick Berry playing a rat. Pretty much the centrepiece of the BBC's then much-trumpeted 'Autumn Season', something that approximately fourteen million million Radio Times covers and Blue Peter features were there to provide handy reminders of, but it would be churlish not to mention the supporting feature par excellence - the thirteen weeks' worth of shakily-acted flight through non-alien occupied wastelands that was The Tripods.


1985: "........................................"


Hang on a minute... Parky? What's he doing here?! Don't start adjusting your set just yet - unfortunately, despite extensive research, it's proved impossible to locate an image for 1985 for reasons that will soon become obvious, so Mr. Parkinson has generously agreed to appear as an illustration in its place. Anyway, that's the last we'll be seeing of him.

This was the year of big BBC cutbacks to fund the imminent launch of daytime television, which spelt bad news for fans of Pop Quiz, Crackerjack, Juliet Bravo, and of the children's schedules containing anything other than Fame!The Flintstones and 'Friday Film Special' (which itself scarcely ever seemed to contain anything other than endless showings of Ricky Simmonds' third finest hour, Pop Pirates). Oh, and apparently they cancelled some children's programme this year too. Needless to say there was precious little money to hand to mount any kind of ambitious Christmas-leaning serial, especially one maintaining the high standard of the previous year, and the nearest that the audience got was that decidedly odd Grange Hill For Christmas based around some kind of slapstick shenanigans involving Imelda Davies and a donkey. Yet all was not lost, and the new year would herald the return of Children's BBC drama with a vengance, in the form of Kate Bush-themed search for errant 'bins' Running Scared.



1986: "It's Alexander's Flute!"


Quite unlike what was regrettably unfolding in Doctor Who world at the same time, the eighteen month 'hiatus' had clearly done the world of good for the Yuletide yarns, as this year brought arguably the very finest of the lot - The Children Of Green Knowe. On face value the ageing novel-derived tale of a Fifties public schoolboy spending Christmas with an elderly relative in the family's ancestral home, and meeting some of his Charles II-era ancestors along the way, wouldn't appear to have much going for it, but rarely has such a gentle story been so beautifully and atmospherically realised (well, apart from the rather naff 'walking statue' sequence right at the end, but we'll overlook that for now), and with a misleadingly eerie title sequence and theme tune thrown in for good measure. And pity any of your classmates who had the misfortune to closely resemble Alex 'Tolly' Christie. A textbook offering from the real 'Golden Age' of television, and this might be seen as heresy by some, but we're seriously suggesting that this might even be better than The Box Of Delights (welcomely repeated in fifty-minute chunks over this Christmas). Meanwhile, ITV threw in some welcome Sunday-before-Christmas distraction in the form of an hour-long special of James Galway-heralded Liliputian comedy-drama, Return Of The Antelope.



1987: "Solita?" - "Nah Mate, It's Kim Wilde!"


And we could so easily have gone for "...and Young Ladies shouldn't daub themselves with Gro-Bust!". Yes, it's superior sci-fi thriller Aliens In The Family, in which an alien-in-training bumped into a trio of squabbling step-children (See? They were 'aliens' too!) whilst trying to avoid the marauding 'Wirdegens', a Flying Pickets-in-cowls-resembling bunch headed by Granville Saxton from TV's Hardwicke House. Unlike most of the above, this was set squarely in the here and now, and how - practically every five seconds there's a reference to Phillip Schofield, Morten Harket or that Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot character. No Phil Cool drinking Citrus Spring though.


1988: "Oh Aslan, You're Not Dead!"


Blimey, where to start!?? The main draw was obviously The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the first instalment of the over-acclaimed The Chronicles Of Narnia, which even made the front page of the Radio Times. All very well made and that, but were its 'Five Go Mad On Turkish Delight' stylings and endless wittering about fauns really suitable for audiences that had become more used to the thrills of Kaye Harker, Bond & Solita and 'Green Noah, demon tree, evil fingers, can't catch me!'? Well they'd been catered for too, in the form of oft-forgotten adolescent-angst-meets-ghosts-of-old-seadogs lighthouse-based spookfest The Watch House, and the inevitable repeats of The Children Of Green Knowe, not to mention the seriously unhinged one-off Billy's Christmas Angels, which had something nonsensical to do with Nabil Shaban, Will from The Tripods, a pawn shop-bound guitar, and mid-eighties variety show mainstays The Mint Juleps doing acapella versions of Bruce Springsteen songs. On top of all this, ITV scored a rare pre-Christmas victory with an impressive Saturday afternoon double bill; visually arresting but impenetrably storylined frost-festooned Welsh folk tale The Snow Spider, and the totally off-the-sensibility-scale How To Be Cool, an explicability-defying The Prisoner/A Clockwork Orange-inspired effort about the attempts of 'The Mighty Gobbo' and his Beastie Boys-attired pals to overthrow sinister fashion-controlling 'Cool Board' mastermind Mr Cashman, starring Roger Daltrey, Tricia Penrose, Freddie Jones and a very young Perry Fenwick as a football-obsessed sub-Droog henchman. And, unfortunately, Gary Glitter, which means it'll never be repeated now.



1989: "Howay Mon Winston Mon Yeen Canna Do That!"


Odd that 1988 should have been such a bumper year, but also quite fitting, as within twelve months the faint odour of Caspar Berry was drifting across the horizon. Yes, Byker Grove was here to block-book those vital few weeks in November and December into perpetuity, and things were never quite the same again...


You can find an in-depth history of all of these shows and more in my book Well At Least It's Free - get it in paperback here or as an eBook here.

Derek (And Me)


Ricky Gervais' sitcom Derek is about to begin its second series on Channel 4, and no doubt there will once again be people challenging me over the fact that I'm not watching it and insisting that I cannot possibly know whether I'll like it or not without trying at least three episodes et cetera et cetera.

This was originally going to be a long post detailing my equally long history of loathing for Ricky Gervais and his having-his-cake-and-eating-it-too brand of unconvincingly dressing mean-spirited bigotry up as 'irony' in the name of humour, setting diversity and equality back decades in the process, and how this meant that no, I wouldn't be watching Derek, no matter how many times how many people might try and convince me that it's actually well intentioned and I should give him another chance and so on. Or, if raining, just tell me to pipe down because we've heard it all before and I'm becoming like a broken record and can't I just go back to making jokes about the BBC Schools Clock etc etc.

This was going to take the form of a look back at his early pre-'big time' material, much of which remains suspiciously hidden from view and conspicuously un-sought after by his otherwise obsessive fans, and how despite his protestations that it was all 'in character' and he now wishes he'd performed it under an assumed name like 'Billy Bigot', it's actually virtually identical to what he still peddles now, especially via his Twitter account. In particular, it was going to focus on the original appearance of 'Derek' in his 2001 Edinburgh show Rubbernecker, in which the character was unquestionably a parody, rather than a sympathetic portrayal, of the mentally disabled, leading Channel 4 to handily demand the removal of some uploaded Rubbernecker material from YouTube (which had been there for five years) when last year's Derek pilot was in the offing. Annoyingly, it's still absent, but if you look hard enough on Google, you can find a Rubbernecker promo interview in which he and Stephen Merchant snigger about having to pretend Derek isn't intended to be offensive in order to, quote, 'toe the party line'.


Anyway, it didn't really work, and having to write about a boring man and his boring material got very boring very quickly indeed, but here's what did get finished, some of which you may find a bit eye-opening:

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Believe it or not, when I first saw Ricky Gervais, I thought he was quite good.

