Top of the Pops 29 Nov & 20 Dec 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. 
29 November: Janice Long: "Hello and welcome to a very live edition of Top of the Pops." Peter Powell: "And for starters one of my favourite records of the moment. It's from Nick Kershaw and it's called The Riddle!" 
[4] Nik Kershaw: The Riddle. Peter Powell is wearing a FEED THE WORLD white t-shirt. So is Nik Kershaw. So is everyone in Nik Kershaw's band. The story behind Do They Know It’s Christmas? is too well known to go into here, but this is where the single started to make its mark; four days after it was recorded and four days before release on Monday 3rd December. A quick turnaround that would allow Frankie Goes To Hollywood exactly one week at number one with The Power Of Love. It's often stated that the Band Aid video premièred on Top of the Pops before the single was released. That's not quite what happened. David Bowie introduced the video on BBC 1 25 minutes earlier between the end of the regional news and Tomorrow's World. You can see his introduction here https://twitter.com/BBCFOUR/status/929078810137497601 
Presumably it made more sense to show the video outside of Top of the Pops where it would be seen by a much more general audience. Top of the Pops doesn't seem any shorter this week. David Bowie's introduction and the video fit neatly into a five minute slot and presumably the regular 6.55 start time for Tomorrow's World was designed to flex back to 7pm when required. It would be interesting to see how the schedule was amended to cope. I guess they showed a few less trailers, and shaved a little time off the regional news and Tomorrow's World. (John – But what about the Riddle? What’s the answer? What??!!)

Nik Kershaw: The gardening was not going well.


His Dark Materials Episode 8 review

This excellent concluding episode has the rhythm of a feature film with sweeping action sequences interspersed with quieter character moments. It successfully brings the plots together as both Lyra and Will’s storylines seem to converge and clues are lain for the already confirmed second series. In some ways it has the most straightforward plot of any of the episodes as the Magisterium converge on Asriel’s isolated mountain bolt hole he struggles with the conflicting demands of his ambitious scientific work and feelings for the daughter he thought he’d left safely back in Oxford.


Star Wars - The Rise of Skywalker review

Showing before this screening of the final Star Wars film is a `prologue` from the forthcoming Christopher Nolan movie Tenet. At nearly 10 minutes it certainly had some of the audience I was with confused the cinema might be showing the wrong film and despite such a lengthy look the content left us only vague clues as to what it might be about. Yet it was challenging and intriguing, qualities we look for in vain when it comes to the Star Wars universe which prefers to deal in certainties. Expectations around The Rise of Skywalker are far too heavy for it to possibly support. Can it wrap up a sprawling forty plus year saga that has spun many stories across different media? Can it satisfy Star Wars aficionados whose reaction to some actual character development (gasp!) in The Last Jedi suggested resistance to any change?  Well, considering the 1977 original was never intended to be more than a one off space adventure you could say they’ve been winging it for decades. This latest instalment is certainly more traditional than the last one which for me makes it not quite as satisfying but which I suspect fans will prefer. It is definitely worth seeing on the largest screen possible – there are moments when it feels it won’t even all fit on a massive IMAX screen- and as a thrilling cinema experience is hard to beat. Anyone looking for something deeper or more meaningful however may feel short changed.
Mega spoilers past this point!


Ad Break #16 M&S, Chanel No 5, Edinburgh Gin

M&S – Go Jumpers!
Simple ideas are often the most effective and taking the idea of `jumpers` we see a variety of people each wearing one of fifty different jumpers from M&S’s  knitwear range while jumping around to the 1992 House of Pain song `Jump Around` (obvs). It is as if the jumper is controlling them.  Its brilliant and the first time I saw it was a real laugh out loud moment. The store does have a separate advert for food which follows last year’s model of celebrities wandering around sampling goods from a Xmas market without paying for them. It’s nowhere near as fun as Go Jumpers!


His Dark Materials Episode 7 review

Trickery and deceit are on the agenda this week as Lyra tricks King Iofur, Boreal does his best to fool Elaine and the final scene suggests that Asriel is most definitely not to be trusted either. Punctuated by some well composed landscape shots and a powerful battle between two mighty bears the episode is a bridge to the finale that starts to draw all the strands together if a little too hastily at times. 


