A Third Opinion

This look at comedy on BBC Radio 3 and its predecessor the Third Programme was originally written as the introduction for an intended follow-up to Fun At One concentrating on Radio 3 comedy programmes. Yes there were some. More than you'd expect, in fact. For various reasons this was never finished and some bits of it ended up being absorbed into other projects, but in recognition of the Third Programme's seventieth anniversary, here it is...

On 10th June 1969, the jazz-rock outfit Soft Machine were in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios to record a session for Top Gear, the popular ‘progressive’ show on BBC Radio 1 presented by John Peel, which had been enthusiastically supporting the band since the station’s launch in 1967. Broadcast on 15th June, the session showcased several lengthy numbers intended for their forthcoming album Third, including one entitled Moon In June. Drummer and vocalist Robert Wyatt had already tried out several potential lyrics for this number but had rejected them all as unsatisfactory, and found himself at the session with literally no words to sing. Possibly inspired by the more irreverent and humourous atmosphere encouraged by Peel’s incoming producer John Walters – himself later a regular broadcaster for Radio 3 – Wyatt improvised amusing lyrics about the experience of recording sessions at the BBC, mixing tongue-in-cheek references to the tea machine and other facilities at Maida Vale with recollections of how, on their first appearance on the station, they had been forced to ensure all of their numbers clocked in at under three minutes. Now, however, as Wyatt memorably put it, they were "free to play for as long or as loud as a jazz group or an orchestra on Radio 3".

Following an extract being played on Radio 4’s cross-station highlights show Pick Of The Week, which caused much amusement within Radio 3’s corridors, the upshot of this extraordinary performance – one of the first recordings for Peel’s show ever to be commercially released – was that on 13th August 1970, Soft Machine were invited to take part in Radio 3’s coverage of the BBC Proms, sharing the bill with the unlikely combination of The BBC Symphony Orchestra and electronic music pioneer Tim Souster, treating the station’s eclectically-minded audience to numbers with such obtuse titles as Esther’s Nose Job and Out-Bloody-Rageous.

As humourous as Wyatt’s lyrics may have been, the session recording of Moon In June was very much a serious musical performance, yet the band’s appearance on Radio 3 the following year clearly demonstrates that even in those early days, despite popular perception, the station had both a sense of humour and a willingness to showcase interesting developments in the arts outside of the classical sector. This was, in fact, nothing new – launched on 30th September 1967, Radio 3 was intended as a successor to the existing Third Programme, a notably more speech-orientated BBC radio station devoted to the arts, science and intellectual pursuits, although for a variety of technical and administrative reasons the Third Programme would continue to exist as a standalone service, broadcasting mainly in the evenings, up until finally being subsumed into the more music dominated Radio 3 in April 1970. Despite its lofty reputation, the Third Programme did possess a sense of humour, albeit possibly not one that radio listeners more used to the exploits of Jimmy Clitheroe or Ted Ray might have recognised as such. Indeed, its first night of programming on 29th September 1946 had seen actress Joyce Grenfell deliver one of her celebrated spoof documentaries, How To Listen ("including How Not To, How You Ought To and How You Won’t"), which poked fun at the reverence with which audiences were supposed to treat ‘serious’ radio.

As early as 1949, there was an attempt at establishing a regular comedy show with Third Division, a sketch show described as ‘Some Vulgar Fractions’ and featuring the likes of Benny Hill, Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine, Patricia Hayes and Harry Secombe, with sketch material by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, which poked fun at the station’s cultural and academic obsessions in a manner that did not always please BBC executives. The station’s tenth anniversary in 1957 was marked with In Third Gear: A Homage To Their Betters, a satirical one-off in which Peter Ustinov and Peter Jones delivered a mock ‘Behind The Scenes’ feature on the Third Programme, which pulled even fewer punches, and a series of spoof diary readings by 'Mrs Cramp' (Patience Collier), written by Angus Wilson and Christopher Sykes as a literary send-up of The Light Programme’s Mrs Dale’s Diary, a reference point which was presumably lost on most of the Third Programme’s audience. Tom Stoppard produced many of his early comic plays for the station, notably If You’re Glad I’ll Be Frank (1966), featuring Timothy West as a man who recognises the speaking clock (Patsy Rowlands) as the voice of his wife, and the somewhat darker Albert’s Bridge (1967), while the mercurial talent Gerard Hoffnung made a number of appearances on the station both as a musician and a humourist. Most famously, between 1953 and 1959, Henry Reed penned a total of seven plays about ‘Hilda Tablet’, a wild and frequently surreal parody of modern classical composers, starring Mary O’Farrell as inventor of ‘musique concrete reinforcee’ Hilda, and Hugh Burden as the put-upon narrator.

More peculiar still was a 1963 hoax perpetrated by Hans Keller, the Third Programme’s resident music critic, whose fearsome intellect and waspish observations masked a genuine enthusiasm for elements of ‘low’ culture, notably his passionate love of Tottenham Hotspur, and a mischievous sense of humour coupled with a love of annoying the pompous and self-important . Having concocted a random and meaningless cacophony of percussion noises, Keller worked up a fictitious life story for the equally fictitious composer Piotr Zak, presenting it as a factual documentary as part of one of the station’s ‘Invitation Concerts’ on 5th June 1961. Despite some deliberately unrealistic elements in the story, many were taken in, some critics penning dismissive reviews of his work and others feigning a detailed knowledge of his career. Keller’s savage wit would later provide a fitting coda to the saga of the Third Programme, when he described the incoming Radio 3 with tongue very much in cheek as a ‘daytime music station’.

This sort of highbrow humour would even carry through into much of Radio 3’s regular output. For many years, the regular Jazz Record Requests slot inherited from the Third Programme was presented by Humphrey Lyttleton, a bandleader with a droll wit and chairman of the Radio 4 panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue for over thirty years. The frequently absurdist Pied Piper (1971-76), a children’s show aimed at raising awareness of music, was presented by David Munrow, a firebrand of an early music enthusiast whose refusal to kowtow to ideas of classicism once saw him record a collection of Beatles covers on archaic instruments. Many at least nominally comic plays have been broadcast on the station, while the sporadic humorous content of review shows like The Verb, Late Junction, The Wire, Night Waves and In Tune would defy cataloguing. For a time the station was also home to the famously dry-witted Andy Kershaw, whose Radio 1 show was effectively airlifted onto Radio 3 when he was dropped from their schedules.

Although they have been few and far between, Radio 3 has even made the occasional attempt at establishing its own dedicated comedy show. While the station’s relatively small listenership has largely prevented any of them becoming well known – and even in some cases from becoming known to the performers’ not inconsiderable fanbases – these have been a surprisingly varied set of projects from surprisingly prominent comics and writers, clearly relishing the opportunity to do something slightly more personal and experimental than they would be able to on practically any other radio or television station. This is the story of that handful of quite remarkable shows, and – almost like a statement of intent – it begins with perhaps the least likely comedian ever to appear on Radio 3.