No, really. This was 1999, and for some reason I still can't fathom I was an avid viewer of Channel 4's long-running series of pilot tryouts Comedy Lab, starting place of the likes of Trigger Happy TV and That Peter Kay Thing, and non-starting place of the likes of Homie & Away, Pam Ann's Mile High Club, Things To Do In Hoxton When You're Dead and the barely broadcastable Shoreditch Tw*t. Gervais' contribution was Golden Years, a mock fly-on-the-wall documentary about an obsessive David Bowie fan and his attempts to convert his workmates to the cause.

Far from being offensive or provocative or 'challenging' or whatever you want to call it, this was actually a likeable and good-natured bit of fun about someone who simply wanted to spread the joy to people who unfortunately saw him as a bit of a one-note bore; something that I'd wager a fair few readers of this blog can sympathise with. That it was the work of someone whose name I recognised as the 'Music Consultant' from This Life - a job that seemed to involve nothing more strenuous than denoting that Miles liked 'jazz' by buying the most recent Corduroy album and cueing it in track by track throughout the series - only made it all the more impressive. I did see Golden Years again when Channel 4 repeated it recently, and while it didn't seem quite as funny as it once had, it remained fundamentally likeable and well-intentioned.

Unfortunately, my next encounter with Gervais' comedy stylings wasn't nearly so pleasant. This was a couple of months later, when he turned up doing 'roving reporter' inserts for Radio 1's Mary Ann Hobbs-fronted late-night dance music and miscellany hoo-hah The Breezeblock, which involved such witticisms as asking the residents of a retirement home if they knew what fairly unimaginative dirty words meant, coming across as a pale imitation of the vox pop stuff from The Chris Morris Music Show, only lacking both in imagination and in any awareness that the 'joke' in Morris' material was that people will say anything they're asked to if they are offered a chance to get their face on television (or indeed voice on radio), rather than holding them themselves up to ridicule.

Then, shortly after that, he showed up on a programme whose entire raison d'etre was holding innocent people up to ridicule - Channel 4's The 11 O'Clock Show. My loathing for that vile, spiteful and above all lazy dribble of pointlessness and inexplicable launchpad for dozens of undeserved careers is both well known and widely documented, and I don't think I can put it better than I did for TV analysis site Off The Telly back in 2002. Well, I'd probably use better and more coherent English these days, and less quotation marks, and throw in a couple of jokes too, and in any case it's not a patch on Justin Lewis' sadly no longer online 'vessel of rot' rant (though you can hear Justin likening remembering the list of writers on The 11 O'Clock Show to hunting Nazi war criminals in this brilliant chat about the joys of scouring closing credits), but you get the point. I was once startled to see this quoted pretty much in full in a hagiographic Gervais biography in The Works, and even more startled to find that the author felt they 'could only agree' with my assessment of the programme:

"September 1998 saw the launch of The 11 O’Clock Show, a thrice-weekly 'news alternative' that was written and recorded on the day of transmission to ensure maximum topicality. Fronted by Fred Macauley and Brendon Burns, the largely unremarkable and inoffensive test run gave worrying hints of the severe limitations of the format, seemingly struggling to find enough decent material to fill each half-hour edition. When the second series arrived early in 1999, Macauley and Burns were gone, replaced by Iain Lee and Daisy Donovan, and the worst comedy show ever seen on Channel 4 was well underway.

Any pretence of relevance to the week’s news seemingly flew out of the window, replaced by a nasty and sneering brand of humour that took aim at such thoroughly undeserving targets as disability, homosexuality, anorexia and even, in one particularly shameful moment, the death of Cilla Black’s husband – all in one long parade of shameful shock-tactic attention-seeking by writers and performers who were only in it to get their name noticed. Ideas were blatantly 'borrowed' from Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Lee and Herring, Victor Lewis-Smith, Candid Camera, Clive James and countless others, seemingly without any understanding of what had driven the original comic invention, and infused with a casual and pointless cruelty that none of the above would ever have employed.

Momentary relief was provided by the spoof interviews by Sacha Baron-Cohen in the guise of Ali G, but even these soon became tiresome and repetitive, concentrating on the idea of getting the audience to laugh at 'uncool' people in suits or those who were passionate about genuine causes. The team were soon joined by Ricky Gervais, who brought with him a routine based on 'offensive' material that was both tedious because the audience were expecting him to say something 'shocking', and unconvincing as Donovan and Lee were forced to momentarily drop their own 'nasty' personas to fit in with the idea of making Gervais look unpleasant and reprehensible. Amazingly, the series actually got worse as it progressed, reaching a nadir when Donovan saw out 1999 with a particularly nasty joke at the expense of Dudley Moore’s brave public admission that he was suffering from an incurable brain disease.

An attempt was made in 2000 to dig The 11 O’Clock Show out of the hole that it so thoroughly deserved to be in - by this time, even the comissioning editor who invented it was complaining that he'd wanted a UK equivalent to The Daily Show but had ended up with 'people who were more interested in talking about masturbation' - roping in Jon Holmes and Sarah Alexander as new presenters and bringing in a new team of writers that were urged to avoid the unpleasant excesses of earlier series. The basic fundamental flaws of the format, however, still proved insurmountable and by the end of 2000 The 11 O’Clock Show was mercifully gone for good"

Gone from television for good, maybe, but not from the CVs of those who made their names on it, something that has frustratingly led to the show coming to be regarded as some kind of mythical vibrant hothouse for burgeoning talent to rank with That Was The Week That Was or Saturday Live. What they all seem less keen on, however, is the idea of anyone actually seeing any of it, with repeats, DVD releases and even clips of their 'groundbreaking' early appearances being suspiciously thin on the ground, and having worked on a TV documentary about the history of satire that was expressly forbidden from using any footage from The 11 O'Clock Show, I can say with some confidence that it does seem that somebody somewhere is intentionally blocking it.

By the time that The 11 O'Clock Show bit the dust, Gervais was already showing up as a regular in Channel 4's various 'list' shows despite not apparently having much to say about any of the subjects - his interminable waffle about the artistic integrity of the performers in Animal Kwackers in particular was widely derided as a waste of everyone's time - and in September they installed him in his own chat show. Meet Ricky Gervais wasn't that bad, as it happens, but it wasn't anything remarkable either, and the tendency now to label it as some sort of 'lost classic' that was 'buried' by Channel 4 is somewhat galling considering it was a heavily-pushed show in a good timeslot - certainly a better one than The 11 O'Clock Show - which just didn't catch on; if fate was conspiring against it, how did Graham Norton's late-night weeknight chat show make such an impressive debut only a matter of weeks later? Incidentally, the first ever guest on Meet Ricky Gervais was Jimmy Savile, and after his death Gervais tweeted about how proud he was to have had him on the show. Interestingly, this is one of the few contentious tweets he hasn't subsequently deleted.

We could at this point start ranting about The Office, Flanimals, Flanimals Of The Deep, Gervais appearing on Jonathan Ross' radio show to plug the fact he'd be appearing on Parkinson, spurious stories on The Six O'Clock News about 'office life' ending with a plug for series two of The Office, Merchant and Gervais complaining about how the BBC 'kept moving The Office around in the schedules' when in fact it had the same slot throughout and even had continuity announcers introducing it with "...it's true to life, and that's why it's so funny" and "remember where you were when you saw it first", the bullshit stories about how the producers of Arrested Development/Family Guy/Borgen/Help I'm A Prisoner In A Toothpaste Factory are 'begging' him to make a guest appearance but he's 'too busy', the whole 'mong-gate' business and how it somehow caused me to end up sending transmission details for R.3 to over nine hundred furious Ricky Gervais fans fuming "you're the mong here, pal"... but that's getting a bit ahead of ourselves there. Instead, what about the project that passed quietly by while series one of The Office was airing - his 2001 Edinburgh Festival show, Rubbernecker?

