Saturday, 23 December 2017

December 23rd: A Magical Television Tour

And so here we are. December 23rd and another day closer to the big ’un and unless you’re one of those unbearable people with self-control, you should have demolished most of your advent calendar by now all the time constantly eyeing up that double size "Day 24" section every time the hunger pangs happen. You might even have received your very own Christmas hamper like the ones Gloria Hunniford is always trying trick old people into buying even though there’s a very real chance they might cark it before New Year.

In town, there’s a genuine sense of thrill (or mild panic for us still behind on our present purchasing) with brass bands and carol singers appearing on the high street whilst department stores run eye-wateringly priced Grottos where your child might be in store for a special present from Santa (although more realistically it’ll be a promotional Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer Frisbee that’s been in the stockroom since 2008.) For the grown ups, your pasty and coffee places of choice are fully into their extended period of chucking anything even vaguely associated with the season into their “limited edition” recipes, from gingerbread to elf hair.

Despite all the stress, people are nicer, families come together and, above all there’s something worth watching on the box at long last. Daytime telly has scrapped the soaps and replaced them with the cream of films you got out of the video shop in the 90s. No The Karate Kid for you my friend! Its The Karate Kid: Part II all the way! And also: my condolences on having to watch The Karate Kid: Part II.

So pull out your third best box of chocolates and lets see what TV magic appeared on the hallowed December 23rds of yore...

Sunday, 23rd December, 1973

1.40pm: Farming Diary (ITV)

“So You Think You Know About Farming? This annual event has the reputation of being the most difficult in the young farmer’s calendar.”

Every time the kids complain there’s nothing on, I’m often reminded by the grey Sundays of my youth with Brian Walden interviewing stuffy old men very slowly and endless refresher courses in whatever language was offering the cheapest package holidays at the time. And then there were the farming reports which I’m sure were very helpful if you were in the industry but the equivalent of watching slurry dry when you’re in single figures. As such this “Christmas quiz for young farmers in the East of England” must have been like an entertainment explosion in the otherwise staid world of cows and some more cows. Sadly the contents of this were not recorded and painstakingly converted to YouTube for me to check so I’ll have to defer to the TV Times for more information: “Ten contestants, one from each area Federation, battle with each other for Farming Diary’s coveted award the Silver Bull which will be presented by this year’s Miss Anglia.” 

I think my penis just exploded.

Thursday, 23rd December, 1976

5.40pm: When Santa Rode the Prairie (BBC Two)

“A Festive Western by William Rushton. New Mexico, Christmas Eve 1876 and not a snowflake in sight. Tilly and Charlie Flagstaff have to spend Christmas at the Last Chance Hotel with their aunts, Santa Claus and an assortment of goodies and baddies.”

The joy of doing a book like this is finding out about truly unusual sounding little one-off programmes like this nestling cheerily in the pre-Christmas teatime telly schedules featuring people I really like. Rushton himself plays Santa in this 50 minute fantasy tale featuring songs by him and Roy Civil with a supporting cast that includes future Tomorrow Person Nigel Rhodes, Sue Nicholls and Victor Spinetti. Roy Civil is now a music teacher in the Northampton region.

Sunday, 23rd December, 1979

9.40am: The Sunday Gang (BBC One)

“A look at Christmas. J.D. tells how it all began, with a report from Nazareth and Bethlehem. with Alison Christie-Murray, John Dryden, Jill Shakespeare & Glen Stuart. Special guest: Dana.”

Whilst most true Sunday Gang aficionados would agree that this was past the show’s prime (i.e Tina Heath had left for Blue Peter) but this light religious singin’ and a comedyin’ variety programme was a staple in the late 70s and often watched by kids just because there simply wasn’t anything else to do. The hosts were, as my friend author Tim Worthington put it, “a clean-cut do-good assortment of wannabe Youth Group Leaders, operating out of a clubhouse kitted out with a “computer” sporting a tape spool-hewn face with added piano keyboard, and a screeching puppet mouse called Mackintosh that called everyone ’sassenachs’.” Its this mouse that Dana spends most of her time “interacting” with during this special episode from the National Children’s Home in Frodsham, Cheshire. There’s room for some extremely boring film though however with “JD” making a trip to Tel Aviv because Christmas...and that. Plus lots and lots of unbearably over-enthusiastic singing and OVER EMOTING THE WORDS. Now bugger off kids, its time for Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan...