Now it’s time for Labour to decide…

The UK General Election result suggests that the Labour party needs to make one crucial decision during the so called `period of reflection`. Do they want to win a General Election again or are they content to remain in opposition indefinitely? Regardless of personalities or leaders or pressure groups this is the moment they have to decide. Political parties do have to make this kind of decision and it’s wrong too for them to cling doggedly onto `traditional` values when the world has changed so much. Surely politicians are there to carry out the will of the people whatever that may be? They may guide, persuade, cajole, even lecture us but as yesterday proved the people will have their own way. The Conservatives in general- and Boris Johnson in particular- now seem to understand this. Its time Labour did too- or else they won’t be in government any time soon.


His Dark Materials Episode 6 review

However good this series has been till now, episode six is a masterpiece containing drive, action, tension and some superbly pitched emotional scenes. The horrific core of Philip Pullman’s story is rendered pulling few punches in an hour that is certainly not for younger viewers. Terrible truths mingle with triumphant actions that a multi million dollar film might muster with far more resources. And there’s still two episodes to go!


Top of the Pops 22 Nov 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. John Peel: "Hello admirers and welcome live to another Top of the Pops, and it's great to be back on the programme, huh Tommy?" Tommy Vance: "It's going to be a real blisterer this one. We are live this week. We have loads of good music for you, starting with this man, Nick Heyward. Here is his Warning Sign." 
[34] Nick Heyward: Warning Sign. This is Tommy Vance's last go at hosting Top of the Pops. He will be appearing in sound only from now on, on wunnerful Radio 1. Rumour (ie some bloke on the internet) suggests the new Controller of BBC 1 wanted changes made   to the line-up of hosts. That Controller's name? Michael Grade. He joined the BBC in the summer of 1984, becoming Controller on 1st September. Fortunately that's pretty much the only change he makes while running BBC1. Whether some bloke on the internet is correct about Michael Grade wanting Top of the Pops to be less of a wrinkly's roadshow, it's notable that 1984 sees the departure of a lot of long term presenters. J**** S***** goes after the 30/08/1984 edition (the one on the train). D*v* L** Tr*v*s' last show was 25/10/1984. And, Andy Peebles shorter run came to an end on 20/09/1984.


The War of the Worlds Episode 3 review

“Somethings got to happen soon” says Amy mid way through a drawn out siege but I wouldn’t bank on it! I’m not sure what to make of this closing episode at all as it feels like a large chunk of storyline has somehow been removed from what should surely have been a 4 part series. Then again the pace of episode 3 is so languid it sometimes feels like there isn’t enough material to fill it. If the results stop short of the epiphany that Peter Harness might be expecting his audience to have then it’s affecting enough on an emotional level. However it is very slow indeed and some crucial moments of tension just don’t seem to work. Can hiding under a reasonably tall table really mean a whopping great Martian won’t spot you? Where is the `let’s pull someone from under the table` drama? Harness certainly goes for the profound aspects of the scenario but when it comes to the scares or the action this episode is lacking which is a shame.


His Dark Materials Episode 5 review

When you reach the end of this compellingly morbid episode you suddenly realise Mrs Coulter isn't even in it! It’s an interesting idea to go into the second half of the series with a different intent. For all the talk of how dark a story this ultimately is the action so far has stayed mostly on the side of easier to digest fantasy save for the odd outburst from Mrs Coulter. There’s been no real clues as to what might be happening with the stolen children yet here matters take a different turn. Edgier than the four episodes preceding it, `The Lost Boy` takes the story down a dark alley of mental instability, shock discoveries, grief and nasty murders. Each key scene revolves around the dead and the lost giving it the feel of an episode of Game of Thrones with equally sudden moments that will make the viewer gasp. 


Space 1999 - Last Sunset & Voyager's Return

Last Sunset
Just as the Alphans look into the possibility of settling on a planet called Ariel, an alien probe attaches itself to an Eagle and once esconsed in the base suddenly releases what appears to be gas but turns out to be air. In record time this spreads initiating a speedy (and well realised) terraforming that gives the Moon a blue sky, a Sun and fresh air. It doesn’t take long before people start messing around in swimsuits. Its rare for an episode to contain so much that is incredulous yet to centre around a narrative that proves to be reasonably gritty for the series. The new look lunar landscape turns out to be something of a convenience for the show to undertake a `main characters stranded` episode which it does rather well.