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Yes, what about it? Well, thanks to the panic-measure history rewriting that preceded the Derek pilot, there's very little evidence online to actually back up any arguments, so it's probably a good job it ended there anyway. But at the end of the day, suffice it to say that it's the work of someone who, despite protests to the contrary by both him and his fans, doesn't seem to have learned anything or have moved on at all between calling striking nurses 'fucking pigs' in front of a cackling audience and encouraging his Twitter followers to post themselves pulling 'mong faces', so no, I won't be giving Derek the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he has changed. Maybe it is positive and sympathetic. But he's done enough damage over the years for people to feel they're quite entitled to either judge it without seeing it or just ignore it, without having to put up with patronising finger-wagging as a consequence.

Now please don't ask me again.

Don't Take A Look At Him Then



Every so often, you'll find a newspaper or magazine feature charting the Paphides/Mojo-approved Official History Of The Pop VideoTM. With a bit of variance to allow for frowning over the record sales of whoever's proving quite popular at the moment, it normally runs somewhere along these lines: the pop video was invented by The Beatles when they started doing music that was too complicated to perform live, and then invented again by Queen in 1974, and then it took off but also declined with the arrival of MTV. With the exception of one wildcard entry by an 'influential' indie band, the accompanying lists of Best Ever Pop Videos are essentially always more or less the same, although none of the corresponding lists of Worst Ever Pop Videos ever point out that the actual literal worst pop video of all time is November Rain by Guns'n'Roses, a parade of pomposity, pretentiousness and heavy-handed 'symbolism' so mind-numbingly interminable that Slash actually GOES FOR A WALK in the middle of it, and which ends with Axl Rose springing back and forth in what can only be a tribute to that animated rabbit trying to pull a carrot out of the ground in Rainbow.

One thing that they can all agree on, however, is that the eighties was the evolutionary high watermark of the pop video, when everyone blew vast amounts of money on exhiliarating big budget high concept mini-movies that epitomised the perfection of mid-eighties pop except that they also epitomised the imperfection of mid-eighties pop, and that The Smiths reacted against this by refusing to make any pop videos ever apart from all the ones that they actually did. And once they get onto that subject, the same old examples get trotted out again and again and again. There's The Wild Boys, Duran Duran's homage to Channel 4's Ghosts In The Machine, in which a robot head of Lloyd from Byker Grove headbutts a computer or something while Simon Le Bon goes round on a big water wheel. There's Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, a song-ruining parade of animated click-ting stamps literalism tailor made for clip show representation of a year that everyone knows should only be signposted by Phil Cool drinking Citrus Spring. There's Reet Petite, the Claymated springboard for an unexpected three-hit Jackie Wilson mini-revival, which causes clip show talking heads to perform an elaborate retronostalgic variation on the Charleston when they chuckle that they found it funny, then frown that they also found it offensively caricatured, then chuckle that they found it funny again, all the while utterly oblivious that it was first made as an interstitial for the BBC arts show Arena. And then there's Thriller, in which Michael Jackson effects a terrifying transformation into Barry Grant from Brookside.

What you will never find in any of these articles, however, is the cold harsh truth that the most hilariously awful videos of the eighties were a combination of attempts by visually unarresting mainstream artists to look 'stylish', and clip-interpolating rock ballad big budget film themes. And the most hilariously awful of all were those that were a literal combination of the two. If you want evidence of this, look no futher than Phil Collins' Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now).



Like all big hit movie themes of the eighties, Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) was the credit-propping pop ditty from a film that nobody seems to have seen despite latterday ubiquity in the hallowed everyone-else-in-school-was-allowed-to-stay-up-but-you timeslot. As far as anyone can make out it's got something to do with a love triangle and Jeff Bridges being framed for a crime he didn't commit except he did or whatever it is; frankly, as it was a contemporary of Spies Like Us, nobody should even be in the least bit interested.

As you can imagine, the accompanying video features an endless parade of clips from the overlong popcorn-challenger, most of them seeming to involve little more than people turning their heads slowly sideways. As you can also imagine, these are interspersed with Phil Collins doing some piano-free power ballad miming to camera. What elevates this above the competition, though - and even above Peter Cetera looking askance at some clips from The Karate Kid Part II through sliding doors, which takes some elevating above - is how they introduce the nation's favourite Mel Smith/Eddy Shah/Bob Hoskins-alike into proceedings; the camera zooms in on some sort of Aztec mask featured in the movie, which promptly starts miming his part. No, really.

We then get a dissolve into his face as he stands in front of a luminescent waterfall, which gradually changes colour from red to green to blue, presumably as some sort of love triangle-evoking symbolism, and leaving him looking like Max Headroom as reimagined by whoever designed the wrapper for Terry's Bitz. The mask sporadically recurs but fails to do any more miming - so you could be forgiven for thinking you'd imagined it - Phil slides in and out of frame like a 'comedy' Roland Rat-plugging TV-am ad break card, and a procession of thuds and wallops from the film accompany the inter-verse drum thudding.

But that's not all. For the finally overwrought chorus repetition, Phil changes location to what appears to be the actual literal studio floor from BBC Daytime quiz show Turnabout, which then in turn appears to threaten to turn into the opening titles of The Tripods. All you really need is a cameo from 'Belouis' 'Some' and that'd be the entire eighties right there.


What any of this has to do with any of the film is something of a mystery, and judging from the look of the clips included here, a mystery it can frankly remain. What it does tell us, though, is that if you want a real flavour of an art form, even something as trivial and ephemeral as the pop video, you have to look slightly further afield than the usual accepted facts and figures. You'll find the most ludicrous of stuff in the most unlikely of places, like in bafflingly thrown-together film advertising thinly disguised as chart fodder, and we haven't even started on movie-plugging promo antics by Starship, Chesney Hawkes or 'Dinners' yet.

And anyway, this is the best pop video ever made...

Great Lost Synth Sounds Of The Eighties


Whenever people start getting misty-eyed about vintage pre-digital synthesiser sounds, it's always 8-Bit this and monophonic that and someone that sounded a bit like a cut price Top Of The Pops album version of a Factory Records-inspired outfit who couldn't even get signed to Cherry Red the other. Nobody ever seems to wax similarly lyrical, however, about the next evolutionary step - that Roland/Korg-fuelled Whole Band In A Box sound, or rather infinite(ish) permuation of sounds, that dominated most of the eighties and made Go West records sound like, well, Go West records.

And, as you might have guessed, it's high time that somebody actually did. Here are five of the greatest synth sounds that you once couldn't turn on the radio without hearing, but which now everybody tries to pretend never happened...


1. The 'Squiggly Synth'
As heard in... Mama Used To Say by Junior


Weaponised sine wave doodle initially much beloved of the Pigeon Street Soul brigade (see here if you have no idea of who or what they might actually have been), but which later became a staple fixture of early to mid eighties primetime TV themes, most notoriously deployed for Nigel Havers-centric divorcecom Don't Wait Up and long forgotten post-Whirly Wheelgate Noel Edmonds 'soft launch' reboot Whatever Next?, which was a corker, especially in conjunction with the 'teleporting Edmonds' visuals.


2. The 'Flattened Trumpet'
As heard in... Love And Pride by King


Weedy yet widely adopted analogue approximation of a vaguely 'trumpety' sound, which gained huge popularity on account of the relative cheapness of getting the Barry Andrews-haired 2000AD-jacketed Synth Wizard every early eighties band had by law to provide the illusion of a brass backing rather than hiring a small army of real live session musicians. Most infamously used for the instrumental break in Nikita by Elton John, which still finds its way into the minds of office workers on a loop at 11am precisely to this day.


