There's So Much More In TV Times Part 14: Parky's Perfect Dinner Party

Imagine, if you will, a time when Peter Davison was a widely-loved television star who, in spite of the occasional bit of wishy-washy fence sitting that even in its full context hardly adopts an actual tangible position, was generally seen as being on the right side of right-on and an overall likeable and decent person.

Well, that was approximately four days ago. Cast your mind back, though, to a time before people who don't even sodding watch Doctor Who decided to take a tabloid's word over his, and him out of The Terror Of The Vervoids tried to score a few cheap points and somehow still managed to come off worse. Yes, it's time to travel forwards to the late eighties, a time of huge change for TV Times. There was now an extra commercial channel, outraging the tabloids with Keith Allen swearing at a polish cartoon or something. Home video was luring viewers away from good clean World In Action and The Fear, except for when it wasn't and something about Video Nasties. And throughout it all, Brucie kept on putting on that comedy oversized chef's hat and making something out of 'leftovers', only on slightly better quality paper.

Something that had most definitely not improved with the passage of time was the quality of readers' letters. Here we can see a thoroughly pointless missive from someone who felt sufficiently impressed by a character from The Bill behaving like a character from The Bill to write in to TV Times to congratulate the programme makers on this bold artistic decision. And that's not the last we'll be hearing from Sun Hill's finest, but moving on...

Full-paged posed photos doubling up as putative 'posters' for the terminally barking mad with no discernible sense of design aesthetic were all the rage around TV Times Towers in the eighties, it seems. In the ludicrously small boxout bit that nobody ever read, Gary Wilmot - who, it's staggering to recall, was all over ITV at the time - reveals that he took time out from impersonating whoever it was he did impersonations of to indulge in a spot of proto-green Save The Trees rabble-rousing; something that, much like Timmy Mallett's denunciation of Apartheid for the benefit of Wide Awake Club viewers, suspiciously never seems to get mentioned whenever the ha ha you big rubbish what were we thinking sneering boots up again. He also seems to be wary of the imminent arrival of Ben Kingsley, Clown Union. This is followed by Matthew Kelly making with the ha ha ha hee hee hee's and 'Gnome - For A Laugh!' puns as he introduces us to his good friend Grimble Grumble. There's probably a perfectly sane and rational explanation. If there is, though, it isn't in the boxout.

TV-am's top 'Girls Who Get Britain Up In The Morning' as the tabloids always had it Ulrika Jonsson and Lorraine Kelly kick off the 1990 FIFA World Cup with a bit of posed punch-up hilarity - hardly the most appropriate of analogies at a time when football was desperately trying to restore its yob-tarnished image - in honour of their home nations' imminent Group C clash, in an issue of TV Times that mysteriously 'disappeared' into a million teenage boys' bedrooms the second that that week's Friday Night viewing was over.

Big smash blockbuster miniseries came and went in the eighties, but every Sunday evening on ITV you could find Harry Secombe strolling religiously from region to region and singing about how God made the clouds while standing in the grassy bit in the middle of a dual carriageway. Yes, bizarrely compelling surrealist masterpiece Highway was putting together an album, and they needed your inexplicably typewritten help! Just write to Harry telling him which hymns you would like to see and indeed hear on there, and when he's finished sending his Christmas Cards he'll draw up a tracklisting. Sadly, how many wags voted for He Made This Lovely Anorak is not on record.

Sometimes, on the almost unthinkably rare occasions on which Brucie was not available (or, more likely, they'd simply run out of 'leftovers'), you just had to get someone else in the kitchen to do 'wacky' poses at the top of a recipe you can't help but suspect they'd never actually been within fifteen feet of. Here for example we can see Kenny Everett refuting all accusations of 'wackiness' whilst throwing a zany look at an industrial-strength quantity of spaghetti, followed by Hale And Pace in character as 'Ron' and 'Ron', offering up a Cloret-inviting menu of basic food procedures kitted out with good honest thumping-skewed pun variants on their names, which was presumably food wot you would like otherwise 'Ron' will arrange for you to have some food wot you would not like even more if you get our meaning ur hur hur 'Ron'.