Fun At One, the story of comedy at BBC Radio 1, is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Drawing An Obadiah Blank

Over The Moon was one of several studio-bound videotaped shows with human presenters that the BBC introduced into their schedules for younger viewers in the mid-to-late seventies. Like Playboard, Ragtime, Ring-A-Ding!, How Do You Do! and probably also one or two others that even I can't recall off the top of my head, it's not really anywhere near as well remembered as it logically should be.

Other than the possibility that some of the target audience resented anything that wasn't puppet-led, there's not really a readily obvious explanation for this. And that doesn't really work anyway as the Playboard presenter was never actually seen onscreen. Still, as you might have noticed, I tend to use Over The Moon as an example of TV That Time Forgot rather a lot; an example that is slightly undermined by the fact that a lot of people actually do remember something about it, even if they have no idea which programme it came from.

Introduced by an animated question mark/coathanger pin man rebounding off the side of various aspects of nature and industry to a squelchy synth backing, Over The Moon was to all intents and purposes a science show for the under fives. Introduced by the no-nonsense Sam Dale, who conducted very basic sub-Johnny Ball experiments in an equally basic studio set, the show also featured Play School-style filmed inserts illustrating the chosen scientific concept of the week, and a similarly illustrative quirky song set to animation by Pigeon Street designer in waiting Alan Rogers.

What was unusual in Over The Moon's case was that these songs were written and performed by actual singer-songwriters, albeit in most cases with previous links to BBC Children's programmes. As you can imagine, this meant that the songs were usually of a very high standard and indeed were remarkably memorable for such a widely-forgotten show. So much so, in fact, that it's likely that most people who remember the songs have little or no idea of what Over The Moon even was. Notable examples include Kim Goody's lament for Rat Van Winkle, who escaped from the 'Rat Race' to a land where a minute lasted a year, Jasper Carrott's salute to intrepid if unsuccessful wildlife photographer Angus McBluff, and a certain Derek Griffiths number concerning one Obadiah Blank.

This was a chirpy call-and-reseponse number about how we have our lucky stars to thank for Obadiah Blank, an indefatigable inventor whose achievements included devising the flying spoon and growing poppies on the moon; and ultimately an 'inventing machine', which could go on inventing for him while he sat back and, presumably, counted his own lucky stars. And it's very clearly the most well remembered detail about Over The Moon; any time that I mention the programme anywhere, you can guarantee that someone will ask if anyone else remembers the song, and more or less every reference to 'Obadiah Blank' on the Internet - apart from an article written by me - is someone asking what programme it came from and where they can get hold of it. It seems that a lot of people would like to see it again, in fact. But there's a slight problem with that.

Wheels And Wires, the edition of Over The Moon featuring the Obadiah Blank song, was first shown by BBC1 on 20th December 1978, and last seen 23rd June 1982. Needless to say, it was repeated countless times in the interim. Unfortunately the master tape was lost in the early nineties - if you want to know how and why this happened, then you can read more about that in this post here - and while a filmed insert from the show apparently does still exist, it's not clear as to whether this is Obadiah Blank or the live action sciencey bit. Or both, in fact, but anyway. So many people recall the song so vividly that somebody must have kept a copy of it, even if it's just a crumbly audio recording made by holding a built-in tape recorder microphone up to the television speaker.

So if you do have a recording of the Obadiah Blank song - or anything of Over The Moon in fact, as there's a few of them missing - please let me know. If we can find lost episodes of How Do You Do!, we can find this...

UPDATE! Thanks to Hidden Cam Studios, here's the full Obadiah Blank song as featured in an edition of Play School!!

Streetsounds 17: Electric Boogal... No, That Doesn't Work

In 1986, I won a competition in Smash Hits. Though I'm not really quite sure of how and why I did.

Rather than the can of Citrus Spring autographed by Phil Cool that you might well be expecting, the prize in question was a copy of Streetsounds 17. As the name suggests, this was the the seventeenth instalment in the Streetsounds label's lengthy series of compilations of hot new electro, hip-hop and breakbeat tracks. Despite having more than a passing interest in the genre, and being the proud owner of K-Tel's surprisingly strong if slightly dubiously promoted Rap It Up collection, I don't recall ever being particularly desperate to get hold of this or indeed any other edition of Streetsounds. Scanning the lists of winners of other competitions in the same issue, I suspect that I may actually have been after the 12" of Rockin' With Rita by Vindaloo Summer Special, and had just entered the Streetsounds 17 one on a whim due to having a spare stamp.

In order to win a copy, you were challenged to explain, in an essay lasting no longer than five words, why Prince was so short. "The effects of Purple Rain" was my aaaaahhh-tastic pseudo-satirical response, which clearly amused Sylvia Patterson and company sufficiently for them to send me one of the fifty copies on offer. It arrived before the issue with the list of winners came out, in fact, and once it did hit the 'newsstands' I became something of a minor celebrity in school for a week or so. We had to make our own 'trending' in those days.

Anyway, I was reminded of this recently while I was scouring 1986 issues of Smash Hits as research for an article about Now - The Summer Album; which none of you actually read, clearly on account of the MSM bias against me. Sadly, I don't actually have the issue itself any more - a shame as it was the one with the brilliant feature on where the money that you spent on records actually went - but thanks to the fantastic Like Punk Never Happened, here's that list of winners in full. It's particularly interesting to see that the other winners included one 'Scott Walker'. There was such a prominent electro influence on Tilt after all.

However, while that issue of Smash Hits may have long since disappeared into the great magazine-based Bermuda Triangle of the rest of your family denying all knowledge of what might have happened to it, I do still have Streetsounds 17 itself. Not that I really remember very much about it - like all of the Streetsounds label's billions of releases, it was aimed primarily at hip DJs and people playing at being hip DJs, and intended as a way of getting hold of hot new tracks cheaply and easily rather than an actual coherent listening experience. So there's really not much of an excuse for not giving it another spin, is there?

Streetsounds 17 has an indistinct photo of an anonymous street funkateer in a long mac on the cover, and this sense of anonymity also extends to its contents. Many of the featured acts are so low-profile and little-remembered that it's virtually impossible to find an actual photo of them, and only three of the featured tracks resemble even anything approaching a hit single. Janet Jackson's oft-overlooked second hit Nasty might seem a surprising inclusion for such a radically urban and cutting edge series, but it was also a good deal harsher sounding than her usual fare; which is probably the reason why it's oft-overlooked, in fact. This is even more true of the 12" Extended Version included here, which strips it down to some suitably nasty-sounding beats that feel a lot closer to mid-eighties hardcore rap than mid-eighties Motown slickness.