3. The 'Tin Can Orchestral Sweep'
As heard in... Feel So Real by Steve Arrington


Less aesthetically successful variant on the above, attempting to mock up the sonic experience of a full orchestra with some ham-fisted ADSR-fiddling that sounded more like someone scrunching up some inadvertently tonal tinfoil backed up by a malfunctioning washing machine calling you on an old-school telephone where the magnet's gone in the earpiece. A surprisingly enduring example which lasted to the end of the decade, last sighted hidden somewhere behind Big Fun's cover of Blame It On The Boogie.


4. The 'Kamizake Portamento'
As heard in... Yellow Pearl by Phil Lynott



'Future Is Now!'-heralding plummet down the musical scale, possibly intended as a call-to-arms for robots, New Romantics and people drinking Quatro, but ending up more as something that the most annoying kid in your year in school would be able to provide a note-perfect emulation of without anyone ever asking them to. One of the most short-lived examples on this list, spending a short time as a go-to effect for everything from Heartache Avenue to Say Say Say, but ditched in favour of the 'orchestra hit' even before The Tripods began striding across our screens.


5. The 'Existential Flute'
As heard in... Does Caroline Know? by Talk Talk


Introspective Blue Jam-friendly soft-toned World Music-esque woodwind pretence usually reserved for when they were trying to get a bit 'soundscape', doubtless intended to convey a sense of zenned-out globally aware musical mindfulness but invariably ending up with nobody listening to the lyrics and just whacking it alongside Anita Baker and Oran 'Juice' Jones (who had his own neglected synth tones, but that's another story...) in the average local radio 'Love Zone'. Peter Gabriel was not available for comment.


6. The 'Entirety Of The Blockbusters Theme'
As heard in... The Entirety Of The Blockbusters Theme 


Requires no explanation.


The Memorex Years - Various Artists 'Who Is Dr. Who?'


For an entire generation of Doctor Who fans, the novelty spin-off singles issued at the height of the show's mid-sixties popularity might as well have inhabited another universe. At a time before the reissues market really existed, and when any pop music from more than about five years ago seemed like it came from a different century, all of those odd-sounding songs about Daleks and what have you were like dust-caked relics that were too 'collectable' for the likes of you ever to hear, only known about through invariably typo-strewn lists of titles in fanzines and Doctor Who Magazine. All that anyone knew was that they were very very rare, and reputedly very very bad.

Occasionally a bit of one would leak out somewhere - as the nineties arrived they were increasingly used to back footage of 'Dalekmania' in documentaries, while Steve Wright once played a small extract from I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek and went "heh... wacky" over the top, and the more dedicated frontier town listeners to Radio 2's Sounds Of The Sixties told legends of having heard that Frazer Hines one - but even in an age where every last scrap of Doctor Who-related ephemera had been recycled, reissued and repackaged to an extent that made Silvertone Records look like masters of restraint, these elusive curious remained curiously elusive.

That was until 2000, when intrepid audio-restorer and Radiophonic Workshop pal Mark Ayres cobbled together a compilation of all the spin-off singles released during the first ten years of Doctor Who, covering for the general absence of master tapes for what were, after all, long-forgotten cheapo cash-in singles for mostly long-forgotten cheapo cash-in labels with vinyl rips acquired from assorted Fan 'Luminaries' and, in one case, a couple of seconds dropped in from an age-old cassette recording. The fact that, the odd unavoidable bit of vinyl rumble aside, you can't detect any of this is testament to his skills as an audio restorer, and yah boo sucks to anyone who's been more recently harrumphing at the handful of Vintage Beeb releases that have had to be mastered from vinyl.

What nobody really expected of Who Is Dr. Who? was that a couple of these 'terrible' records were actually really good. What even less people expected was that it presented, in a sense, an alternate reality history of sixties pop music, at a total remove from the chartbound sounds of clean-cut popsters and long-haired rockers, and yet still reflecting their changes and evolutions, starting off in tinkly bland pre-'Beat Boom' rinky-dink land, going through a mild 'psychedelic' phase, and ending up freaking out at an open-air festival to the extent that Deep Purple were actually involved with one single. No, really. So how did that happen? Well, let's begin at the beginning...

It's hardly surprising that the first track featured on Who Is Dr. Who? should be the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop version of the Doctor Who theme, released as a far-from-chartbound single by Decca in 1964. It does, however, hold some surprises of its own. The more familiar version generally referred to as the 'first' is the one later issued as a single by BBC Records, which is essentially the original recording as tinkered with for a title sequence revamp when Patrick Troughton took over the role, and further tinkered with when Jon Pertwee replaced him in turn. This, however, predates any such tinkering and is taken straight from Delia Derbyshire's original unembellished tape - there's no electronic 'sting' at the start, no sign of the Tardis sound effect rushing past halfway through, and the whole mix generally sounds a little cruder and less polished (although surprisingly, the 'wind tunnel' ending effect is present and correct) - and astonishingly it had never been reissued in this form until Who Is Dr. Who? came along. In this sense it's something of a poor relation to the more ubiquitous reworking, but at the same time has a sparse and glacial feel that the other more sonically-packed versions could never wholly recapture. Incidentally, the original b-side - omitted here as it has about as little to do with Doctor Who as is scientifically possible - was This Can't Be Love by the mysteriously unsurnamed Brenda & Johnny, an alarmingly hard-rocking take on the Rodgers & Hart showtune.


If the proper actual version of the Doctor Who theme as heard onscreen and which actually sounded halfway new and exciting and interesting couldn't shift enough copies to jostle for chart position with the likes of Susan Maughan and Herman's Hermits, then quite why popular bandleader Eric Winstone assumed that he could do any better is something that defies all rational explanation. But try he did, using nothing more Radiophonic than his regular band of players to accompany a weedy sine wave generator thingy, making a noise halfway between one of those Whistling Clanger toys and someone running their finger around the edge of a glass, and generally struggling to be heard above the politely blaring brass all around it. With the familar rhythm and melody (or at least a close relative of it) of the Doctor Who theme swamped beneath overpowering brass bits, plodding electric guitar and a brilliantly awful 'breakdown' section, this sounds less like Ron Grainer's famous composition than it does a re-recording of Pink Floyd's One Of These Days for one of those early 1970s Not-The-Original-Artists Top Of The Pops albums. It also seems to have a peculiar obsession with threatening to turn into the theme from Z Cars. For a long while, though, Eric Winstone's was the most commonly heard commercially available version of the theme, turning up on countless compilations and enjoying a new lease of life at the dawn of CD, when compilation producers couldn't be bothered forking out for the original but were happy to pay seven and a half pence for the rights to this. It's also entertainingly amusing, for the first three or so listens anyway, and would also form the basis for an even more deranged arrangement (sadly not included here) recorded for one of those 'Happy House' label albums entitled TV Favourites And Other Children's Songs, performed almost entirely on a synthesiser that was apparently utterly incapable of making anything other than a risible 'wibbling' sound.