The War of the Worlds Episode 2 review

This production is making the most of a story most people watching would know something about and is doing so by showing just how chaotic and dangerous things are on the ground. Every shot we’ve seen so far of the Martian war machines has been from a character’s perspective and this aspect is carried through in the second episode’s signature sequence in which hundreds of panic stricken people on a beach are attacked by one of those machines. It’s a brilliant miasma of fire, panic and mayhem set against a backdrop of plumes of black smoke over a choppy sea. Just to add to the cinematic feel of things, George and Amy’s reunion takes place across the upturned wreckage of a boat; remind you of a major film? Likewise, George’s initial view across the beach is a homage to Dunkirk, both the real thing and the movie. Moving back and forth through time, the story unfolds gradually yet if you were to look at synopsis very little happens. This is more than anything a mood piece- every scene could be an album cover or a painting.


His Dark Materials Episode 4 review

This is the most conventional episode so far which means its ideally placed to keep viewers who might have been feeling the series was meandering a little. Those of us who regularly review these sorts of programmes sometimes forget the simple things that appeal to larger audiences and part 4 has them in spades. Taking its cues from classic Western scenarios with an icy replacing the sand hinterlands of classic films, we have strangers on a mission arriving in a town where the reception is frosty in every sense. Lyra becomes even more proactive effectively persuading both Lee Scoresby, an Indiana Jones style aeronaut and a large armoured bear to accompany the Gyptians as they head even further North. There’s a bar fight, a cooped up formerly powerful figure and the authorities are not far behind. If we lose some of the less conventional aspects of the story we gain a self- contained tale of characters eventually banding together to head into danger.


Top of the Pops 15 Nov 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Mike Read: "Hey, lucky you caught us. Me and Bruno here are in a mellow mood, luckily we're going out nightclubbing later on."

Bruno Brookes: "Absolutely. I feel in a cocktail mood already. Tell you what, let's go with Matt Bianco right now."

[34] Matt Bianco: Half A Minute. Mike Read and Bruno Brookes are both wearing dinner jackets, and Mike Read has adopted what he believes is an American accent. Is all this talk about nightclubs and cocktails a clever reference to Matt Bianco and their music for wine bars? I neither know or care. Matt Bianco are on the main stage, the one with the audience at the front and back. I wouldn't dream of suggesting that this performance leans a tiny bit in the direction of possibly being not very interesting, but this is a good time to study the studio lighting grid. It's been upgraded. The lights above the performers are organised into geometric shapes that project down through the studio smoke. It looks great in wide shots.

The new lighting layout was introduced last week and premièred above Limahl and so-called Mandy. I didn't notice at the time because I was distracted by Richard Skinner mouthing "help me" at the camera while Simon Bates told me what time it was in 1984 and went on and on about Spurs and got Never Ending Story's title wrong. Bill Millar is credited with Lighting on this and last week's edition, so I'm going to assume the new lighting layout was his idea. Well done Bill.


Space 1999 - Alpha Child

When the first baby is born on Alpha celebrations soon turn sour as the child grows by five years in a few seconds though everyone except Koenig seems to take it in their stride. By no coincidence whatsoever an alien spaceship also turns up and the commander is the one who spots a connection between the two events. You never know which way this episode is going to turn. At first the kid- named Jackie Crawford- seems relatively normal but director Ray Austin captures some spooky shots of him that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie. It soon seems that the child has some psychic powers which also set up the weekly argument with Alan Carter!


The War of the Worlds Episode 1 review

You’d think that this story would be too familiar to re-tell, too associated with a soft rock stage show or various adaptations that have struggled to do justice to the power of the original story. However you’d be wrong. This opening episode is a stunner alright, building up for quite a while, simmering and heating until it explodes in a sequence that certainly justifies the warnings that this is not suitable for younger viewers. If you thought Martian invasions of this kind were cumbersome, cosy games of hide and seek while those familiar tripods loom on the horizon then watch this one.


His Dark Materials Episode 3 review

What makes this series work so well- and this is true to the source novels too- is that the fantastical element is woven into a narrative that has enough familiarity to drawn the viewer in. A lot of fantasy show go the other way trying to dazzle with visuals depicting things that don’t seem relevant to right now. This measured third episode combines the tension running through the second with the movement of the first yet at its heart is a very human drama. A mother missing her stolen child, a community debating how to fight back against an oppressive regime, family secrets brought into the open. These could feature in a more conventional drama so we understand them. What the series also does well is share the perspective of a number of key players. The 8 episode format allows space for character beats and conversations that head off in interesting directions. Quite how one tv critic can call it “an uneventful hour” surprises me.


Ad Break#15 John Lewis vs Mariah Carey!

