Sunday, April 08, 2012

One Thing I Don't Miss About the 1970s...

The Easter story, expressed through the medium of dance:

How anyone thought it was a good idea to tell the story of the cucifixion of Jesus through dance and mime, performed by the cast of Space 1999, is beyond me. But it seems that this sort of thing wasn't unusual in the 1970s.

I found this 1975 ITV handbook recently:

Published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority, it's a wonderful snapshot of commercial broadcasting in Britain during 1974, packed full of articles and photos (with a nerdtastic section on IBA transmitter stations).

It also clearly shows that television execs in the 1970s had an unhealthy obsession with dance, including this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And even this:

What was going on? Did they think that people really wanted to see this, or was it just cheap television?

In 1974, I was in bed by eight o'clock, so I missed the worst excesses of this obsession with dancing. However, I do have vague memories of men in trouser suits poncing around to Up, Up and Away, along with the occasional 'rock opera' (which my parents always turned off in disgust because the cast looked as if they were on drugs).

The BBC's hands weren't entirely clean either: Seaside Special, The Rolf Harris Show and just about any other live entertainment show had some awful dance group (naturally I exclude the gorgeous Pan's People from this diatribe).

At least today, dancing is restricted to a small core of programmes, for those who like that sort of thing. Also, those grim, po-faced contemporary dance groups, who did things like depict the Jarrow Crusade through the medium of movement, have now been replaced by streetdance and hip hop.

So next time you find yourself complaining that television isn't what it used to be, buy a boxed set of Homeland and look at this listing for BBC1 on April 16th, 1975.

1230 - Day and Night, including Crime Line.

1255 - News

1300 - Pebble Mill, including Family Advice with Claire Rayner.

1345 - Fingerbobs

1400 - Closedown

1558 - Regional News (Except London/SE)

1600 - Play School

1625 - Boris the Bold

1635 - Jackanory, with Judy Dench

1650 - The Monkees

1715 - If You Were Me (new series). People find out about each other's lives. Today: David from Plymouth and Julie from Puerto Rico.

1740 - Magic Roundabout

1745 - News

1800 - Nationwide

1850 - Film: The Lion and the Horse (1952). Starring Steve Cochrane and Wildfire, the wonder horse. Wholesome family film about a man and his horse.

2010 - Survivors, starring Carolyn Seymour, Lucy Fleming, Talfryn Thomas in The Fourth Horseman.

2100 - News

2125 - The Budget, with Sir Geoffrey Howe, Shadow Chancellor.

2135 - Last of the Summer Wine, starring Michael Bates, Bill Owen and Peter Sallis.

2205 - Sportsnight. European championship soccer, England v Cyprus from Wembley Stadium, highlights and action analysis; Amateur Boxing Association Championship.

2315 - Midweek, introduced by Ludovic Kennedy.

2328 - Weatherman

I rest my case.

However, there was one exception which, 37 years on, still stands up as a first-rate piece of drama:


Tim F said...

Boris the Bold was pretty good as well. Narrated by Johnny Morris IIRC.

Little Nell said...

I have to agree with you regarding ‘Survivors’ and now they’ve axed the more recent series, which I was just beginning to get into.

I also agree about seventies dance shows. My Dad’s cousin was in The Young Generation dancers which were on most variety shows in the seventies. It wasn’t very taxing stuff. However.....come the 80s and we had the wonderful and innovative ‘Hot Shoe Show’ with Wayne Sleep, Finola Hughes, Bonnie Langford etc. I cried buckets when my son recorded over my treasured VHS of the episode with Michael Praed singing a ballad (I think I may have mentioned before that I was in love with Robin of Sherwood). I don’t like ballet per se but I saw The Hot Shoe Show on stage and it was brilliant.There are clips on You Tube - Finola Highes dancing to ‘I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can’ is actually very moving.

Jim Murdoch said...

I agree with you regarding Survivors. When my wife came over here I even went to the trouble of tracking down all the DVD’s of the original series which I thoroughly enjoyed introducing her to. The recent remake was okay, tried hard but didn’t captivate me like the original. I loved the original title music too. As for the rest of the listing it seems pretty decent actually and, apart from the sport, I’d’ve watched the lot back then. The idea of a closedown in the afternoon is unthinkable now mind. Nearly didn’t recognise Peter Gordeno without the fishnets: he was in six episodes of UFO remember which I hear is being remade as is Space 1999 as Space 2099.

luis said...