Next up is the oft-ridiculed but seldom-heard I'm Going To Spend My Christmas With A Dalek by The Go-Gos, which has nothing to do with Belinda Carlisle's obscene-tour-video-making bunch of reprobates, nor indeed 'The Go-Jos' as the unreliable typesetting machine at Doctor Who Monthly roujtinely hA dit, but rather a polite and inoffensive cabaret-ish act who you'd expect to have been a bunch of thrown together sessions musicians but were apparently a real gigging outfit. There's absolutely no doubt that they were hoping this top pop disc would score them a hit in the throes of Dalekmania; it didn't, though, and they don't seem to have released any other records ever, making them probably the only people in the world not to have got rich off the back of the Daleks in 1964. Various writers over the years who had been 'lucky' enough to hear the ultra-rare I'm Going To Spend My Christmas With A Dalek had created the collective impression that it is some sort of twee tuneless tinkly early sixties pop drivel and best left unheard. It's something of a surprise, then, to find out that it opens with Telstar-esque 'space' noises (the sort that now sound ancient rather than futuristic), and an organ-heavy riff that sounds for all the world like a funked-up version of Peter Gunn. Alright, so maybe it does then immediately divert into a typical Bobby's Girl-era light skiffle-pop rhythm and indeed melody, but even then it's enlivened by the continuing 'outer space' effects, the jaw-dropping vocal style of one Sue Smith (think Ronni Ancona and Kate Thornton, both aged six, duetting with pronounced 'giggly' vocal inflections and an overemphasised problem with the letter 'r', except that Sue Smith appears to have been a fully grown woman), and interjections from an alarmingly realistic Dalek voice (in that it sounds a bit like Zippy) uttering such hilariouslyn-Skaronian sentiments as "I-WISH-TO-BE-YOUR-FRIEND", "PLEASE-MAY-I-HAVE-SOME-MORE-PLUM-PUDDING-AND-CUSTARD", "CHRIST-MAS-TREE" and maddest of all "I-LOVE-YOU".

As if that wasn't enough, there are also the truly ridiculous lyrics penned by someone who had clearly neither seen nor heard of the Daleks, making reference to them having a 'chromium plated head' and a 'big red toe' from which festive stockings can be hung. There are also, for no apparent reason, some bleep-festooned 'blanked out' bits that sound worryingly like an attempt to cover up some stray bad language. And what does the young narrator want with this malevolent mutant in metal casing? Only to "say hi to mum and frighten daddy out of his bed", that's what. Best left unheard? Don't believe a word of it - I'm Going To Spend My Christmas With A Dalek is simultaneously fascinatingly odd and strangely musically compelling, and as good a snapshot of that long-lost black and white TV world of pre-'rock' pop music as you'll find. It's also a fairly reliable barometer of just how Doctor Who crazy the entire nation had gone back in 1964, and a reminder of the fact that the fans and public alike appreciated it on a far more simple level back then and didn't take it anywhere near as seriously, and 'Christmas' in Doctor Who world meant silly cash-in singles and William Hartnell caught up in a silent movie and toasting the audience rather than Neil Hannon's witless plagiarism of Northern Soul classics. Incidentally, the b-side to this was a cover of the garage band-friendly blues standard Big Boss Man, reportedly again performed in what was presumably The Go-Go's trademark style. What a pity that wasn't included here. [Update - you can now hear Big Boss Man here!]

Further Telstar-'inspired' sounds introduce the above single's partner in Dalekmania-inspired notoriety, Landing Of The Daleks by The Earthings (who almost certainly were a bunch of jaded session musicians). Unlike The Go-Go's efforts, the notoriety of this particular waxing does not stem from any reputation for musical awfulness - in fact, none of the pioneering 'fan writers' who owned a copy of this equally elusive disc ever said much about what it was actually like - rather from the fact that the BBC took offence to a brief burst of Morse Code in the middle announcing "SOS SOS Daleks Have Landed", and refused to play it on the grounds of concern that it might confuse shipping. Whether or not the waterways of Britain would have been full of panicking sailors hastily abandoning ship fearing a confrontation with fictional characters from a well-known television programme if this eminently sensible course of action wasn't adopted is, sadly, something we will never know. Considering the above-noted lack of discussion, perhaps it's no great surprise that there isn't really that much to say about Landing Of The Daleks. It has very little to do with its titular subjects and is basically just another of those post-Shadows guitar instrumentals with a military drumbeat, although it does boast some nice short dramatic bursts, a polite 'freakout' behind the offending morse code message, and a spacey organ-variant fadeout that gets swamped in sound effects (some of which sound puzzlingly similar to the sound of bricks being knocked over), and overall makes for rather pleasant listening as a primitive precursour of Interstellar Overdrive and sundry other mental psychedelic guitar freakouts that were just around the musical corner. Rather Pleasant rather than Exciting, that is.

Its b-side, March Of The Robots, is also rather tenuously included here. This however is no bad thing - although on face value pretty much just more of the same, clearly put together in a spare five minutes at the end of the a-side session with all the instruments plugged into the same places and not even much of an attempt to change the chord sequence, it's actually slightly more interesting than Landing Of The Daleks. There's a riff purloined from The Shadows' FBI, some echoey Juke Box Jury-aping lead guitar work, and an even more alarming freakout section in which the morse code machine (any guesses on what shipping-perplexing message it might be pumping out this time?) trades licks with huge lashings of backwards piano. Although it would be fanciful to describe March Of The Robots as any sort of 'lost classic' (or even a classic of any description), it's nonetheless interesting as a presumably entirely unintentional precursor to the sort of crazy far-out sounds that would be troubling the pop charts towards the latter half of the decade. Meanwhile, exactly which 'robots' the title was referring to (as the subjects of the a-side were neither robots nor capable of marching) remains something of a mystery. With the possible exception of the Dalek-accompanying Robomen - who certainly did enough bloody marching, but weren't robots either - there hadn't even been any other suitable candidates in the series by that point.


For all their cynical cash-in-ery, at least The Earthlings attempted to dress their instrumental meanderings up in atmospherics that might at least have called to mind the vaguest idea of Daleks for the least attentive casual listener. Bandleader Jack Dorsey, on the other hand, had no such qualms about failing to deliver relevance-for-money, and from the sound of it simply slapped the suitably modish title Dance Of The Daleks onto one of his existing popular cha-cha twist instrumental numbers. Dance Of The Daleks might sound like an unused Terry Nation script title, but this particular waxing not only makes absolutely no mention of of reference to Daleks whatsoever, it goes on to suggest that it's in fact paying homage to a different television show altogether, borrowing heavily in a rhythmical sense from Batman (so it could presumably have equally easily ended up as Batman's Bossa Nova), not to mention opening with yet another transparent homage to Telstar that sounds uncannily like the 'takeoff' sounds from Gerry Anderson's chin-crazy early Supermarionation effort Supercar (Mike Mercury Merengue?). Mind you, the frantic twist-friendly melody, which basically just repeats itself over and over again but getting more dramatic each time and throws in a bit of Hoots Mon!-style sax lunacy in the middle section, packs a hefty musical punch and is the sort of thing that you could easily imagine being used to introduce David Frost or Simon Dee. It also ends with what sounds like a kettle being held too close to a microphone, which has to be a plus point in anyone's book. What has never been explained, though, is exactly what moves this 'dance' involved, and quite how the Daleks would have been expected to participate in it in the first place. Shuffling about and then moving backwards in a sort-of half-hearted semi-circle surely can't have been setting many dancefloors alight back in 1964.