One’s a dragon that breathes fire which burns things to a crisp, the other’s a singer who uses her high pitched voice in order to get some crisps! Yes, Noddy, its Chriiiiiiiistmas again and John Lewis have a rival for the 2019 season’s best ad in the form of Walkers Crisps and yer actual Mariah Carey her very self. Last year to have us in tears John Lewis teamed up with a big star, Elton John , for an ad centred around a piano even though they don’t actually sell pianos. This time though they’re back on more familiar ground while Walkers have somehow managed to persuade Mariah to do an ad you sense just wouldn’t work quite as well with their usual muse, Gary Lineker. And do you know what? Walkers have nailed it with a frothy, funny ad that trounces John Lewis’ (sorry John Lewis and Partners) (sorry John Lewis and Waitrose and their Partners) somewhat mixed up offering.


Top of the Pops 8 Nov 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Richard Skinner: "We are live tonight from Television Centre. In the studio Eugene Wilde, Billy Ocean, stars all of them."Simon Bates: "And we also have a new number one tonight. [looks at watch] It's exactly what? Twenty minutes past seven tonight. Here's never ending song Limahl. The lady with Limahl over here happens to be called Mandy and she's a Spurs supporter. She sings quite well though."
[10] Limahl: Never Ending Story. The effort of speaking and checking the time appears to make Simon Bates throw a cog in his brain. Richard Skinner throws several knowing looks to camera as Bates rambles through what can only be described as a never ending intro.
Meanwhile, Wikipedia credits Beth Anderson and not Mandy as the female vocalist on this song. Why would Simon Bates lie about that?
Regardless of who is, or isn't singing, Limahl and [finger quotes gesture] Mandy have been placed on a circular rostrum with alternating black and white stripes around the edge. It looks like a garden trampoline and I keep expecting Mandy and Limahl to start bouncing and doing pikes and tuck jumps. Obviously this doesn't happen.
During the musical break the pair start slow dancing in a way that gets whoops of approval from the audience, but possibly not from Producer Stanley Appel in the studio gallery.
Finally, although I bear no personal ill will to Limahl I hope he doesn't appear on Top of the Pops again. I find his name very fiddly and irritating to type. Although it's not as bad as Kajagoogoo.


How to demolish a flyover!

Flyovers are not for life- just about fifty years and the time soon comes round for them to either be repaired or demolished. In Liverpool we have a large flyover called Churchill Way that takes traffic into the centre of the business district avoiding many more congested roads but half a century after it was built it is coming down. The 240 metre long stretch of flyover was opened in 1970 supposedly as part of a larger city ring road project that was never finished. Last year inspections revealed issues involving drainage, barriers, internal support and bearings and the edifice was closed for further examination. So it had to come down!


His Dark Materials episode 2 review

After the bustle of the opening episode, the second is predominantly set in Mrs Coulter’s well- appointed London apartments which Lyra soon finds to be a gilded cage. The nature of her character is being trusting and adventurous so the promise that Mrs Coulter will help find her missing friend Roger was enough for Lyra to believe in. Thus the scene is set for a tense episode in which Lyra soon becomes suspicious that Mrs C is far from the helpful patron she seems. With rules aplenty, a locked lift and plenty of locked doors something is up. The episode is a showcase for both Dafne Keen and Ruth Wilson whose performances are nuanced and interesting with each turn of the plot.


Space 1999 - Guardian of Piri & Force of Life

Guardian of Piri
You can’t accuse this show of stinting on the unusual when you see a planet like Piri. With a red sky and lots of white globes sitting about like exotic lollipops this has to be one of the more unusual planet surfaces of the era. It may well be a set but it’s a busy and impressive one so perhaps it’s the design that lures the Alphans to the place! The episode opens with an Eagle taking a look to see if the latest planet to pass by may be suitable for the Moonbase crew to move to. Suddenly the ship starts to malfunction and appears to crash while Alpha itself is suffering multiple computer related failures. They don’t switch it on and off again and the sole IT expert David Kano vanishes quite soon after we learn he has the equivalent of a microchip in his head through which he can directly connect to `Computer` as its unimaginatively named. I suppose its better than an embarrassing acronym.


Top of the Pops 18 Oct 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Janice Long: "Hello and welcome to Top of the Pops. Some great stuff on the programme tonight including Ultravox and Meatloaf, and the very first appearance from Julian Lennon." Gary Davies: "And it's almost exactly four years ago that this band first appeared on Top of the Pops. They're with us tonight. Spandau Ballet, Highly Strung."