In the 1970s, the two most popular Broadway shows were "A Chorus Line" (6000+ performances) and "Grease" (3000+ performances). Then, Hollywood contributed to the dance craze with movies like "Saturday Night Fever" and "All that Jazz".

"The Benny Hill" show was not only popular for the comedy but also popular for its dance numbers done by Hill's

Brian Busby said...

Dance on the small screen seemed such a bore - not even Karen Kain could captivate - that is until the Juul Haalmeyer Dancers began appearing on SCTV. If only I could move like these guys.

Rog said...

People who always bang on about the good old days of pre-digital tv should be forced to read old Radio & TV Times schedules such as this. I include myself in this.

Unknown said...

I will agree that Survivors was better than Space 1999, even if none of their cast could dance.

Steerforth said...

Tim - I missed Boris the Bold. Perhaps it clashed with something downmarket on ITV, like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Nell - I remember the Young Generation, strutting their stuff, while someone out the back was trying to sober-up a northern comedian who was meant to be on in three minutes.

I'm afraid that the names Bonnie Langford and Wayne Sleep still make me break out in a cold sweat.

Jim - The remake was just too slick for my tastes. I know that the original was rightly criticised because only middle-class people seemed to have survived, but I liked the fact that they dared to spend over five minutes of airtime showing two people trying to saddle a horse. Also, there was a greater willingness to explore ethical dilemmas, like the episode where the 'simple' man was accused of murder.

I also liked the fact that the series became progressively bleaker.

As for Peter Gordeno, he was one of my earliest role models. I couldn't believe my eyes when his submarine launched a plane that destroyed UFOs!

Luis - You're quite right How could I write about dance in the 70s without mentioning the wonderful Saturday Night Fever? Both the film and the music have aged well. If You Should Be Dancing and Jive Talking (or is it Dancin' and Talkin'?) ever appear on the television, I'm transfixed. But there was so much dross as well.

Brian - You have made my evening! It's an indictment of 1970s light entertainment that it took me a while to realise that this was a satire. The camp choreography, cheesy smiles and ugly men seemed entirely authentic.

Rog - Yes, I'm always droning on about how good some 1970s drama was, but I think I particularly liked many series because they were a beacon of light in an otherwise bleak schedule. However, I'd still argue that most British drama today is safe, formulaic and slightly embarrassing, compared to the best of the 1970s and 80s. The only drama series I've watched recently were made in Denmark, France and the USA.

C.B - One of the most appealing things about Survivors is the absence of dancing (although I seem to remember Greg indulging in some Pentangle-style folk singing, which I liked).

David said...

Agree about Survivors.

Fingerbobs was pretty good, too. And I think that the childrens' programmes, from 4 to 5.45, were better than now - no Weakest Link or Aussie soap, no mad, juddering camera action, everything presented by proper adults. The particular day you're chosen doesn't look too good, but there were some excellent dramas.

Annabel (gaskella) said...

Survivors was must-watch TV back then. Loved it, and fancied Greg a little! I'd also love to see the Magic Roundabout again, it was the essential bridge between the children's TV and the News.

Martin said...

I don't recall watching much TV in the early - mid 70s. This schedule probably goes some way to explaining why. The only programmes I've been tuning in for recently are White Heat, Inspector Montalbano, and Homeland.

Steerforth said...

David - I'm sorry, but I hated Fingerbobs. Even at eight, I felt that the BBC was pulling a fast one, subjecting us to the ultimate in amateurish, cheapskate television. My anger has never subsided.

However, I'm completely with you on the Weakest Link and Neighbours/Home and Away.

Annabel - Greg was a good character. I was very upset when he decided to travel by ballooon to Norway. But I also like Denis Lill as Charles Vaughan and Carolyn Seymour as Abby Grant.

I never really got the Magic Roundabout - I think they took it off the air before I was sophisticated enough to understand the subtle humour.

Martin - I'm glad that someone else has seen Homeland. I thought it was a corker.