Following this, the album takes a hefty five-song diversion into the soundtracks of the two Peter Cushing-helmed Doctor Who films made at the height of the series' initial popularity. This isn't as much of a stylistic lurch as it may sound - the overall air of boosting Terry Nation's royalty payments still pervades (after all, said films were only ever made as an exercise in capitalising on the popularity of the Daleks, with an earlier plan to make a film around just The Doctor and his companions in a historical setting having tellingly come to nothing), and to be honest we don't really get to stray that far from the realms of the novelty single either. As singles go, they don't come much more novelty than Who's Who? by Roberta Tovey, backed by the orchestra of soundtrack composer Malcolm Lockyer. The young Miss Tovey was, of course, the shrieking child actress who played Susan 'Who' in both of the Cushing films, and this song was an in-character film-promoting ode to the title character. It deservedly sold next to nothing on release, and probably did little if anything to raise attendances for either movie (in fact, it possibly had the exact opposite effect), but strangely it's since become one of the best known inclusions on this set, regularly roped in to illustate 'The Sixties' in documentaries about Doctor Who, and equally independently infamous as a bad record in its own right. As you can probably imagine, or will no doubt know already if you've seen any of the above-mentioned documentaries, Who's Who? is a twee and cloying number delivered in nauseating off-key tones by a 'cutesy' adolescent (although she does still manage to sound more mature and deep-voiced than Sue Smith) backed by those annoyingly self-consciously 'chirpy' peg-on-nose backing singers that you only got in the early sixties. The lyrics do at least achieve a degree of amusing awfulness, largely due to running out of anything even vaguely relevant to say within about half a verse. After starting off by talking about his "long grey hair", suggesting that this was actually penned in tribute to William Hartnell rather than Peter Cushing, the list of Doctorish mannerisms immediately runs out and she's left to wrestle with meaningless nothingness about how he can "make you laugh or hold your breath as he travels from place to place", how he's "quite at home on a big spaceship or sitting on top of a horse", and some drivel about an "early bird" that doesn't even make sense. Not even containing much in the way of what could be termed 'kitsch value', Who's Who? is a truly horrible piece of music, so much so that the simple act of calling it a 'piece of music' seems somehow wrong.

Its b-side Not So Old - deemed sufficiently 'canon' for inclusion here - is a very different kettle of fish. No doubt this sort of thing was both intended and recieved much more innocently back then, but there is no getting away from the fact that this otherwise sublime loungey ballad is, to all intents and purposes, the sound of a teenage girl announcing her intention to bed a fully grown man. It's probably safer to wash all critical hands of this and let the lyrics speak for themselves:

"If you wait for me I will marry you, it won't mean waiting half as long as you do for presents off a tree. When you see me smile at you, when I do the things I do, it is just to see if you will wait for me. I can see you walk with her it doesn't bother me, for some day you'll let her go, and you will marry me. But don't let my mother know, don't tell her I love you so, don't you see how happy we will be, please won't you wait for me?"

The irony of all this is that if you can look past the lyrics - and they really do require an almost superhuman level of looking past - then on purely musical terms Not So Old is by far the best track on this collection. And let's just leave it at that.


The bleeding-obvious-statingly-titled The Eccentric Doctor Who is the work of the Malcolm Lockyer Orchestra alone, thankfully deciding that a caterwauling child wasn't really needed for a funked-up beat instrumental-styled rendition of the corking main title theme that backed the bizarre 'soft focus sweet wrapper' opening credits from the first Cushing film. It's certainly dramatic stuff, with crazy bongo breaks and an oh-so-sixties 'relay' bit in which the brass section trade riffs with an electric guitar, and if the title wasn't such a giveaway most listeners would probably assume that it hailed from a spy film. And for once there's no 'space' effects, although they do make up for it with a ridiculously overcooked ending. Then comes the same orchestra's fiddly guitar-led instrumental Daleks And Thals, which continues the 'secret agent' motif by borrwing heavily from the James Bond theme. And then immediately turns into some sort of incidental music from The Pink Panther, throwing in huge portions of the theme from ancient forgotten monochrome ITV cop show No Hiding Place for good measure. In fact, this curious and disjointed little piece sounds more akin to some sort of medley of Big Movie Themes, and is probably not one that listeners are likely to return to on a regular basis.

Then, finally, it's on to the one inclusion from the Cribbins-heavy second Cushing film - Bill McGuffie's Fugue For Thought. As the title might suggest, this particular effort - heard only fleetingly in the film itself - is somewhat more classical-leaning than the other items on offer here, with the inclusion of a schmaltzy trumpet and an upbeat jazzy middle eight being pretty much all that suggest that this elaborate exercise in piano gymnastics with its bombastic stylings and Trumpet Voluntary outro actually hail from the most sixties of sixties films. There's not really that much to say about this than that it's the least 'Doctor Who'-sounding track on the entire album. And that's the commercially released soundtrack items from the unfairly-maligned Doctor Who films in full, and - the splendid The Eccentric Doctor Who and the kitsch value of the Roberta Tovey recordings aside - they really are the least musically interesting inclusions on this compilation by some considerable distance. It just goes to show that while so-called 'novelty' items if done with the right sense of fun can still retain some sort of entertainment value even decades later, music specifically composed to enhance and reinforce onscreen action isn't necessarily going to bear repeated listening in isolation, as was arguably later proved by those album-length releases based on individual stories from 'Classic' Doctor Who, which often tried the patience of even the most obsessive listener.

Then comes a Doctor Who-related recording that, more than any other, has been heard about far more than it has actually been heard - Who's Dr Who?, a top pop waxing by late sixties series cast member Frazer Hines. Famous for playing long-serving companion Jamie, whose accent of course 'mellowed to TV Scots' whatever that means exactly, as a hip young television star he was much given to socialising with footballers and pop stars, and having already tried and failed to interest record companies in a couple of self-financed recordings (one of which we'll be coming back to later, and the other being the long-lost Jamie's Awae In His Time Machine, co-written with - bizarrely - offbeat seventies rock subverter in waiting Alex Harvey), he eventually found his way onto vinyl with this ear-punishing number. This came about, somewhat neatly, as a result of his playing on a showbiz football team withsongwriters Barry Mason and Les Reed, then in the middle of a run of hit-penning for the likes of Englebert Humperdinck, The Fortunes and Edison Lighthouse, who managed to strike a deal with the hardly chart-trailblazing Major Minor Records. What was running through their collective heads is anyone's guess but Who's Dr Who? starts off sounding as though it's going to be a prog-metal version of the Doctor Who theme, but then almost immediately turns into a twee flute-led choir-of-kids-drenched close relative of Excerpt From A Teenage Opera, like UK psychedelia would have sounded if parodied on The Basil Brush Show. The lyrics start off equally cloying, but almost unbelievably get even worse as the song progresses, dispensing fairly quickly with anything even remotely related to Doctor Who itself in favour of nonsense like "he knows a prince or two and kings are two a penny, he never thinks of money though although he hasn't any", "there's magic in his hands, you ask and he may show it, he simply elevates, a stone where you and I would throw it", and worst of all "he's been to yesterday and somehow we all follow, I wonder where we are today or where we'll be tomorrow?". Not even a bit of phasing over the fade-out can save it, but Major Minor were sufficiently convinced of the single's chances of success to send Frazer out on the road as support for some of their more prominent acts; somewhat less plausibly, he also insists that John Peel used to play it regularly. It was at this point that his manager, laudably, demanded that he give up on this pop star lark and concentrate on the acting.

However, his manager wasn't quite quick enough to prevent the recording of the single's b-side, The Punch And Judy Man. Clearly knocked off in the same session as Who's Dr Who?, it's actually the more likely oft he two to be considered a lost gem of UK Psych (though we really are operating on a relative scale there), employing vaguely 'Arabic' sounds to denote an air of mystery as the narrator goes on a voyage to tripout city whilst watching a seaside puppeteer, who apparently "took us on a trip across the magic sea, to great adventures in the world of fantasy, just by the simple waving of his clever hand". Again written by Mason and Reed, despite the vague Doctorishness of the title character The Punch And Judy Man apparently already existed as a fully formed composition before they'd so much as lobbed a halfway line header at Frazer Hines, but in all other respects it's Who Is Dr Who? Part Two, with similar 'la la la' outro laziness and even a key change in the same place.