Tuesday, 23rd December, 1980

9.00pm: Elvis – He Touched Their Lives (ITV)

“350 members of the British Elvis Presley Fan Club go each August to Memphis and pay homage. David Frost is among them.”

He touched what? Dirty sod! This documentary saw David Frost follow various fans around the haunts of Elvis’ life including his old school, the Sun Studios, where he made his first acclaimed recordings, a hospital he stayed in and, of course, his grave. It comes across like a slightly more showbiz take on Louis Theroux’s documentaries, never mocking its subjects but occasionally allowing them to hang themselves with their own obsessional or self-important words. There’s also a wry look at the selling of Elvis’s death and the near-religious fervour already surrounding his celebrity – although perhaps most shocking of all is the sight of the always on-duty Frost in a casual short-sleeved polo shirt.

Friday, 23rd December, 1983

10.25pm: An Audience with Kenneth Williams (Channel 4)

“A celebrity audience enjoys a virtuoso performance from one of Britain’s favourite comic actors.”

Kenneth Williams was only the third person to be awarded one of LWT's entertainment specials under the title An Audience With title (after Dame Edna Everage in 1980 and Dudley Moore in 1981). There was so much more to Williams than the Carry On films; he was a renowned storyteller, and one early theatre revue show – 1960's One Over The Eight – featured material by Harold Pinter and a very young Peter Cook whose classic routines “Interesting Facts” and “One Leg Too Few” (“I’ve got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is – neither have you.”) The late-evening showing of An Audience With didn’t bother Williams who wrote in his diary:“Heigh ho! I don’t care. The fewer viewers the better cos then I can use the material again!”

As well as many more on ITV, four more Audiences With would premiere specifically on Channel 4: Joan Rivers (17th March, 1984), a second one for Dame Edna Everage (31st December, 1984), Billy Connolly (26th October 1985) and Jackie Mason (27th December 1990). The reason for this, invariably, was because of worries over the strong material, particularly in the case of Connolly whose rude set also slipped in a few F words, toxic to television in those days.

Tuesday, 23rd December, 1986

9.00pm: Moonlighting (BBC Two)

“What does Christmas mean to the people at Blue Moon? For Maddie, it’s a time of warmth and giving – but not to Addison! For David, it’s an opportunity to initiate ’Santa’s Hotline’ and get that little extra in his stocking...” 

Its fair to say that quirky comic detective series Moonlighting was something of a revolution when it first hit America's ABC network in March 1985. It boasted witty scripts, a perfectionist creator – Glenn Gordon Caron – who aimed to make a mini-movie each week and an amazing cast headed by the fast-talking Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, rebooting and starting their careers respectively. Here in the UK, its feature-length pilot appeared in May 1986 on BBC One with the series itself continuing three days later on BBC Two. To catch up with America and the already huge demand, they ran the first and second seasons almost in full back-to-back by the time the third came around in the US.

Held back for obvious reasons though was 'Twas the Episode Before Christmas which finds Willis’s character David convinced he’s trapped in a festive allegory; Biblical tinged events like characters called Joseph and Mary looking for a baby and a visit from three (i.e. men with the same surname) Kings. The episode’s odd conclusion comes when the cast suddenly work out they’re in a Christmas episode: it begins to snow inside the office and carollers start to sing. On leaving the office they walk onto the set where to discover the musical accompaniment is from the crew of  Moonlighting before breaking the fourth wall to wish everyone at home Merry Christmas. Okay, it sounds awful but I promise its quite sweet. Now, Christmas Eve in Nakatomi Plaza on the other hand...

Wednesday, 23rd December, 1987

9.30pm: The Home-Made Xmas Video (BBC Two)

“A Video de Dad. It’s full of lots of things about Christmas. What we did, where we went, what we ate, how much we all drunk and everything. It’s a great stuff! (The turkey, I mean.) But seriously...” 

No Christmas period for me is properly started until I’ve seen this spin-off from a running sketch in Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones's Alas Smith and Jones which took an affectionate but honest look at British working class families via the new-fangled home camcorder. There’s well meaning but quick to temper Dad (Jones), happy but put upon Mum (Diane Langton), kids Shirley and Peter (Jenny Jay and Nigel Harman) and their fun, illiterate and frequently drunk friend Len (Smith) who almost anticipates the character of Homer Simpson. Sequences involving simple acts like putting a wreath on the door, badly stealing a tree and visiting sick relatives are made into painfully funny sequences that are never played cheaply for cringe laughs. Likewise the family are rough but never sneered at by Griff and Robin Driscoll’s script which makes them fully rounded likeable characters and could easily have been spun off into a full series.