Grey Area said...

Television in the 1970's was a prison for me - every evening in our house was structured around passive viewing, in a relentless dirge of bad programming and tepid films. There were few highlights, although occasionally parents would let something slip through -msuch as 'The Naked Civil Servant', "Tinker Tailor' or 'Abigails Party'. I thought that Survivors was genius TV, even though I'd generally only get about 20 minds per episode before I was dragged away - but I did managed to watch the entire 'Agony' with Maureen Lipman because my parents would be out on Sunday Nights - so I had an early introduction to Sex, Satire and City living - which probably influenced me a little too much. TV in the 1970's was an early form of urban pacification - broadcast Mogodon.(and the bloke from finger bobs gave me nightmares for years - I still have flashbacks)

James Russell said...

And what, pray, is wrong with dance reenactments of Jarrow? I'm sure they were all the rage in Lewes...

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Oh, can we say they were grim and po-faced now?

But the Monkees and Magic Roundabout - what more could you want?

I never had a telly in this era! Missed a lot.

Anonymous said...

From Dave A. Ahh yes the innocence of TV, when Softly Softly was an adult program, Panorama was to be avoided at all costs and just prior to the 6 o'clock news was 'nerdvana'. Remember The News at One with Howard Keel, Good Afternoon with Mavis Niclolson during the school holidays. The holy of holies, when Nationwide was cancelled due to a journalists strike and a whole hour of Tom and Jerry was put in it's place. Happy days. When visiting Denmark in the mid 1980's it reflected early 1970's UK programming, including the time schedules and the down time as well. It was rather a rude shock !

Roget said...

A bit hard on Northern comedians there, Steerforth. You'll be suggesting it was Bernard Manning next...
The best thing about Survivors was Jennie, whose dungaree suit/urchin haircut combination makes me feel enthusiastic even now.
But wasn't Greg a complete pompous arse with his constant parroting of "It's a mutant virus, Jennie!"? As I recall, he buggered off in a balloon in the end, didn;t he. Good riddance too. I thought at the time. I wasn't jealous.
But surely the best of these '70s -apocalypse series was Doomwatch, wasn't it? Remember the great John Paul as Dr Spencer Quist (crazy name, crazy guy) and the pre-Jesus Robert Powell as the one who put the Toby Wren into "Who killed Toby Wren?"?
Finally, I see you had Andy Stewart and the White Heather Club in your anti-dance rant stills. I think Andy should be excused condemnation because of the quality and enduring nature of such all-time greats as "Donald, Weers Yer Troosers", "The Scottish Soldier" and of course "Campbelltown Loch, I wish you were whisky." That's fai. isn't it?

Steerforth said...

Richard - I agree about 'Fingerbobs' and even at the age of seven, I knew that it was cheap television. Sadly I never saw 'Agony' - far too sophisticated for my parents, who complained that there were no jokes in it (unlike the 'hilarious' antics of Compo in 'Last of the Summer Wine').

James - You may jest, but two years ago there was a 'Dance of Disobedience' in Lewes, celebrating the life of Thomas Paine through the medium of dance.

Richmonde - The good thing about television in the 70s was that it was almost like not having a tv, as large chunks of the day were telly-free. When a decent drama was broadcast, it was like an oasis in the desert.

Dave - I still avoid 'Panorama' at all costs. As for 'Good Afternoon', I think it was part of a plot to make me go back to school. I was never allowed to watch 'Softly Softly', even though my parents let me watch 'Z-Cars' when I was three!

Roget - I liked Jennie too - she has something of her mother about her, both in looks and voice. I preferred the Denis Lill character (Charles?) to Greg. Sadly, I was too young to catch 'Doomwatch', although I've seen the enjoyable Hammer film version, with Ian Bannen.

I agree that 'Donald, Where's Yer Troosers' is a fine song, but you can have too much of a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I have only just discovered your blog and i must say i haven't stopped smiling. So far i've enjoyed your piece on 1970s dance and round robins but must now sadly return to work, however fully intend to return later for more of your insights. Still giggling.


Steerforth said...

Thanks Nicola - I'm really glad that the blog has made you smile. I remember comments like yours when I'm having one of my many moments of doubt about the blog.