[25] Spandau Ballet: Highly Strung. Gary Davies’ "four years ago" comment is calling out for some diligent fact checking... He's right. Spandau Ballet first appeared on the 13/11/1980 edition with To Cut A Long Story Short. Here's what one perceptive critic wrote about that first appearance. "Spandau Ballet arrive in the Top of the Pops studio a month after Adam & The Ants. Too slow boys. The New Romantic movement has already been invented." Steve Norman is overdoing it a lot. If he keeps waving that saxophone around he'll have someone's eye out.
The Spands- "Tony, mate, it's over there!"


His Dark Materials Episode 1 review

The first attempt to dramatise Philip Pullman’s exceptional novel didn’t work because the film exorcised the one of the main themes of the story for fear of offending anyone. It looks like this lavish 8 part tv series will not make the same mistake. While modernising some aspects of the setting- at least from what I recall reading- the opening episode conjures up exactly the sort of world we imagine Pullman created. There’s the airships gliding over a slightly exaggerated Oxford, the slinky deamons beside or above people and there’s the whiff of academic panic when Lord Asriel presents Jordan College’s finest with facts they’d rather not hear.


How Europe Stole My Mum review

However serious Brexit may be, the whole thing is also becoming increasingly absur which makes it the perfect time for this one off special  by comedian Kieran Hodgson. He tries to make sense of how we came to this pass and filters it through the idea that his mother voted Leave whereas he voted Remain. The results are an often funny, always light yet equally informative and perceptive trip back in time to the 1970s and our joining what was then the Common Market. Turns out we had as much hassle joining as we are leaving. Helped by excellent turns from Harry Enfield and Lisa Tarbock and peppered with pin sharp impressions of bygone political heavweights this is a must see for anyone with an interest in this divisive topic.


Review Round Up – The Great British Bake Off, Aladdin, Kitchen Nightmares USA

The 2019 Great British Bake Off concluded this week and our theories three years back that moving to Channel 4 would somehow spoil the programme have been proved so wrong. It just goes to show that we know little about how these things work because Noel Fielding and Sandi Tsovig are superb both at presenting and supporting the bakers. They’re pre show routines are funny too- one involving two cars is priceless.  We may scoff at the idea of baking being an emotional exacting art but there is something at stake here (unlike celebrity contests) because most of the previous winners have seen their lives changed since their victory. More than any other comparable show Bake off ensures its competition are encouraged rather than put through the wringer (some of the X Factor’s judging turns are just nasty) meaning that we’re all on the same side. It could also easily have become a programme where we laugh at failed bakes; instead we sympathise.


Space 1999 - Missing Link

Watching these episodes back in the day the philosophical side of the series’ writing didn’t really make an impact on me, I was more interested in the spaceships, the planets and the action. Yet there’s quite a lot in an episode like `Missing Link` for a more mature viewer even if the end result is rather muddled. After a mission to check out a planet goes wrong, an Eagle crash lands a hundred miles from Alpha and while the others on the mission have less serious injuries the commander is in a coma and seemingly unable to be saved. However we see him wandering about a deserted moonbase stalked by floaty figures in long gowns. These turn out to be Zennites, a race with a fashion sense right out of Sixties Carnaby Street crossed with a circus. Their main man, Raan – played with as much dignity as he can manage by a silver faced Peter Cushing- sports a stripy tea cosy on his head while his daughter Vana is wearing some outrageously shiny accoutrements. They are more serious than their attire would suggest however as Koenig finds himself being seen as an experiment, a `permanent guest`.



Yes, this is the one thousandth post on This Way Up blog and I’ve been wondering what to put in it. Should I perhaps drone on pretentiously about the art of the whole thing? Or dazzle you with graphs and blog stats galore?  Perhaps I should use it to say something incredibly controversial or maybe make a surprise personal announcement like they do on YouTube.  Anyway in the end I thought I’d indulge your patience with some unposted posts. “You what?” Not all of the stuff I write for the blog gets posted for various reasons mostly because I don’t finish it or the idea isn’t really substantial enough for more than a couple of paragraphs. So I fished about in the box (well there isn’t an actual box) and below you’ll see several never before posted items of varying quality. 