Jon Pertwee's Who Is The Doctor? – basically him reciting a reverb-drenched poem supposedly about The Doctor but actually full of meaningless nonsense (“as fingers move to end mankind, metallic teeth begin to grind, with sword of truth I turn to fight the satanic powers of the night“) over the top of a frankly ridiculous early electropop arrangement of the Doctor Who theme – was already pretty well known as a landmark of musical oddness before this compilation even existed, so we’ll moving straight on to its sadly neglected b-side. Performed sort of vaguely in character (and in fairness having as much relation to the TV series as Who Is The Doctor? ever did) over a plaintive stage musical-esque piano, Pure Mystery is the presumably non-autobiographical tale of a sad old entertainer who nobody likes. Whoever he may or may not be based on, he pines for the days of Music Hall, when he was celebrated for, erm, splitting atoms and ‘drawing the line across belief’, but is now reduced to less prestigious engagements (“birthday parties weren’t my line, now they help to pass the time“). If all that wasn’t ridiculous enough, there’s also an overabundance of Pertwee‘s famed ‘silly voices’, notably on his startling declaration that “science is a magic of the mind“, and indeed when he starts crooning ‘bom berm bom’ in lieu of the proper chorus. Pure Mystery is not strictly a Doctor Who record in the most rigidly-defined sense, but all the same it's one that deserves wider exposure, mainly because it has to be heard to be believed. Oh and by the way, the single was released on ‘Purple Records’ as in the label owned and operated by symphonic heavy rock types and confirmed favourites on the Pertwee car stereo, Deep Purple, who presumably not only came up with the idea for this record but possibly even played on it. Yes, you did read that right.

Don Harper may not be a widely known name, but he’s certainly a widely heard one; as well as composing the original theme tune for World Of Sport, which is about as concise a musical depiction of the days when people were obsessed with the concept of ‘sport’ rather than any individual sports in particular as you’re likely to find, he provided that blaring electric violin on the theme from The Professionals. Accompanying an equally bizarre Charleston-styled reworking of the World Of Sport theme, Harper’s take on Doctor Who seemed to have been concieved solely as a showcase for his electric violin-playing prowess, and after a fairly faithful if slightly odd electronic recreation of the theme, the track relaxes into what could most generously be described as a ‘free’ interpretation, retaining the general flavour of the original melody but careering all over the place like one of those Hooked On Classics albums left out in the sun. This is one of the rarest Doctor Who spinoff records of the lot, a fact that may be as much connected to adolescent uneasiness with the unintentional connotations of the artist credit as it is to downright musical oddness.

Then we get a radio-friendly version of Landing Of The Daleks, supposedly with 'scrambled' morse code though to the untrained ear it sounds virtually indistinguishable from the original, and Time Traveller, a rockabilly-inflected number Frazer Hines cut as a demo shortly after joining the series. After some insultingly lazy attempts at 'science fiction' sound effects, it settles into a sort of light skiffle rhythm with the self-proclaimed "pride of the Highlands that's the truth, I do all my travelling in a telephone booth" singing of how "I've been to Atlantis way under the sea", "a king-size Macra picked a fight with me" and "I fought the redcoats in a Scottish glen, nearly been killed by the Cybermen", which suggests that he'd waited for a whopping four stories before attempting to cash in on his association with the series. There's also a rubbish pun about the 'Guitardis', an equally rubbish attempt at replicating the Tardis take-off effect, and that's it.

As indeed it is for the album. Who Is Dr. Who? is more than just a collection of throwaway rarities slung together to make the more esoterica-crazed fans chortle a bit, though - it reveals and indeed highlights a side to the early pop business that you wouldn't get even from listening to a showtunes-era Freddie & The Dreamers album, let alone Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Quite why so many people were hoping to make a quick Doctor Who-related buck with projects that were clearly never going to do anything of the sort is baffling, but maybe they'll get some cheer from the fact that their half-hearted efforts make for such enlightening listening so many years down the line.

That's enlightening rather than entertaining, mind.

The Memorex Years - Various Artists 'Fuzzy Felt Folk'

This look at Fuzzy Felt Folk, a collection of trad-folk-inspired numbers from vintage records aimed at children, was the final published instalement of The Memorex Years and another guest post for Sweeping The Nation, and my dismissal in the opening sentence of the phenomenon that would later become known as 'Hauntology' is, frankly, proof that I didn't just turn on the so-called scene the second it became popular but was in fact suspicious of it all along... anyway, this was the last thing that appeared under the Memorex Years banner, although whilst putting these 'reprints' together I found a whole brand spanking new(ish) previously unpublished post...


While it may also have given rise to hordes of tedious Wicker Man fans jumping over a charred bit of wood singing "we will fix it, we will me-end it", the slow but steadily-building interest in 'acid folk' of recent years - helped in no small part by genre champion Mark Radcliffe's sideways move to Radio 2 - has brought many musical benefits. Not just in the modern day artists it's helped to bring to a wider audience, but also the rediscovery of overlooked gems from the past - often to the surprise of the artists themselves - including the works of Vashti Bunyan, Shelagh McDonald, Simon Finn, and the long-forgotten characters found on this decidedly offbeat compilation.

Fuzzy Felt Folk was a joint venture between Jonny Trunk, the mastermind behind cult reissue label Trunk Records, and Martin Green, the influential DJ whose deleriously obscure archive discoveries have been making up superb compilations since the influential The Sound Gallery back in 1995. Described as music with a "childish, sweet sound but at the same time an old-fashioned, spooky edge", the typically eclectic tracklisting sits genuine hardcore folkies like Orriel Smith alongside session musicians chopping out sprightly ditties for use in schoolroom 'Music And Movement' sessions, and a couple of obscure soundtrack rarities. Some of it, like Barbara Moore's frantically jazzy The Elf and Merry Ocarina, the aptly named and much-sought after music from Vision On's surreal interludes with a girl and her tortoise, is upbeat and infectious, but most of it is subdued and haunting, most disconcertingly the three inexplicably chilling readings of traditional songs by a tambourine-backed Christopher Casson.

In his liner notes, Jonny Trunk mused from bitter experience that the album would probably only sell enough "for a round of toast or a bus ride to the seaside"; but for once, the contents of a wilfully uncommercial compilation managed to get through to its intended audience and beyond, selling so well that it eventually ended up on the display racks of several high street music stores. Fuzzy Felt Folk can sit as comfortably next to Eliza Carthy and Emmy The Great as it can to those Tudor Lodge and Mellow Candle reissues, and is proof positive that old music can still be 'new' in the right context.

The Memorex Years - Maps 'You Don't Know Her Name'

Here's another guest post that came about as a result of The Memorex Years, and again it was for Sweeping The Nation, as part of their decade-to-date retrospective Noughties By Nature. By this time I wasn't really finding much in the way of 'new' bands that I liked, and Maps were one of the few that did catch my ear. As a consequence there's a bit of sniping at TV talent shows, which I wouldn't neccessarily agree with now, and a bit of sniping at tedious watered down production line 'indie' bands, which I very much would still agree with now. Radcliffe and Maconie were on Radio 2 in the evening at that point, by the way. Very strange to think that needs explaining now...


In this day and age of identikit asymmetrically-haircutted guitar bands who are barely distinguishable from each other (far more so than any X Factor contestant), it's not that easy to find yourself getting very excited about a genuinely 'new' artist. Which is why it's all the more exciting when a record by one such genuinely 'new' artist sneaks up and surprises you in the midst of washing-up-soundtracking Radcliffe & Maconie that you only really had on for This Just In anyway.