Mel and Griff's BBC Two swansong Alas Sage And Onion misses this book due to airing on 21st December 1988 which also happened to be the same night as the crash of Pan Am flight 103 onto the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The news broke just before that special went to air and viewers may not have been ready to be greeted straight after by a Beverley Sisters parody and a shot of the pair supposedly hanging from tinsel nooses.

Friday, 23rd December, 1988 

9.30pm: Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (BBC One)

“Christmas Eve, 1850. Ebenezer Blackadder is a decent, kind, generous human being. As far as his loathsome ancestors are concerned, he is a wrong ’un. So, as soon as he is snuggled up in bed they decide to pay him a visit. A seasonal tale of almost unbearable cuteness.” 

Reworking the character of Blackadder, established as a vicious scheming bastard over three prior series, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is a superb reverse retreading of the Dickens tale as a sketch show for various incarnations of the Adder dynasty.  Viewers of more recent repeats, however, have been denied one of the funniest lines from the original broadcast. Blackadder and Baldrick are discussing the workhouse’s production of the Nativity being hindered the high infant mortality rate and so a dog named Spot is instead made the saviour of all humanity (“I’m not convinced that Christianity would have established its firm grip over the hearts and minds of all mankind if all Jesus had ever said was ’woof’...”) A despairing Blackadder asks if the children were upset but quite the contrary: “...They loved it. They want us to do another one at Easter. They want to see us nail up the dog.” A line that would be in incredibly bad taste were it not for the fact I always end up laughing so much. Indeed, some viewers complained, meaning the line was cut.

(“The Black Hole of Calcutta is currently appearing in Baldrick’s trousers.”)

If you want to see much much more than this, then order "Ben Baker's Festive Double Issue". Available from this link here from £12.99! And Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 30 November 2017

New Book! Ben Baker's Festive Double Issue! OUT NOW!

Christmas invariably means excess – be it through food, drink or television. Whether it's Morecambe and Wise recreating Singin' In The Rain, the Trotters dressed as the Dynamic Duo or EastEnders running over a baby for light relief, TV is our very pal throughout the entire turkey and tinsel period. This book pays tribute as forty years of festive programmes are viewed and reviewed in over 250 mini-essays by Ben Baker.

Alongside the classics there's the likes of Kid Creole’s strange post-watershed musical about racism, Roland Rat going to Switzerland, Skeletor learning the true meaning of Christmas, Doctor Who's original spin-off, The Bee Gees teaming up with Frankie Howerd for a medieval comedy and Feargal Sharkey having a nightmare on a Concorde whilst the Krankies watch on in helpless bemusement high above the Telecom Tower. Plus much much more. But for real. Not just like when people ay that in adverts when there's actually about three more things. This is packed with Christmas memories both obvious and obscure and I know its going to set off some "OH YEAH!" glands in a lot of people's brains.

Its been my big project for the last few months and I'm incredibly proud of my work. So it'd be lovely to get it into as many hands as possible so click below to buy a copy! Because as the mighty Noddy Holder from Not Slade 2 informs us every December time in his loudest voice, “THE GRIIIIIMMMMLLLLLEEEEYYYYSSSS IS ONNNNNN!” Also: Christmas

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Getting The Red Pen Out Early

Here's a taster of something coming very soon...

When Roy Wood first press-ganged those poor schoolchildren into singing I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday its a fair bet he wasn't thinking about December 29th - “when you're still eating turkey / and there's frig all on the bo-o-o-o-x”. 

If Christmas Day is reserved for the very latest and best Disney and Pixar films, today is the day where Boring Adaptation Of Book No Kid Has Read For Sixty Years – The Animated Movie, 'Shrenk' – The Eastern European Copyright Free Ogre and Ice Age Goes To The Building Society To Take Out An Investment Loan live. Or worse – something in boring old regular hand drawn 2D! Bleh, did Walt Disney die then get immediately frozen in carbonite for nothing? (A: No. this is an urban myth.)

Reading back, I know I'm down on this post-Christmas Day period but that's mostly because my body almost always seems to take the opportunity at this part of the year to wave a white flag, declare itself on strike and fill me with flu, sickness and anything else that's going free. Lets be honest – Christmas is about being social and the problem with being social is that it involves other people. And other people are filthy disease-ridden bastards, especially your family. Why was your nephew scratching so much at the dinner table? Did Uncle Jeff always have that cough? And what was that thing where the xenomorph burst out of your sister's chest and ran off down the road? She always has to show off.