Great Canal Journeys review

There’s a lot of emotion on tv these days where everyone is on a journey and opening up to millions of strangers about their issues in all sort of situations. It can happen in a big tent where people are baking, a colourful studio where people are dancing or even on a canal. Such openness will be seen as the signature of this decade’s television as people feel more comfortable talking about pretty much anything in front of the cameras. Great Canal Journeys is the one which can never really have a happy ending with a trophy holding winner. It’s about growing old, about struggling to do things you couldn’t do before and about how true love is not just the province of the young. You’d expect two actors in this situation to be melodramatic about it in that way some actors have of being more stagey off stage than on. Timothy West and Prunella Scales though are honest and straight forward about their situation and the result is that it makes a programme whose premise may seem dull so packed full of life.


Top of the Pops 11 Oct 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby with toast. Mike Read: "Hello, welcome to Top of the Pops." Tommy Vance & Mike Read: " 'Allo, 'allo, 'allo, 'allo, 'allo. 'Ello, 'ello, 'ello, 'ello, 'ello." Tommy Vance: "Got the picture? 'Ere Mike, 'ave you seen who's down there?"
Mike Read: " 'Ello.'Ello." Tommy Vance: "Ooh, it's Kim Wilde."
[52] Kim Wilde: The Second Time. I'm charitably assuming that Tommy Vance says "ooh" and not "phwoar" which would obviously be an unacceptable way to refer to gorgeous pouting, etc Kim Wilde. I've no idea what Tommy Vance and Mike Read are doing in their introduction. Maybe they were plugging the start of series 3 of 'Allo 'Allo; 7.30 Friday, BBC1.
The best thing about Mike Read and Tommy Vance's introduction is it's location. For the first time in ages (ie, I can't be bothered to check but I'm going out on a limb and speculating that it's at least since 1981 when Yellow Pearl became the theme tune) the hosts don't introduce the show standing next to the neon Top of the Pops logo. Instead they're up on one of the catwalks. Check out the view of the studio behind them. Phwoar! Now that leaves nothing to the imagination. If only Mike Read and Tommy Vance would move out of the way we could really cop an eyeful.
It's a little glimpse behind the scenes as the studio warms up for the first act. There are a couple of dancers/audience cheerleaders standing on a podium who applaud and then start dancing, and round the fringes of the crowd you can see the usual gang of mystery BBC employees whose function is obscure. (John – Undercover ITV agents probs)


Space 1999 - Another Time, Another Place

A textbook example of how to create and present an episode, Johnny Byrne’s time twister proves to be absorbing and thought provoking all the way through. An unexplained space phenomena appears to create two Moons. The Alphans wake up in another solar system that looks mightily familiar and there’s the Earth- or is it? Like an episode from the original Star Trek this episode packs in so much more than just action and thanks to David Tomblin’s top class direction every nuance of the story is presented to fascinating effect. If some directors treat this sort of series as another job it really shows when someone takes that extra care. Tomblin emphasises the weirdness of the situation especially when one of the crew- Regina- is given to crazy episodes where she thinks she’s married to Alan Carter – and he’s dead. Cue some bemused looks from the head Eagle pilot. 


Top of the Pops 4 Oct 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Simon Bates: "Thursday night at Television Centre [indecipherable] Top of the Pops. It's so packed tonight I've forgotten who's on, Richard." Richard Skinner: "Tell you what. How about The Stranglers, Culture Club, and Adam Ant, live. Plus, in the studio now here are Bronski Beat and Why."
[4] Bronski Beat: Why? BBC4 skipped over September's final Top of the Pops because one of the hosts was Mike Smith. The result, on BBC4 at least, is that Bronksi Beat take pole position on two back-to-back editions.  The question everyone is asking is, what's the picture on the front of the vest worn by the stage right keyboard player? The picture on the vest of Larry Steinbachek (probably) is the cover of the single. An image of a man with his head in his hands by Glasgow artist Robert McAulay (thanks Wikipedia). Presumably the vest, and the t-shirt with the same picture Larry wore on the 20/09/1984 edition, were promotional material from London Records. This explains how Larry is able to wear a black t-shirt and two weeks later a black vest with the same picture without doing some pretty serious alterations; like Marge Simpson in the episode where she buys a Chanel suit. The stage left keyboard player (possibly the eponymous Bronski himself) has finally given in to his mum's nagging and put on the jumper his nan brought him last Christmas. She will be pleased. 