Hang on a minute... Parky? What's he doing here?! Telling us who his ideal dinner party guests would be, that's what. And it will surprise precisely nobody to learn that Billy Connolly is top of the VIP RSVP list, followed only slightly less predictably by the 'anecdote' barrage of Michael Caine, Jonathan Miller, Alistair Cooke, Anthony Burgess, Peter Ustinov, and token 'there are no women allowed on the dock of the bay' exception Shirley Maclaine. Apart from displaying a strange obsession with getting them all to gather round the piano for a sing song, he also pretty much maps out who will talk on what topic and when, and states his intention to treat them all to caviar, Dover sole and fancy ice cream washed down with coffee, cognac, port and a premier cru Chablis, all of which will take place in the Gilbert And Sullivan rooms at the Savoy. "Beat that!", boasts Parky. OK mate, fix me up with Karen Gillan and her off The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt at a Pizza Express and I fucking well will.

One regular feature of TV Times in the eighties was the confusingly titled 'My Top Ten Top Tens', in which stars of the network were asked to list their favourite examples of several 'quirky' genres, resulting in enough text to pad out to a three page spread being crammed into a single page. In this example we see Kevin Kennedy, TV 'Curly' (Coronation Street), expressing his enthusiasm for decidedly unadventurous music, movies, cuisine and lust icons, though he does sneak the somewhat less than predictable Tutti Frutti and Hank Wangford's A-Z Of Country Music into his list of 'TV Gems', which at least wins him some points. Note also how he crowbars a couple of his Corrie mates in where he can, notably Bill Tarmey above John Wayne in 'Greatest Actors'. No mention of Don't Forget The Old Folks At Christmas by Bill Waddington, though.

What I Watch was a regular feature in TV Times throughout the eighties, in which a procession of second-tier celebrites - or in some cases just anyone who actually answered the phone - namechecked a couple of currently popular television shows, primarily with a hefty ITV slant, and revealed absolutely nothing about anything whatsoever. Here, for example, is Kevin Lloyd, street-hardened DC Tosh Lines from The Bill, pretty much listing all of the then-operational ITV detective shows, followed by a plug for the now entirely forgotten massive-in-their-day sitcoms About Face and Surgical Spirit, and a suspiciously sizeable thumbs-up for ITN. It doesn't take Ted Roach to figure out what his 'snouts' had tipped him. This is followed by Brookside head honcho Phil Redmond taking time out from appearing on the front page of the Liverpool Echo holding his fringe back with a 'defeated' look and asking why the 1957 Venezuelan National Games can't be in Liverpool to bore everyone senseless about 'realism' and 'value' before going on about films and some programmes he created himself. And finally, Ian and 'Wee Jimmy' essentially run through an entire day's schedule on ITV from Chain Letters to Taggart, pausing only to admonish sitcoms for being too middle class and not reflecting real life - presumably they needed more 'naughty' schoolboys in outmoded school uniforms getting up to all manner of Forties DC Thompson-style hi-jinks (and, of course, chalking rude words on next door's garden gate) - and, worryingly, confirm that "we liked the Shoot To Kill programme". You'd never have expected that of The Krankies and their strict adherence to wholesome family fun.

Oh for fuck's sake. Still, this will only be a rare lapse on the part of good clean ITV. After, all, it was the boo hiss BBC that 'all knew', and ITV never employed any of that shower at any point ever.

Moving rapidly on...

Time to dance your cares away with Timmy Mallett and Michaela Strachan, and their tried and tested formula of just copying something in the public eye and putting 'Wac' in front of it so nobody would ever suspect a thing, as they teach us how to do the purported 'dance sensation of the summer', The 'Wacbada'. Sadly the issue in which they explained how to bust a move to Pump Up The Jam by Wacnotronic Feat. Jelly was not available. Nor was the Halloween/Bonfire Night issue of Family Circle with Timmy Mallett on the cover. Slightly less sadly.

Grr grr, remember when Ryan Paris and those Eurocrats in Brussells made us change the name of all of our best chocolate and chew bars and there was that hilarious comedy advert with a 'French' woman refusing to buy a Marathon, except it was actually a change enacted to allow more seamless integration with American branding, advertising and manufacture so don't go losing your temper and ramming some chlorinated chicken down Liam Fox's throat or anything etc etc? Well, it wasn't the only thing changing around then, and in 1991 - signposted with a bizarre full-page advert saying 'What's Bob Cryer Doing On The BBC?' - TV Times and Radio Times were finally allowed to run each other's schedules and, well, a little bit of character went out of each. So it's at this point that we leave our collective bafflement at TV Times' eccentricities for now, but there's still the seventies to get through. And more eighties. And there might even be the odd thing or two in Radio Times worth looking at. In fact, you could almost say there was so much more still in it. Sorry.

If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more slightly more serious writing about fifties and sixties television in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.