Plenty of slickness can nonetheless be found on Step By Step by T.C. Curtis, the Jheri Curl-sporting synth-funk polymath who somehow failed to break through to mainstream success, despite appearing at the end of side two of every below-par Now! That's What I Call Music rip-off in existence. Step By Step may be presented here in an exclusive 'Streetsounds Remix', but it's still true to say that if you did ever catch one of those end-of-side-two tracks, then you'll have a fair idea of what this likeable but undistinguished mid-paced hoarse-voiced workout sounds like. It's worth noting that a now somewhat unfortunate yodel starts to creep in towards the end, though.

If we're being honest about it, though, most of you will probably have no idea of who T.C. Curtis even was, and if we're positing him as the third most famous artist featured on Streetsounds 17 (we'll get to the second later) then you've got some sense of just how obscure the others actually are. Sharp-suited Oran 'Juice' Jones-alike Michael Jonzun, who throws a hefty helping of vogueish Nu Shooz-esque 'barking dog' voice samples into Can't Fool Us, and Give Me Up non-hitmaker Beau Williams, whose primary gimmick was to fool you into thinking he was singing about a girl when he was actually singing about God, do at least have something approaching a traceable career path. As do Skipworth And Turner, the duo behind the energetic 'Streetsounds Exclusive Edit' of Children's ITV Game Show-friendly-synth-festooned Can't Give Her Up, whose main contribution to musical history was giving Kenny Thomas another hit nobody asked for by writing Thinking About Your Love. Actually, apparently they're different songs, but I couldn't be bothered checking and anyway, there's no point allowing the opportunity for a good Kenny Thomas gag to go by.

Above and beyond that, though, we're adrift in a fathomless factual void of sequinned jackets and Yamaha DX7s. Colors, the unimaginatively-named outfit responsible for the Mario Kart backing music-like Pay Me Back My Love, may possibly have featured veteran session singer Vaneese Thomas but nobody seems to be quite sure about that. Given that it opens with the same sort of over-extemporising saxaphone as any given mid-eighties US TV show, and continues in a suitably mediocre sub-Al Jarreau style, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Cargo, whose Love You So (Without You) is yet another 'Streetsounds Exclusive Mix' ('featuring Dave Collins'), were as American as they came. Yet, bafflingly, the credits seem to indicate they were not just UK-based but actually led by veteran beardy jazzers Mike Carr and Dick Morrissey. Meanwhile, Sleeque have fallen so far off the factual radar that they might as well not have even existed, which is a shame as their sturdy proto-Acid Jazz stomper One For The Money, with its amusing interpolation of the lyrics from Blue Suede Shoes, is the best track on here by some considerable distance.

Former disco ensemble who'd moved with the times Zapp, whose Computer Love (Extended Version) was presumably not a tribute to Zzap!64, sit uneasily somewhere between the two as they seem to have been around for several thousand years without anyone actually noticing them. On the evidence of this 'dreamy' soundscape that clocks in at nearly ten minutes without offering a single robot voice, this is hardly surprising. It's doubtful that it would even have appealed to nominally music-averse sci-fi fans because 'space'.

Right at the end, however, comes the 'Special Extended Remix' of Set Me Free by Birmingham's own Jaki Graham. Seemingly hovering around the charts for the entirety of 1986, even the regular version of Set Me Free was already a touch overlong and repetitive, so making it even longer still seems like an act of wilful obnoxiousness verging on madness. That's how they did 'remixes' back then, though, and frankly it's exactly what we want here. Turning a likeable if lightweight spot of full-throated jazz-funk into something approaching art terrorism exemplifies both everything that was wrong and everything that was right about mid-eighties pop music at the same time, and stands out way more than any of the seemingly endless procession of seemingly endless pleasant enough in-one-ear-and-out-of-the-other exhortations for swanky types in Midnight Starr-inspired clobber to get on down on the dancefloor that you'll find elsewhere on the album.

The regular version of Set Me Free did of course appear on Now! That's What I Call Music 7, which in addition to being a hugely listenable vivid and vibrant snapshot of the diversity of the mid-eighties pop charts, is also the very best Now! album bar none. Yes it is. Stop arguing. Yet for all their wilful angularness, we should be glad that the likes of Streetsounds and the Indie Top 20 series (which you can find Dave Bryant's excellent album-by-album review of here) existed, as they're probably the only way of really accurately measuring what went on beyond the Top Forty short of inventing a time machine and posing as Eugene Wilde. A pose that no doubt involved reclining forward into the camera lens with a satin jacket and a huge grin.

So, that's how I ended up with Streetsounds 17 instead of Rockin' With Rita. But can you guess which one of them I later ended up mentioning in a book?

If you want to read more of my Smash Hits memories, you can find them here.

If you've enjoyed this article, you might enjoy my book The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society in paperback here, on the Kindle Store here, or as a full-colour eBook here.

The World Of Gardeners' World

Sometimes, despite what you might have read, it's been surprisingly difficult to find certain once-ubiquitous examples of retro iconography on the Internet. Until recently, you'd have searched in vain for any footage of Crow And Alice from You And Me, or any photographs of Number One magazine gossip columnist Lola Lush, or a recording of the original theme song from The Amazing Adventures Of Morph. Of course, all of the above have since put in an appearance, and you can find the full story behind that disappearing-from-history Morph song in Top Of The Box. I would also like to take this opportunity to strenuously deny any and all rumours that I was especially pleased to see Lola Lush again.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, yes. Part of the reason why all of the above and more are now 'out there' was that one of my earlier attempts at a blog was specifically dedicated to smoking out copies of things that were conspicuous by their online absence. This isn't necessarily mentioned out of self-congratulation, by the way, as one of the first things that I managed to turn up was a Rolf Harris single. Something that I'm slightly more pleased to have found in retrospect, though, was the original Gardeners' World theme.

Some of you are no doubt about to point out to me that they're still using that sappy tweedle-eedle acoustic guitar thing, so why would anyone have needed to look that hard for it in the first place? Well, they only started using that one in the late eighties. Prior to that, Gardeners' World was heralded by a ludicrously over-the top cascade of sweeping strings that suggested anything but tranquil to-camera pieces on how to check your vegetable patch for wireworm. What's more, it was instantly familiar to an audience that went way beyond that of Gardeners' World itself. Not that they necessarily have matters under that much control these days, but BBC2 used to have a huge problem with live coverage overrunning, particularly when it came to snooker. Their solution was usually to simply shunt the schedule back by the requisite number of minutes, meaning that when you tuned in for Alexei Sayle's Stuff or Cool It! or whatever, you would have to sit through what seemed like several centuries of Bob Flowerdew and Gay Search inspecting herbaceous borders before what you actually wanted to see came on. Needless to say, the end theme of Gardeners' World wasn't exactly in the top ten of anyone who'd had to set their video for Comrade Dad.