Joker review

This is a difficult film to assess because it’s not clear what it is trying to achieve. Is it a study of mental decline and how there are never enough resources to deal with it? Is it an origin story for a well -known comic book character? Is it a serious art film sneaking into the mainstream under a populist masthead? Is it a gratuitously violent movie with little soul? Is it a vehicle for a performance which tilts knowingly for Oscar glory? Well it is all of these things at various points but never really coalesces into a particular direction. As for just being entertainment it is simply not a film anyone could surely enjoy in that way. In case you hadn’t twigged the title is ironic- there’s not a single laugh in it.
Spoilers past this point


Top of the Pops 20 Sept 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Andy Peebles: "Good evening. Hello and a very warm welcome to this week's edition of Top of the Pops." Steve Wright:"And we're going to kick off tonight's show with those Bronski Beat boys. Here they are with Why?!!"

[22] Bronski Beat: Why? Jimmy Somerville has taken a course in being a pop star. He's learned a whole new set of moves since Bronski Beat last appeared on the 07/06/1984 edition; he's mastered the art of crouching slightly to play to the low angled camera; he spins on the spot; he points; he pouts; he blows a kiss to the camera; and, perhaps sweetest of all, he beams with delight when he pulls of a dance move that gets whoops of approval from the audience.

It's just a shame he's decided to dress as blandly as possible in a beige shirt, daringly offset with beige trousers. If you want genuinely eighties style you'll need to point your eyes at the back of the stage where abstract graffiti-style shapes have been airbrushed onto a backcloth.

Bronkski Beat set tonight's trend. This edition of Top of the Pops is full of first class groups presenting slightly second class material. That said, the only reason to call Why? second class is because it's not Smalltown Boy.


Space 1999- Ring Around the Moon & Earthbound

Ring Around the Moon
For an episode that presents such a big threat to the Alphans, `Ring Around The Moon` is not in the least bit exciting. Its threat is a huge glowing sphere from the planet Triton in which a large eye occasionally appears, and which goes about things with a methodical method that unfortunately means everything takes a long time to unfurl. At the same time all of the dialogue is very much technical and therefore a bit dull. All this made my attention wander as the umpteenth golden forcefield shimmied across space and I was drawn to the odd musical score employed for the episode. There’s mysticism, jazz, classical and fusion all chucked together as if someone who doesn’t normally do this sort of thing is assembling the incidental music. It is all the more noticeable as large chunks of the episode take place without any music at all. The only time the music seems to match the visuals is when we’re inside the sphere which also happens to be the most visually interesting aspect of the story too.


Top of the Pops 6 Sep 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. John Peel: "Hello and welcome to another Top of the Pops. I've got a bit of an explanation to do at the beginning of this one so..." Janice Long: "No but I was just going to...." John Peel: "Shut up. If you'd just be quiet a minute. What happened was that Bucks Fizz last week started their number and they go to the station and..." Janice Long: "To cut a long story short. Bucks Fizz."

[21] Bucks Fizz: Talking In Your Sleep. You need to go all the way back to 1981 and the 11/06/1981 edition to find the last time Bucks Fizz were considered a big enough draw to open Top of the Pops. On that occasion the song was Piece Of The Action, the follow up single to Making Your Mind Up. Viewers at the time wouldn't have noticed but watched back to back it's immediately obvious that the two performances of Talking In Your Sleep are identical. It's the same routine, performed on exactly the same stage, even some of the camera set ups are broadly similar (the production team probably reused the camera script to save time). I could believe this performance was recorded from the camera rehearsal for the 30/08/1984 show and simply edited across into this week's edition. It's only the camera pan from Janice Long and John Peel at the start that rules this out as an option.

The whole thing has an odd scent of contractual obligation about it. Were Bucks Fizz offered the chance to come back and open the next show as a way of smoothing ruffled egos? If they were, then why were they put back on the same stage to do the same dance routine? The end result looks like something negotiated by lawyers, although it almost certainly isn't.

Question two, what song got bumped so that Talking In Your Sleep could get a quick repeat? Not Malcolm McLaren's Madam Butterfly (Un Bel Di Vedremo), which is the highest climber of the week; up 17 places from 32 to 15. Madam Butterfly will be ignored by Top of the Pops. The same fate befell White Lines (Don't Do It) which never rated a mention during its seven week climb up the charts to number 7. Had Bucks Fizz not been back I think we'd have seen the video for Elton John's Passengers again, and Are You Ready? by Break Machine would have taken Passengers' place to be played out over the credits.

While I'm asking questions I can't answer, what was the plan for the live 30/08/1984 edition anyway? Presumably the train was expected to arrive during the video for I Called To Say I Love You which would have been easier to cut short.


