The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Girl And The Robot

Missing Believed Wiped 2012

Another year, another Missing Believed Wiped? What treats would be in store? What shows would be a chore? Top Of The Pops – have they found more? Or some Lulu or Sandi Shaw?

Sorry, no more rhymes. First up this year, beginning and ending the first session and beginning the second, was a section of TV continuity. Which I’d feared would be a History Of Anglia Idents, and there was an element of that, but fortunately it was edited with a sense of pace and humour. So while I never want to watch all the Granada 'G’s bouncing around the screen again, it was rather nice to see little promo clips of The Two Ronnies and Reginald Perrin, as well as the original ITV presenter so accurately lampooned by Susie Blake on Victoria Wood As Seen On TV. And certain idents prodded at the nostalgia cortex; watching the slow but inexorable progress of the BBC For Schools clock took me right back to sitting cross-legged on a varnished dining hall floor waiting for Words And Pictures*. What was it with BBC For Schools and baroque classical guitar?

First highlight of the evening was a 30-minute play by BS Johnson called Not Counting The Savages, from 1972 but only preserved as a slightly dodgy black-and-white off-air recording. Like far too many of the plays of the day, it was domestic, indulgent, unstructured, rambling and possibly point-scoringly-autobiographical and appeared to have been knocked off in one drunken evening with no time for a second draft. It reminded me of Dennis Potter’s Shaggy Dog in that regard; it’s characters arguing to create false drama, with peculiar, hollow moments of surrealism (a character playing an electric keyboard which is switched off and re-setting the date). It wasn’t, it has to be said, any good, but I’m glad to have seen it; the main disappointment, though, was that I had hoped, being a BS Johnson piece, it would end with characters acknowledging their own fictional status and giving up on the story, when it just ends with a clunking great Do You See What I Did There. Oh, and some of the dialogue, some of the sentence constructions, oh dear.

After that was part three of Doctor Who: Galaxy Four, the episode Air Lock. Not the most spectacular, fast-moving or action-packed episode of the series, but wonderful to see nonetheless. It’s problem is that the story is far too thin to sustain the duration (probably because responsibility for it fell between two production teams), most significantly in part three where a large portion of it is dedicated to the villainess Maaga delivering a monologue (near enough) about Drahvins soldiers being genetically engineered to be unable to think or imagine.  It’s also quite a static episode; most of the characters spend it in one location, Steven Taylor barely moving more than half a dozen yards during the course of the episode, the Doctor being sidelined sabotaging an air filter for the first half.

It’s also a slightly wobbly production; the story repeatedly makes the point that the Rills can’t be seen in their ammonia chamber, when in fact they’re quite clearly visible (and very lovely). At one point Vicki is trapped by a sliding wall that the Doctor describes as immovable when it is anything but; later on there’s an accident with his cane and a scene where the Doctor is told by Vicki not to shout at the Chumblies, when he hasn’t raised his voice in the slightest.

But there were many delights in this episode too. A very nicely-directed flashback scene. The rills. Peter Purves’ enormous hair (he’s always said that his role in this story was written for Jacqueline Hill, which may explain why he has her hairdo and cardigan). The Chumblies, some endearingly wobbly robots that resemble enormous upturned salad bowls covered in Christmas decorations. And most wonderfully of all, William Hartnell’s interaction with the Chumblies, giggling with delight as they whizz past at quite a lick, prodding them with his cane, giving them instructions and leading them on the charge.

I should also add that the restoration job on the episode is fantastic, it looks utterly beautiful and the repair to the ending is virtually unnoticeable even if, like me, you can’t help looking out for it. And who would've thought, reading K9 And Other Mechnical Creatures all those years ago* that I would one day get to see a Chumblie in action?

In the second section, as well as more continuity, we got to see a clip of Roxy Music performing Street Life on Top Of The Pops. Not one of their better songs, but it was good to see. Unfortunately the BBC in their wisdom decided that we couldn’t see the whole episode as it features Jimmy Savile and Gary Glitter; presumably there was a danger that their images could spring to life and emerge from the screen like the girl from The Ring and molest innocent members of the audience. Or that there might be someone in the audience who, despite having had forty-odd years to be desensitised by Savile’s appearances on TV (particularly over the last few months), might finally be tipped over the brink by seeing him on the big screen at the BFI. I mean, seriously, how can it be insensitive to repeat a Top Of The Pops presented by Savile when it’s okay for clips of Savile presenting Top Of The Pops to be shown endlessly on the news and ITV hatchet-mentaries? Which is more likely to be seen by, and distress, his victims? It’s the same magnetic tape, the only difference is that one is in the context of providing musicians with royalties and maybe a chance to see the one time their band ever appeared on telly, and one is in the context of trying to cynically provoke an emotional response of salacious disgust and anger. Oh, I’m ranting, and we all know the real reason, it’s because the BBC is scared of the Daily Mail.

So instead, we were treated to a couple of youth shows. Firstly, an edition of A Whole Scene Going. To begin with, I was on tenterhooks as a shopping montage to The Kinks' Dedicated Follower Of Fashion looked like it might contain a NEW SIGHTING OF SIXTIES TOP HAT GUY but alas that was not to be. The show then included a few pop acts, which I have already forgotten, and a little clip about the making of the second Dalek movie and an interview with a very defensive Gordon Flemying (father of Primeval’s Jason Flemyng). This was followed by an interview with some directors and a feature on The Spencer Davis Group with Spencer Davis being interviewed by a panel of ‘young people’. These ‘young people’ were hilarious, with their vague and yet aggressive line of questioning, and the fact that they all appeared to be in their mid-forties.

The show’s presenters, though, were fab; the utterly delightful and gorgeous Wendy Varnals, and Barry Fantoni, a dead ringer for Sonny Bono. Whatever happened to Wendy Varnals? She should’ve been presenting Newsnight by now. Her report on Birmingham's swinging nightclubs was the epitome of quality journalism.

And whatever happened to Ayshea, the gorgeous presenter of Lift Off With Ayshea? She’s great, the (only) highlight of her fairly ramshackle children’s TV show. The reason why it’s been generally ignored by the Brooker, Collins and Maconie nostalgia mill is that almost all of it has been lost, otherwise it would surely have had its own section in We Lazily Mock The 70s; ‘The Feet, what were they all about, eh?’ Ayshea’s co-star was a ‘Hacker’-type dog called Barker, disconcertingly voiced by the same guy who did Basil Brush; a very funny character but a truly shit puppet c/o Oliver Postgate. The show was weird and misjudged, the sinister Animal Kwackers-type dance routines and puppet seemingly intended for primary school children whilst the pop acts (which seemed to be three identical servings of Creme Brulee) were presumably intended for teenagers. As such, it could only serve to alienate and frustrate both sets of viewers.

And that was it, Missing Believed Wiped 2012. A much better and well-considered presentation than last year and it looks like there will be even more Missing Believed Wipeds during 2013 so maybe I should finally get that BFI membership as I’ll be attending them all.

* Twenty-eight, I was.

1 comment:

  1. The son in the B.S. Johnson piece looked oddly familiar. Couldn't place him, then I looked him up on IMDB to discover that he was Lord Goolding in the Thick of It just a few weeks ago.