Still, despite all that it was actually a rather exciting piece of music, calling to mind a bustling garden fete rather than newspaper 'Review' section-friendly allotment-tilling, and it was rather surprising to find that it wasn't online in any form. So I asked, and within minutes of the post going up, Chris Hughes of TV Cream had got in touch to say that he had a recording of it. Then someone else got in touch to say they had a slightly different version. And then someone got in touch to say they had a radically different version. Yes, the Gardeners' World theme - apparently more correctly and appropriately known as Green Fingers - had gone through a germination and flowering process all of its own. And here is a handy back-of-seed-packet style guide to cultivating your very own Gardeners' World theme music.

Apparently, when Gardener's World first appeared in the BBC2 schedules in 1968, it was introduced by a long-forgotten solo clarinet piece; which, if solo clarinet pieces for TV shows from around that time are anything to go by, can probably stay long-forgotten. A couple of years later, in came Green Fingers, though it was initially essayed as an almost unrecognisable reed-dominated quasi-baroque waltz with jazzy touches. Sounding like it would be much more at home introducing an early Radio 4 sitcom, you'd have to listen closely to notice that it even was the same tune, and while it may have been nice and flowery it was hardly going to attract the attention of the casual viewer. Nor indeed the frustration of the viewer who was having to wait for Oh In Colour. Clearly a rethink was in order.

In the early seventies, Green Fingers found itself on the recieving end of a fairly radical landscaping. Uprooted into 4/4, it was re-interpreted by a string section with 'pop' backing who attacked it at a ferocious pace with scant regard for the safety of the viewing public, calling to mind Mr Bilton from Chigley careering around the grounds of Winkstead Hall in a turbo-charged motorised lawnmower. Yet while the alarming musical overemphasis is already in evidence, it's still just not quite haphazard enough, and what's more it concludes with a frankly unnecessary bit of anti-climactic piano improvisation with way too many notes in. You can't have a build-up like that and not resolve it properly, and so by the middle of the decade...

The definitive reading of Green Fingers takes everything up a key with a small but vital increase in tempo, and what's more is played with such formidable force that you can't help but wonder if the closing bit of over-elaborate extemporisation came about because the violinist simply couldn't stop. And if that's not the sound of a trip to the local garden centre to stock up on seedlings, ornaments and ice lollies that they never seemed to sell anywhere else, then frankly nobody knows what is. Meanwhile, if you want to point out that there was also this acoustic Gardeners' World theme that hasn't been mentioned here for some reason, I will personally insert seven minutes of it into the start of every episode of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle for you.

It's Still A Police Box, Why Hasn't It Changed? Part Six: Foam, If You Want To, All Around The World

Doctor Who's fifth series in 1967-68 probably seemed like just another day at the office for everyone involved. A well established success that had survived a potentially hazardous change of lead actor, it was nonetheless no more or less significant than any other TV show, especially now that 'Dalekmania' had started to fade into the past. It was high quality Saturday Evening science fiction thrills all the way, but it was also being churned out week in, week out, and in some regards had actually fallen into something of a pattern, famously over-reliant on the 'Base Under Siege' narrative model.

It must have come as some surprise, then, when fans later started to hail this series as the absolute high watermark of all things Doctor Who. And not without good reason. Largely wiped - in fact, at one point only three episodes out of the entire run were known to still exist - all that remained were eerie-looking photos and moody off-air audios, novelisations that hinted at tense and thought-provoking stories, and the memories of those who had actually seen the now intangible 'Monster Season' - presumably so named to distinguish it from all of those other ones with absolutely no monsters in them whatsoever - when it was transmitted; odd now to think that it was only a little over fifteen years old at that point. On top of that, The Daleks may have gone but you had two Cybermen stories, two Yeti stories, the Ice Warriors, Patrick Troughton playing a dual role, and some seaweed with ideas above its station. It really didn't get much more exciting - or at least exciting-sounding - than that.

Then of course huge swathes of it turned up and everything got turned on its head. Some stories turned out to not quite live up to the bold claims that had been made for them. Others, forgotten and ignored, turned out to be utterly fantastic. And everyone else looked on in bafflement and pointed out that they're all good and what are any of you lot on about? Still, the fact remains that few things in the entire Doctor Who 'universe' have fallen as far and as quickly from favour as Series Five. And on past form, chances are that we're not exactly going to be helping to restore its reputation here. But we'll do our best, and what better place to begin than with the fearsome metal man from beyond the stars whose popularity with the viewing public so dominated this series...?

Why Is The Servo Robot So Famous?

More of an annoyance than an antagonist, The Servo Robot - the lumbering, aftershave-shaped, bipedal custodian of abandoned rocket The Silver Carrier in Series Five closer The Wheel In Space - is only seen in one episode, and even then gets blown apart in spectacular fashion in a textbook display of Previously Unmentioned Thing We've Just Got From The Tardis technobabble. It is merely one of a long line of underwhelmingly designed yet at the same time oddly futuristic robots in sixties Doctor Who. It doesn't even appear anywhere in the two existing episodes from the story, spectacularly blown apart or otherwise. So how come, then, it's by far the most widely-recognisable visual element of the story, if not the entirety of Series Five? So much so, in fact, that it very nearly became the lead image of this feature. Incoming assistant Zoe makes her first appearance in this story, and The Cybermen and The Cybermats have both had sleek redesigns, but ask the average fan what they think of first when you mention The Wheel In Space and they'll almost certainly say The Servo Robot. They'd struggle to tell you what contentious X-Ray Laser-powering mineral Bernalium, foxy Russian scientist Tanya Lernov, or even The Wheel itself looked like, but they could describe The Servo Robot in intricate detail without even trying. Quite how this has come about is something of a mystery. You can't blame publicity photos as there are actually substantially more of The Cybermen and Zoe, not to mention that Cybermat that fanzines were always using to fill awkward bits of landscape-format space. You can't point towards the scale blueprints in The Doctor Who Technical Manual as nobody ever really understood quite what that was for. And you can't even blame the Telesnaps - of which more in a moment - as it seems that with unerring accuracy, John Cura once again failed to capture anything of any of the actual key moments in the first episode. We can only assume, then, that it either did something visually astonishing that wasn't in the script and wasn't picked up on the soundtrack, or else that there was some never-recorded outbreak of 'Servomania', inspiring an avalanche of tie-in merchandise that was all completely obliterated and forcibly wiped from people's memories shortly afterwards. That said, some viewers most likely had their minds on other things...