You Don't Know Her Name has a solid grasp of what made indie great in the past - it has the moody and malevolent ambience of the sort of record that they stopped making in about 1993 (or, to be more accurate, that Ride, Catherine Wheel and My Bloody Valentine stopped making in about 1993), so much so that you can almost hear Mark Goodier jabbering an endearingly ill-fitting endorsement over the conclusion, and the wobbly intro is uncannily reminiscent of a shaky mispressed 7" bought in Woolworths' bargain bin the week it had fallen twenty places in the chart - but an equally solid grasp of what's relevant now; namely huge anthemic choruses and analogue synths repurposed to sound 'modern'. You get the best of both worlds with this song and it really ought to have followed Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs into the charts and being slapped all over 'tonight... on BBC1!' rundowns.




If you enjoyed this review, you might enjoy Higher Than The Sun - the story of Screamadelica, Foxbase Alpha, Bandwagonesque, Loveless and Creation Records' first attempt at taking on the world - which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

The Memorex Years - 35 Summers 'Really Down'

This bit of indie nostalgia wasn't originally an actual The Memorex Years post, but a guest post for music blog Sweeping The Nation, as part of their 'Songs To Learn And Sing' series. To be honest it was a bit limiting to have to write about one track in the established style, and it doesn't really fit with the other Memorex-skewed pieces, but it was directly because of The Memorex Years that I was invited to write a guest post in the first place, so it later went on the blog along with the rest....


"Inflicting boredom, just to try and pass the time"

1991 was not a good time to be in a British indie band. With the music press turning on the 'indie-dance' sound as Last Year's Thing and realigning their attentions towards the more unwashed and less interesting sounds drifting over from across the Atlantic, it was hard enough for the likes of Happy Mondays and The Charlatans to get by, let alone such second division acts as Airhead, The Dylans, The Milltown Brothers and Paris Angels, who generally found themselves either ridiculed or ignored by the NME and Melody Maker and ultimately by the general indie-orientated record-buying public. Candyland, Candy Flip, The Candyskins and any other bands with 'candy' in their name were not going to be ascending to megastardom, no matter how hard their record companies may have pushed them. Needless to say it was the snobby and elitist fashion-conscious music 'fans' who were missing out on this occasion, something that is reflected by the dizzying second-hand prices such bands command nowadays.

35 Summers were even more unfortunate than most, as they were one of a small group of bands who had the misfortune to be saddled with the ungainly monicker 'Scallydelic'. All of the bands that found this label slapped upon them - which included the The Real People, Rain, Top, The Tambourines, Pele, The Stairs and River City People - had only three vague factors in common; a closer geographical proximity to Liverpool than to Manchester, a mild passing interest in a certain sport involving two teams of eleven players, and a tendency towards dance-tinged jangly guitar pop that fell somewhere between the brilliance of The La's and the uneven-ness of The Farm.

Judging from their meagre recorded output, 35 Summers - vocalist Dave Pichilingi, guitarists Ian Greenwood and Duncan Lomax, bassist Robby Fay, keyboard player Jamie Southern and drummer Alan Curry - were definitely leaning towards the La's end of the scale, and although nobody deserves to be bundled in with such a shabby, ill-concieved and non-existent (not to mention ridiculously named) pretend genre as 'Scallydelic', at the end of the day they really only had themselves to blame by making their footballing craziness explicit with a top-selling t-shirt bearing the image of famed Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly. In an age when many indie bands were reputed to be shifting more t-shirts than actual records, this highly popular item of long-sleeved fashionwear did much to build 35 Summers' profile, but also ended up slightly obscuring the fact that they also made rather good music. All the same, this particular t-shirt had the unsual distinction of being inadvertently captured for posterity on film on two seperate occasions - Peter Hooton is seen wearing one in the Harry Cross Out Of Brookside-equipped video for The Farm's Groovy Train, while from a slightly more enduringly watchable perspective, John Peel also sports the accidentally iconic garment while lurking backstage at the 1991 Reading Festival during Blur's fascinating tour film Starshaped.


35 Summers' first release, on a small independent label, was a suitably spaced-out reworking of The Beatles' Come Together (think along the same lines as The Soupdragons' I'm Free, The Farm's (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone and Candy Flip's Strawberry Fields Forever, along with any of the several hundred other sixties covers done by any of several hundred other indie-dance bands, and you're probably halfway there already), bolstered by spoken word samples from the bizarre but self-explanatory long-player Shankly Speaks. On the strength of this they managed to secure a deal with RCA, for whom they would record and release two singles in 1991 - I Won't Try and Really Down.

Unveiled as part of a Peel session in August 1991, Really Down begins with the singer stating that "self-indulgence, it's a favourite past-time of mine". If it really honestly genuinely was, then you wouldn't know it from this song as the lyrics are an economical, heartfelt and utterly non-self-indulgent evocation of, well, feeling a little bit down in the dumps for no obvious reason, with the chorus complaining - with a possible hint of exaggeration - that "I must be the most unhappy man in the world". There's also a spot of rumination on inarticulacy, or to be more accurate the inarticulacy of others, complaining of how "no-one else seems to take the time to write the lines to express how I really feel". It's a bit of a puzzling complaint given that the lyrics seem to achieve this aim perfectly well by themselves, but not as puzzling as the fact that this lyrical theme seemed to be so common to so many indie-dance bands, and to The Mock Turtles in particular. Did they all think that someone else should be writing their lyrics for them?!?

Musically, Really Down is anything but down in the dumps. Dominated by a bright chord progression, ringing guitars, sparkling harmonies and what sounds like an accordian hiding away in the background somewhere, it's a catchy and upbeat pop song and its only flaw is that the sturdy rhythm section isn't really pushed to the fore, only really coming into its own in a section where the arrangement momentarily strips down to vocals and drums. The standard single edit of the song was joined on its various formats by an 'Extended Version', surely one of the last relics of the days when a 12" Mix simply meant doubling the length of the instrumental bits, and a 'Club Remix' by long-forgotten DJ team The Sound Foundation. The latter should theoretically have put right the minor problems of the original mix, but unfortunately it ends up suffering from exactly the opposite problems - while the remixers make the most of the rhythm section, they also jettison much of the structure and charm of the song itself.

Really Down had all the makings of a summery pop hit, particularly in the indie-friendly summer of 1991, but like all of 35 Summers' releases it didn't make much of an impression on the charts. Not even a reasonable amount of radio support and tours with the fairly highly profiled Northside and the extremely highly profiled EMF seemed to be enough to propel their releases into the lower reaches of the top forty, although the failure of Really Down is perhaps slightly more comprehensible than that of I Won't Try; the song's title is hardly prominent in the lyrics, which almost always seems to impede chart progress for some reason, and whereas the earlier singles had boasted a vaguely pyschedelic pastel-stroke-citrus hued design, the sleeve bears a semi-religious, semi-militaristic and wholly pretentious 'weeping statue' image that hardly suggests that catchy upbeat pop music might be lurking inside.

Sadly, both the lyrics and the off-puttingly maudlin sleeve of Really Down proved to be depressingly propetic for 35 Summers. To accompany the release of the single, they had attempted to replicate the success of the earlier Shankly t-shirts by producing a similar one featuring Leonard Rossiter in full-on Rigsby from Rising Damp mode. Yorkshire Television objected to what was essentially unauthorised use of their copyrighted image for commercial purposes, and the usual legal sabre-rattling resulted in a settlement that, perhaps predictably, was hardly exactly in the band's favour. Following this, their relationship with RCA worsened, and after their lone album Sketch was shelved, 35 Summers called it a day. Needless to say, the original single is now worth a relative absolute fortune, but unless you're particularly desperate to own the Club Mix and Extended Version, Really Down can be easily obtained on a belated Japanese issue of Sketch, and on the fourth volume of Twee.Net's (cough) 'semi-official' compilation series The Sound Of Leamington Spa.