Besides its long past time your relations should have buggered off to their own curled turkey sandwiches meaning you can sit in the comfy chair Aunt Carol (the one who always smells of egg) stole the very first second you moved to go to the bathroom and wouldn't give up since. In fact, now you think about it, you never ever saw her once get up and go to the toilet herself... unless...

...maybe you will just sit on the sofa instead.

And anyway there might be an episode of Midsomer Death Crimes or Poirot In The Case Of The One That Was Much More Racist In The Original Book you haven’t seen on ITV3 and there's always Pointless. Beautiful, beautiful Pointless. There! So if you're still healthy and can feel both your legs, let the bells ring out for Easter. Or Summer. Or Brian Harvey's birthday. Anything that isn't bloody bleedin' Christmas.

Pass the Dettol...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Denominators Will Cost You - A Guest Simpsons Quiz

As a bit of extra-curricular fun because I've been writing so many quizzes myself recently, I asked a few of my friends if they'd write me a TV quiz in return as a bit of fun and to remind people my new book of quizzes and trivia "Remotely Interesting" is available to buy right now. Those last four words were a link incidentally and you should deffo follow it. Smiley face. Suggestive wink. Full trouser drop.

First to take me up on the offer is the wonderful Garreth F Hirons of this blog's least updated linked site (check the sidebar) Atomic Sourpuss who has gone all out Simpsons-style with his questions. Ive hidden the answers beneath those Teletext quality "REVEAL" buttons. See if you can beat me!

Lets start up those heavenly voices above a small town in Springfield...

1. Let's start at the start.  In "Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire", Bart visits a tattoo artist.  That character has not reappeared since, but is the brother of another recurring Springfield resident - name this more well-known sibling.

Wow. A stumper off the top of my head. So I googled for a (non text) picture and based on the character design it has to Marvin Monroe but I couldn't have told you straight off. Seems more a Herman profession, doesnt it? 

2. "That cannon of yours is against regulations! In this department, we go by the book."  Said to whom, who will have quite the problem avenging his partner's death with this pea-shooter?

McBaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin. "Bye Book"

3. Season Eight, Episode Thirteen featured the appearance of the family's short-lived nanny, Shary Bobbins.  Name the episode.

Oh god, its a parody of Supercalifragiwossname with "annoyed grunt" replacing "D'oh" in the middle, isnt it? But without looking it up, I couldnt give the exact spelling. You could say I did a half assed job.

LATER REMEMBERANCE: Its "Simpsoncalifragiwossname" with the D'oh in, isnt it?  

4. I was going to do a question about Snake's full name here, but apparently there's several different versions thereof.  But I'm a lazy, lazy man, so to partially use my previous research: can you name Snake's son?

I always know him as Snake Jailbird! As for his son...nope. Not a clue. 

5. "You Only Move Twice" is the best episode of The Simpsons.  Who voices Hank Scorpio in that episode?

Ooft, its up there but "Krusty Gets Kancelled" just sneaks ahead for me due to Eastern Europe's favorite cat and mouse team. The answer is  A. Brooks anyway. Albert to his pals. 

6. Because I can't go ten minutes without a wrestling reference, what is the name of the (fictional) wrestler who is quoted as living near Mr Burns?  He is heard ululating as Bret "Hitman" Hart considers moving into Monty's mansion in "The Old Man And The Lisa".

I used my old man stink to determine it was no other than the Shrieking Sheik!!!! Have you read Bret Hart's autobiography? It may be the most depressing thing I've ever read. And I've read [JOKE ABOUT GRAHAM LINEHAN AFTER 2007]!!!!

7. Name the alleged war criminal who has a cameo as himself in the episode "The Regina Monologues".

Good old Rev. Tony Blair. He used to be in a band you know!!!!

8 and 9. Mr Sparkle is a joint venture of which two companies?

Argh. A fishworks and a "Heavy Manufacturing Concern" but names are eluding me! Dammit Fishbulb! 

10. What is the real deal with Mr. Burns' assistant Smithers? You know what I'm talking about.

I take it back, this might very well be my favourite episode! The answer is: he's Mr. Burns' assistant. He's in his early 40s, unmarried and resides in Springfield. 

11 - 15. And for up to five bonus points, who are the mediocre presidents?  Clue: you won't find their faces on dollars or on cents...