They Like Big Boobs And They Cannot Lie

In the previous instalments, we've had plenty to say on the black and white era cameramen's pervy fixation with focusing in on female cast members with sizeable backsides. Presumably this was as much as the hot and bothered so-and-so's felt that they could reasonably get away with at the time, but this would all dramatically change with the arrival of Deborah Watling as Victoria. She was, lest we forget, the first assistant that the production team explicitly stated was there to get 'The Dads' watching, and brought with her a frankly unignorable frontage. Although plunging necklines were still some way away from acceptability, the costume designers nonetheless went out of their way to stick her in tight dresses and sweaters; the effect that this had on 'The Dads' doesn't bear thinking about. There's even a couple of lines that are delivered in a manner that suggest the rest of the cast are having a bit of knocker-heavy innuendo amusement with the entirely innocent script, not to mention someone more or less telling her that her tits are 'getting in the way' in The Tomb Of The Cybermen. Meanwhile, the fact that Victoria could only have been supposed to be fifteen at most is probably best sidestepped for now. Anyway, suffice it to say that the cameramen were seemingly in competition with each other to pan and tilt for the best angle on the thankfully very much overage Ms. Watling, although certain shots do suggest that old habits really did die hard...

Eagerly Pursuing All The Latest Fads And Trends, 'Cause He's A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion

Also paying close attention to certain aspects of Victoria's wardrobe, if the first episode of The Ice Warriors is anything to go by, was her travelling companion Jamie McCrimmon. In a textbook 'nice intention, shame about the execution' move for Doctor Who at the time, not to mention somewhat impractically for a research station in the middle of an icy tundra, Miss Garrett and her fellow climate-saving clever-clogs female technicians are given to walking around Brittanicus Base in Mary Quant-style two-tone minidresses of such alarming brevity that they would have finished higher than their underwear had they actually been wearing any, which logic dictates they can't have. Needless to say, Jamie has observed this and is not entirely upset about it. Presumably speaking for 'The Dads' everywhere, he adopts a louche, relaxed pose on a sort of bendy 'futuristic' couch thing and asks Victoria if she had noticed what 'those lassies' were wearing. Apparently having temporarily forgotten her own predeliction for dramatically short skirts, Victoria replies that yes she had, and she thinks they should have more self-respect, and shame on Jamie for taking such an active interest in the subject. Unfazed by this, Jamie breezily asks if Victoria sees herself wearing anything similar, which invites an even more stern rebuke and an announcement that she will now change the subject. Which is promptly done for her in an appalling display of Ice Warriorsplaining when Varga chooses that exact moment to lumber out from behind a curtain. There's probably an interesting article to be written looking at how despite its cake-and-eat-it general failure to 'do' feminism from a modern perspective, this and other examples from sixties Doctor Who were actually quite striking and daring in context and it's a shame they've since been overshadowed by later much worse behaviour and what have you, but the real pressing question is who decided Jamie should be offering his views on fashion and design and indeed why. Was his week-in-week-out uniform of shapeless jumper and kilt masking a secret obsession with the tripped-out stylings of I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet and Granny Takes A Trip? Was he frequently invited onto A Whole Scene Going to talk about shift dresses and the plastic raincoat revolution? Did he indeed flit from shop to shop just like a butterfly? Sadly, we may never know, though there are some vagaries of mid-sixties fashion we can be somewhat more certain of...

The Abominable Snowmen Was The Most 'Psychedelic' Doctor Who Story

Every so often, you'll get a BBC4 documentary about 'the sixties' diverting into talk of when Doctor Who 'went' psychedelic. This, it is generally agreed, was when all those storybook characters came to life and everyone wandered around in a white void in The Mind Robber. Or, if raining, when all those toys came to life and everyone (well, The Toymaker and an invisible Doctor) wandered around in a white void in The Celestial Toymaker. Or, at an absolute push, when you had those giant butterfly men like everyone sees when they've been smoking acid in The Web Planet. Yet while all of those stories, and indeed numerous others that never get mentioned, certainly chime with the visual and thematic motifs of UK Psychedelia, were they actually that 'psychedelic'? Or just the rewritten-at-the-last-minute work of career-minded scriptwriters who were careful only to ever reach for the bottle marked The Ones That Mother Gives You? If you've learned your psychedelia from Dave Clark Five records, then yes, it's probably true that you do just need a couple of mindbending colours and Victoriana references and away you go. The real pioneers and practioners of the movement, though, were on more of a cerebral stroke spiritual quest, whether it was Traffic et al 'getting it together in the country' while cut off from the media with only scary folk records about how King Arthur Was Away-kyeddddddd for company, 'Dinners' and pals enthusiastically darting between avant-garde art installations and electronic music 'happenings', and Syd Barrett and company dabbling with Eastern philosophies until they at least understood enough of it to cobble together a half decent set of lyrics. The Abominable Snowmen might not look much like the cover of The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators, but it's set in a remote part of Tibet (and filmed, incidentally, on pastoral Welsh hillsides) dominated by devotional Buddhist monks with a big stone temple who dole out small samples of wisdom and enlightenment when the script permits. Despite being set in the 1930s there's still a dash of Victorian-Edwardian pre-technology atmosphere due to the presence of beardy academic Professor Travers, and the whole story is shot through with a transcendental ambience that suggests that all movement really had been accomplished in six stages, and the seventh had indeed brought return. If you want to overplay the analogy a bit, you could also say that they might well have had Robot Yeti at one of those McCartney-patronised exhibitions. No? Alright, please yourselves then. Mind you, we've only got one episode and a handful of clips to base this on. But we do at least know what the others sounded and indeed looked like...

What Happened To All The Other Telesnaps?

If you've ever read anything about missing sixties Doctor Who, you'll no doubt have seen dozens upon dozens of funny blurry little television-shaped images of the long-wiped onscreen action. These are 'Telesnaps', taken by a photographer named John Cura, who specialised in providing commissioned images for actors and production staff alike, who would otherwise have had no record of their television work in the pre-video age. There are surviving Telesnaps for the vast majority of lost Doctor Who episodes, and a very faint half-rubbed-out pencilled-in question mark over whether there might be some out there for some of the other ones too. But it wasn't just Doctor Who that he Telesnapped. This was a popular and profitable business - enough for him to be profiled in a magazine article headed by some bikinied lovelies beneath the headline 'This Is How John Cura Does It' - and he spent all day every day photographing anything and everything that appeared on all three television channels. You might occasionally chance upon one from another programme like Z Cars, or a variety show, or some thing with Carole Ann Ford in, but why aren't we all struggling to escape from beneath a daily avalanche of Telesnaps? Well, rumour has it that the Cura family disposed of their boxes and boxes and boxes of negatives, contact sheets and enlargements after offering them to the BBC, only to be informed by a scoffing pen-pusher that they were 'moving forwards, not backwards'. That was only one set of copies, though; he'd taken the Telesnaps for a reason, and that reason was that someone had asked and paid for copies. There must be billions upon billions of them out there, in attics the length and breadth of the UK, and featuring the only known visual record of long-lost and unlikely to be recovered episodes of The Wednesday Play, and United!, and Adam Adamant Lives!, and Top Of The Pops, and Theatre 625, and Where Was Spring?, and Sara And Hoppity, and Quick Before They Catch Us, and Sugarball The Little Jungle Boy, and Hancock's Half Hour, and R.3, and Vendetta, and Armchair Theatre, and The Tennis Elbow Foot Game, and that thing with that Barry Bucknell, and everything I wrote about in Not On Your Telly, and the whole bloody lot of them. Of course, there might even be a shed somewhere with actual film prints of all of the above and more in. You never know. I mean it's not like anything similar has turned up from anywhere recently.

The Enemy Of The World's Enemy Is Not My Friend

Poor old The Enemy Of The World. Marooned without a monster in the middle of 'Monster Season', and represented by a lone dialogue-and-long-pause-heavy episode, it was the one that everyone always forgot about. All that anyone really knew about it was that Patrick Troughton played a 'dual role' as 'the villainous Salamander', and that there were some swear words in the tie-in novel. Or at least that's what we used to think. Then the rest of the story was found in Nigeria, alongside most of the rest of The Web Of Fear and nothing else at all whatsoever no honestly guv I would never feature such a puppet and was on holiday when it wasn't made, and we finally got to enjoy The Enemy Of The World in full and in its proper context for the first time since 1967/68. And 'enjoy' was the operative word; director (and later series producer) Barry Letts had always gone to great lengths to stress that the surviving third episode was the 'filler' one and the rest of it was far more tense and exciting stuff, and he was absolutely right. With its bleak location work, hi-tech Cold War thriller overtones and a towering performance from Patrick Troughton, The Enemy Of The World vaulted from obscurity into everyone's top ten favourite stories literally - thanks to the midnight release on iTunes - overnight. Well, almost everyone's. Time was when we only had to contend with Starburst's 'Mr Angry' Paul Mount indulging in 'look at me, everyone look me, I thought that clearly extremely good thing that you have to at least appreciate even if you didn't actually like was a big old load of rubbish!!'-type shenanigans. Now, however, the double-edged sword of the Internet Age has exposed us to an endless procession of the fuckers, all clamouring to be the first to naysay the consensus and boost up their forum 'star rating', with the sheer shamelessness of the sort of individual who might well write eighty seven thousand million words on why Time And The Rani is good, not bad like you thought. It was slow? You turned off after three minutes? It lacked the classic production values of the classic gothic Holmesian deux ex machina back-to-basics base-under-siege classics like The Pyramids Of Mars, The Deadly Assassin, The Brain Of Morbius and Time-Flight? Well, that was worth putting out there. Lizanne Henderson is probably quaking in her cultural theorist boots as we speak. Seriously, nobody's asking you to fall into line and call it your favourite story ever of all time through gritted teeth, but can't you put a bit more effort into the reasons why it isn't? And maybe, just maybe, emphasise some of the positives as well? Honestly, lord help us when the story that there's no surviving episodes from at all finally turns up...

Why Did Victoria Stay In 1968?

By now, we should be well used to Doctor Who assistants being written out in a cursory, convenient and logic-defying fashion. There's Susan and Vicki electing to marry men from the wrong end of history that they've only just met, Katarina catapulting herself off into the icy wastes of space, and Dodo liking the Pie Pie so much that she decides to stay in Shrewsbury. Yet there's something about Victoria's departure at the end of Fury From The Deep that makes it that bit more puzzling than all the others. Despite having previously been perfectly happy whizzing about in time and space with Jamie and The Doctor, she suddenly decides with next to no prior indication to stay behind in contemporary North Sea Oil Rig with drill-manning married couple Frank and Maggie Harris, who despite rumours to the contrary did not go on to present Ragtime. Quite how the prim and proper 1860s teenager coped with free love, Enoch Powell and The Waltham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association is anybody's guess. As indeed is exactly why she wanted to. Or maybe I'm just still fuming that they rejected my proposal for a New Series Adventures novel where The Doctor and Donna went to the 1969 Isle Of Wight Festival and bumped into Victoria and were helped to defeat the story's antagonist by Viv Stanshall and Keith Moon. And the Torchwood one where there was an Inspiral Carpets t-shirt in a Victorian explorer's private collection of artefacts. Who knows.

What Did The Other Things In The Tardis Toolkit Actually Do??

Fury From The Deep may indeed mark Victoria's final appearance, but it also sees the debut of a somewhat more enduring Doctor Who mainstay - The Sonic Screwdriver. Although it's hard to say for certain on the basis of just an audio recording and some unclear Telesnaps, it appears that The Doctor actually produces this from some early variant on the infrequently glimpsed Tardis toolbox. While it was the Sonic Screwdriver that would last the distance, we did later get occasional glimpses of the other impractical-looking devices stored alongside it, though quite what purpose or technical application any of them might concievably have had is something of a mystery. According to that bible of all things bewildering yet accurately measured for no good reason The Doctor Who Technical Manual, these included a Universal Detector, a Neutron Ram, a Stalos Gyro, a Magnetic Clamp, a Moog Drone Clamp, a Master Drone Clamp, an Influx Booster Stabiliser, a Pen Torch, and that all-important multi-purpose Laser. While it would be difficult to refute the usefulness of the latter two, quite what everything else did was never made entirely clear. The Neutron Ram was used to locate Omega in Arc Of Infinity and made a fleeting cameo appearance in the McGann Movie, the Magnetic and Moog Drone Clamps were used in conjunction with the Stalos Gyro to do some, erm, clamping - and presumably gyroing - in Earthshock, and apart from that, well, they just sort of sat there. You could probably mount a decent argument that this was an enormous missed opportunity, and that the toolbox was basically a ready-made Thomas Salter Toys playset that never was, but they'd have had to decide what the other bits and pieces actually did first. Small wonder, then, that one of the first things Russell T. Davies did was to replace them all with a big Whac-A-Mole mallet. Mind you, we're really only guessing as to whether even an actual toolbox was seen in Fury From The Deep. Some things from the 'Monster Season' we can be far more certain about...


Of all of the 'Monster Season' escapades, The Tomb Of The Cybermen's reputation has taken the biggest hammering. Back when nobody could actually see or hear it, it looked and sounded like the most amazing story - if not the most amazing bit of television - ever, an assumption lent extra weight by the controversy caused by the Half-Cyberman On Cyberman fight scene towards the end of the last episode. Once a copy turned up, of course, it turned out to have been just another Doctor Who story after all, with many key moments including that viewer-enraging punch-up not quite living up to the awe-inspiring descriptions. Although we'd better not mention the 'memories' of a certain fan who prominently 'recalled' scenes that did not appear in the actual episodes at all, and then turned out not to have been born until 1970. It's important to bear in mind, though, that it's nonetheless just another very very good Doctor Who story, and the fact that it didn't quite match up to cliche-driven over-adulation in absentia is hardly the fault of Morris Barry and company struggling to get an ambitious adventure onto battered videotape in a cramped studio back in 1967. With one glaring exception. When The Cyber Controller is outlining his plan to cyberneticise the cornered experts and send them back to Earth, he points at Klieg and informs him that "YOU-WILL-BE-THE-FIRST". Which is all very well and good except that, with all the purpose and subtlety of that Santana Block Crew member interjecting "you better watch out!", one of his subordinates then points at Professor Parry and states "AND-YOU-WILL-BE-THE-NEXT". There's then an extended pause - presumably where two of the others were supposed to go "AND-YOU-WILL-BE-THE-ONE-AFTER-THAT" and "WE'LL-DO-YOU-A-WEEK-ON-THURSDAY" but forgot - and then, and only then, do the assembled company remember that they're supposed to be struggling with each other. It's difficult to mount a spirited defence of the story's relentless pace and eerie atmosphere when you've got something that jarring and stalling slap bang in the middle of it. Still, there were certain other characters in Series Five that were both the first and the next in a somewhat more positive context. Yes it will make sense. Honest.