There's Taylor! There's Tyler! There's Fillmore! And there's Hayes! There's William Henry Harrison. (He died in thirty days!)

Yeah, I might have listened to "Go Simpsonic with the Simpsons" a few thousand times too many....

Blimey, I feel he was generous there but I wont argue. If you'd to write a future telly quiz for me, please get in touch through the usual channels. And so concludes our tale. I'm Leonard Nimoy. Goodnight and keep watching the skis...

The Simpsons are going to Delaware!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

You Are The Generation That Bought Mr Blobby On Cassingle And You Get What You Deserve

My new TV quiz book is out now!

If you know me, this is already pretty self-evident thanks to my healthy but insistent plugging on Facebook, Twitter and that ad I employed Chairface Chippendale to laser onto the moon. But if you're still unsure about buying it, let me try and gently persuade you a little further.

1. Its a TV quiz book

Yeah, so there's a few of those about. Walk in any branch of "The Works" (other middling Queen albums are available) and you'll find the likes of "Bill Beaumont's Big Book Of Bovril Advert Trivia", "The Pubbingest Quiz Quiz Book For Pubs Ever (TV)" and "The Pointless Book Of Bad Observational Comedy In Lieu Of Any Bleedin' Questions". But invariably they're always the same dull book, researched in about 1987, repackaged endlessly on ever cheaper paper with front covers that look a bit like some beer. Because YOU LIKE THAT.

I think my TV quiz book is unique because of my sense of humour which I've tried to pepper throughout the book, be it the daft titles like "Points of Groo", "Play That Funky Music Del Boy", "Bully's Special Piss" or "David Brent: Life In The Bin"; or questions such as "True or False: Actor Don Hastings soiled himself during a live episode of "As The World Turns" after badly misjudging a fart." to which the answer is much more interesting than you'd expect.

2. There are over 50 all new quizzes written by me. 

Where you'll find the answers to questions like:

- Was there a Spectrum game where Benny Hill went round taking bras off washing lines?
- Can you name the Canadian comic actor who took the lead role in short-lived animated series "Gravedale High"?
- Which TV series was advertised on the Radio Times with the punning headline "Cheque Mates"?
- What BBC sketch show was nearly called "Peter Sellers Is Dead"?
- Squeeze were the first guests on which series later famous for appearances by Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey and Nirvana?
- What connects Postman Pat and US sitcom Community?
- Which member of The Monkees appeared on the same episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show" on which The Beatles made their debut?
- Did religious programming host Jess Yates invent Doctor Who villains the Macra

And hundreds more!

3. Its not available in the shops. 

Remotely Interesting is being ordered to demand by me from a website called Lulu. Its not cheap but its the best way I've found to get the job done. It also means that if you're looking for a unique gift for the telly addict in your life, my book (and its reasonably priced predecessors) is the perfect choice as they're not likely to have bought it themselves or received it from anyone else. And lets be honest, buying gifts is a pain in the arse, so let me help you!

4. There's something for all the family. 

Yes, even Uncle Ken and his "ruptures". When I was a kid I loved watching Telly Addicts with Noel Tidybeard and we even got the 'Family' variant spin-off board game of it some time in the early 90s. Both were fascinating but utterly frustrating to me as a kid. I loved the old clips but how the hell am I meant to know what an Onedin Line is? Who cares about Compact? Why should I go Howard's Way? With this in mind, Ive tried to make sure there are questions for everyone in the book - from the smarty pants small-screen spod to the casual couch tripper, ages 8 to Subtitles 888.

5. Its a great way to support me.

If you've been a regular reader of this blog, my Twitter or listened to my far too numerous podcasts in the past and you liked them, buying a book is a good way to say thank you and give me a few quid so I can continue. I'm trying to make a living out of writing currently so any support that way would be extremely beneficial. And to make spending your money even more fun, there's even a Collector's Edition version of the book with bonus questions, badges, music, games and silliness for a small amount more.  And if you're feeling particularly generous, an "Extreme Altruism" stream for deranged millionaires everywhere!

So, why not buy a book from this link here?

I hope people haven't felt too dogged by my advertising of the book but I'm very proud of it and know people will love it if they give it a nose. To encourage you ever further, I've set up a separate Tumblr to which I'm posting my favourite TV related oddities from my files every day. You can find that by clicking THIS CAPS LOCK MONSTROSITY HERE.

Help support local idiocy, buy a book today!