"...So I Became A Scientist"

The Web Of Fear featured the return of both The Yeti, now wandering around the Underground with Malibu Stacy's new hat or something, and Professor Travers, now in the throes of Swinging London but more concerned with the fact that one of his Yeti Activation Spheres has simply rolled out of his laboratory of its own accord. It also boasted the debut appearances of both a prototype U.N.I.T. and The Brigadier, wearing the tape inlay card from ZX Spectrum game Chequered Flag as a hat for some reason. Meanwhile, poor old Anne Travers gets overlooked almost completely. While not the first strong female character by any stretch of the imagination, she's certainly the first to enjoy this level of prominence while remaining a grounded, naturalistic, rational and intelligent one without wandering into any silly damsel in distress antics, and without any need for excuses about coming from another planet or the future. Without any fanfare or hamfisted hoo-hah about skirt length, 'Women's Lib' had arrived in Doctor Who, as those two soldiers who asked her "what's a nice girl like you doing in a job like this?" found out to their embarrassment ("Well, when I was a little girl I thought I'd like to be a scientist... so I became a scientist"). It's a shame that Tina Packer's stage commitments prevented Anne from being kept on as U.N.I.T.'s regular scientific consultant, as she no doubt would have been, but she paved the way for so many other characters that followed in her wake, and that's something to be pleased about. Though it would be some time before the 'Monster Season'-era cameramen realised this...

Anyway, join us again next time for Grace Slick singing Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO, The Ice Warriors inventing Noddy Holder, and the thorny question of just how many centuries those film trims from The Space Pirates actually last for...

The Great British Bake-Away

Hit BBC shows - and stars - being snatched away by commercial rivals is nothing new, and neither are indignance and outrage at it happening. Back at the very dawn of ITV, there was an episode of The Goon Show in which all of the characters defected to the flashier new advertising-funded service one by one, leaving just the ever-loyal Bluebottle to man the entire BBC by himself. In the early nineties, Chris Morris launched into a ferocious rant against his former colleagues from GLR who'd upped and offed to the newly-launched Virgin Radio the second that Ian Virgin waved a huge cheque under their noses. And it's worth stressing that it has sometimes worked in the other direction too, as anyone who has made it through an edition of H&P@BBC will tell you. If such people actually exist, that is.

So it's not really any surprise that the makers of The Great British Bake Off should have taken the bait and airlifted the entire show to Channel 4. In fairness they really had the BBC over a barrel with this one, and the extra TEN MILLION they were demanding for the right to keep hold of the rights to the show would have provoked all manner of mouth-foaming and collapsing in the gutter about RA RA LICENCE FEE, so the BBC just couldn't win. Not that we should have expected any better from the production company behind Why Don't You Speak English? but that's by the by. This is the Brave New World of broadcasting that Rupert Murdoch has been promising us in badly punctuated lower-case tweets for a while now, and with the BBC on the back foot and unable to do right for doing wrong we're probably going to be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing in the near future. In fact, the only BBC Stars we can be certain won't defect to commercial channels are TV 'Girl' and 'Clown', and that's probably just because everyone's too scared to ask them.

In amongst all the controversy and debate and GIFs of Paul Hollywood having his cake and eating it, though, there's one important detail that's been missed - it almost certainly will not work. The Great British Bake Off is a show that has caught the imagination of viewers precisely because of how it had to fit around the restrictions, resources and general 'house style' of BBC television, becoming distinctive and engaging viewing almost by accident. Over on commercial television, much like David Dickinson not so long ago, it will almost certainly get lost amongst the hours and hours and hours of similar fare, and its character - which, let's be honest about it, was what drew viewers in rather than the actual format itself - will be gone. Chances are it will fall flat on its face and they will only have their own greedy selves to blame. In the meantime, the BBC - if they have any sense - will have found a new unlikely subject area to successfully shoehorn into their schedules.

Why am I so certain of this? Because there is a long history of performers, presenters, writers, producers and even entire programmes moving from the BBC to commercial television and vice versa, seemingly unaware that their creative niche and indeed their audience had derived entirely from the structure and atmosphere that they were working in, and losing both almost before the ink had dried on the contract. But I'm not going to bore you by going on about them. At least not as part of this article. Instead, here's me on the radio a while back, talking to Mark Thompson about the notable and notorious failures (and the count-them-on-one-hand successes) of the Great TV Defections, from The World According To Smith And Jones to Bruce Forsyth's Big Night, and of course a certain Mr. Parkinson. After which I will be signing an exclusive contract with Channel 5.

If you've enjoyed this article, you my book The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society in paperback here, on the Kindle Store here, or as a full-colour eBook here.

The Road To Rawlinson End

Following the demise of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, the various former members set about launching solo careers. Viv Stanshall seemed to have more difficulty in making a firm decision on a musical direction than his former colleagues, and saw Radio 1 sessions as a way of trying out potential - and often hastily abandoned - ideas.

His immediate post-Bonzos venture The Sean Head Showband only made it as far as one single. This was followed by the typically ambitious announcement that he was forming two bands that would run parallel to each other; Viv Stanshall’s Gargantuan Chums, who featured several former Bonzos bandmates and one Keith Moon on drums, and biG GRunt, featuring more or less the same lineup. Causing no little confusion to radio programmers, their debut single featured Gargantuan Chum's robust cover of Elvis Presley's Suspicion on one side, and biG GRunt's more whimsical original Blind Date on the other. Needless to say, it did not trouble the charts too much.

Neither band would officially release any more material, yet while it might appear on face value that this was yet another high-concept diversion that ended up going nowhere, the 'legacy' of both outfits would have a significant effect on Stanshall's future direction. One of biG GRunt's few other media appearances was, needless to say, a session for John Peel's Radio 1 show broadcast on 21st March 1970, where they performed Blind Date alongside a rocked-up cover of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's 11 Moustachioed Daughters, and two new songs - The Strain, which would later appear with new lyrics on the Bonzos reunion album Let's Make Up And Be Friendly, and the propulsive instrumental Cyborg Signal. While this was certainly a strong set, Peel's producer John Walters - never a man to hold back his true feelings - was quick to remark that he felt such an intensely musical direction was a poor and inappropriate use of Stanshall's talents.

Doubtless Walters considered Stanshall's brief engagement as a regular on Radio 4's magazine show early in 1971 a far more suitable vehicle. In contrast to the show's straight-laced approach and the formal style of presenter Richard Baker, Stanshall contributed a series of wild, impressionistic monologues - notably his tales of life on the high seas aboard the SS Sausage - intercut with sound effects and suitably atmospheric extracts from pop records. Although Stanshall had dabbled with this form while in The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, this was really the first occasion on which he had fully explored the possibilities of spoken word, and it was as a direct consequence of these broadcasts that Walters invited him to stand in on Peel's show Top Gear while the presenter took a holiday over the summer of 1971.

Viv Stanshall's Radio Flashes, as Top Gear was renamed for the duration of August 1971, was a dazzling affair that scarcely found time for brand new Prog Rock releases amongst the whirlwind of poetry, in-character links, comedy sketches, adverts for fictitious animal repellents, technically ambitious pre-recorded items and the gripping weekly serial 'Breath From The Pit', in which Stanshall and his heroic sidekick Keith Moon fought to stop their old adversary The Scorpion and his fiendish plan to replace commuters with intelligent gorillas, armed only with the all-purpose Magic Trousers. 'Breath From The Pit', however, caused more headaches for Walters than any other part of the show, and given Stanshall's notorious lack of attention to deadlines this was no mean feat. On one occasion, having turned up two hours late for the recording of an instalment, Stanshall was asked by an impatient Walters and Moon for the script. With no little irritation, he replied that he had to write it first. Perhaps wisely, the next time holiday cover was needed, Walters booked Moon instead.

As for Gargantuan Chums, they were eventually joined by fellow former Bonzo Neil Innes, and - now calling themselves Freaks - they too had recorded a session for Top Gear. Broadcast in March 1971, this was made up of a mixture of old songs and new numbers that started Stanshall and Innes thinking towards a possible reunion. One of these was Rawlinson End, a lengthy spoken word parody of serials from women's magazines, building on his earlier Start The Week pieces by adding a narrative and a full cast of characters. This was to prove an unexpected hit with listeners, with many writing in asking to hear it again. It was also, more significantly, a hit with Walters, who began wondering if there was potential in exploring the saga further...

This is abridged from Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy On BBC Radio 1, which you can find out more about here. biG GRunt's Top Gear session has now been given its first ever release - with sleevenotes by me - by Megadodo Records. You can find out more about how to get hold of a copy here.

A New Zany Comedy Series Starts Next Tuesday!

Hardwicke House may still be no nearer being released on DVD or even digitally, let alone actually shown by an actual TV station, but that doesn't mean that people are any less interested in it. In fact, as we were discussing only recently, it's the single most searched for programme on here by some considerable distance, far outstripping Play School, Buzzfax, The Mersey Pirate and poor old Skiboy. Even Doctor Who, which is technically so popular that I didn't include it in those results, is actually narrowly edged from the top slot by the famously banned sitcom.

Needless to say, an enormous number of that enormous number of searchers are very keen to see more of it. The only problem is that there never actually is any more to see. Thanks to both the machinations of Ian Compliance and the mysterious disappearance of all those bootlegs that were apparently around at one point, all that we have available to watch are the two transmitted episodes and that outtake with Rik Mayall, Ade Edmonson and Kevin Allen that bizarrely shows up on TV's Naughtiest Blunders-type shows every now and again. Which is why I was especially delighted to recieve an email from Mark Ayres saying that he'd found the pre-transmission trailer for Hardwicke House between two programmes on an old VHS tape.

So, how was Hardwicke House originally sold to potential viewers? Was that actually part of the problem? And did it - as memory suggests it did - have any untransmitted material in it? Well, there's only one way to find out...

How many times the trailer was broadcast is anyone's guess, but this particular recording dates from 17th February 1987 - a full week before the series launch - and was shown at approximately 8:56pm, sandwiched between a repeat of Morecambe And Wise On Stage and Texas Rangers, the first episode of the second series of Boon. To the accompaniment of the opening theme, the announcer tells us to expect "a new zany comedy" as we go "back to school at Hardwicke House", illustrated with full zaniness by a shot of Mr. Flashman ducking and allowing a football to hit Mr. Philpott and send him flying, as seen in the first transmitted episode.

From an unbroadcast episode, the brilliantly malevolent Mr. Fowl tells a roomful of exam candidates that a pencil "is for writing with, and not cleaning out your orifices". "Sir, what's an orifice?" - "You are boy".

From the legendary unbroadcast episode featuring Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, Lenny and Tiny threaten Slasher Bates into telling them where Mr. Fowl's room is, a plan which falls apart when they remember they are unable to tell left from right. Once again it's worth emphasising that this episode is right up there with the best of the duo's work and deserves better than to be sat gathering dust on an archive shelf for absolutely no fathomable reason. If you're reading this and are in a position to do something about it, then please do.

"I've been poked!", exclaims Ms. Crabbe in an unbroadcast episode. "Come come Miss Crabbe", adds headmaster Mr. Wickham, "I'm sure you imagined that".

And finally, from the first broadcast episode, Mr. Flashman reluctantly reminds a fetish gear-clad Donna to "wear the uniform". With rather disturbingly detached glee, the voiceover signs off with "Donna, the voluptuous head girl of Hardwicke House, a new comedy series starting next Tuesday at eight, and continuing Wednesday and every Wednesday at eight thirty". Erm...

So did this trailer give a false impression of Hardwicke House? Well, no, really. It's true that it plays up the knockabout slapstick to a misleading degree, but there's also plenty of warning of potential off-colour language and subject matter. Even from this thirty second glimpse, it's clearly no family-friendly half-hour of cosy fun. So the widespread assumption that viewers were led to expect a very different show to what they actually saw isn't quite so accurate after all, even if it does make you wonder yet again what possessed somebody to think it was suitable for that timeslot. Though on the other hand it does possibly explain why so many people are so insistent that they saw the Rik and Ade episode go out.

Of course, something like this would make a great extra for a Hardwicke House DVD. But there isn't one. And nor is there likely to be. If you'd like to read the booklet that would have come with an abandoned DVD release, though, you can find it in Well At Least It's Free. If you want to know more about why it didn't come out, you can find that in The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society. And if you want to take the content of this article and pass it off as your own work, here is a list of short piers; please locate your nearest one and take a long walk off it. And we're back at Hardwicke House next Wednesday night from the same time...

You can find details of all of the above books and more here.

Well At Least It's Free, including the full DVD booklet for the cancelled Hardwicke House DVD, is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.