Space 1999 - Black Sun

For what is ostensibly an action orientated series aimed at a younger audience, `Black Sun` is a surprising diversion. David Weir’s screenplay clearly draws from the hippy mentality prevalent in late Sixties culture with its eventual message “everything is everything else” and takes a refreshingly philosophical angle on a potential disaster. Moonbase Alpha is being drawn into an enormous black Sun whose pull is liable to destroy it. “We’ll all be dead in three days” is Commander Koenig’s not exactly inspirational summary of the scenario. Victor Bergman however has other ideas, scribbling and thinking his way to a plan involving a forcefield that will use the base’s anti gravity towers as its tentpoles. “It looks like fish scales” someone says improbably. If the first section of the episode leans heavily on the hardware and mechanics that might save them, matters become more interesting when other aspects are introduced.


What does ruby chocolate taste like?

In 2017 it was announced that there are now four types of chocolate.  Joining milk, dark and white is ruby. According to the website of its originator Barry Callebaut, a Belgian- Swiss cocoa company “Ruby offers an intense sensorial delight, a totally new taste experience: neither bitter, milky or sweet, but a tension of fresh berry fruitiness and luscious smoothness.” Others have described it as having intense fruitiness as well as fresh and sour notes. Ruby chocolate is not, as some have imagined, just another flavoured chocolate but is made from an existing cocoa bean variety that can be processed into a distinctive taste. In truth such a new product should already have created more waves than it has but its existence is not that widely known. When I mentioned it at work amongst colleagues who between them know about most subjects raised nobody else had even heard of it.


Ad Astra review

Roy McBride must be the most accident prone- yet also the luckiest – man in the Universe. What befalls him during the first five minutes of this intriguing film would be the end of a lesser man but what he has to deal with for the next two hours few movie heroes would survive without superpowers and he doesn’t have those. Ad Astra (which means `To The Stars`) is a story that may span the reaches of space and contain a world threatening problem but at its heart it is a simple, family tale of how generations can both reject and reflect each other. It is thoughtful yet gripping, intimate yet Universal (in both senses) and if a bit unbelievable at times still a thrilling cinematic ride. 
Spoilers past this point


Space 1999 - A Matter of Life and Death

The crux of this episode is that the kind of life the Alphans will encounter may be somewhat different to their expectations. It’s a timely and well mounted escapade that also shows us something of the dynamics of command. When a mission to a potentially habitable planet (which incidentally looks like a cocktail) returns with a third person on board that’s strange enough. The fact that he appears to be Helena’s late husband who went missing presumed dead during a mission near Jupiter five years previously is just bizarre. It certainly gives Victor several chances to look puzzled and engage in tests; my favourite one is the scan of Russell which suggests he is dead. Victor’s scientific knowledge seems boundless yet for Koenig, eager it seems to please the crew, even this oddity must not stand in the way of evacuation.


Something to vote for....

The current UK political scene moves so quickly that by the time this is posted – and certainly after a few weeks- things will probably have changed again. However what I am reassured about at the moment is that there’s now a party I can vote for in the event of General Election in the coming months. The Liberal Democrats have decided that their manifesto will include a commitment to reverse Brexit by revoking Article 50. You could predict what the response from some quarters would be and indeed it has been. “Its undemocratic” they cry without understanding that this would only happen after an election in which as many if not more people would vote than did in the EU Referendum. Any policies enacted by a government that were in their election manifesto are democratic by the fact that people have already voted for them. Second, “the Lib Dems would never win a general Election under any conceivable scenario”. True perhaps but the point of this policy is not to suggest they are preparing for government but that they have drawn a line in the sand. It is as clear where the Conservatives stand on Brexit just as it as unclear where Labour do on the topic. Now there’s an actual choice with a party committed to the EU. Besides dismissing them because they won’t win is overlooking how the Lib Dems could actually hold the balance of power.


Top of the Pops 23 Aug 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Mike Read: "Surprise surprise it's Top of the Pops. Me and Tom wondered where you'd got to, to be honest." Tommy Vance: "Well, we made it and we're glad that you made it too. Our first band are in our studio tonight. They're from Münster in Germany. Alphaville who are Big In Japan."
[43] Alphaville: Big In Japan. I'm not sure Big In Japan is the best song to open the show. Coming up later are two more obviously crowd pleasing singles, Miami Sound Machine and the dance antics of Break Machine (there are a lot of Machines -well two- on tonight's edition, is this the first sign of that technological singularity I keep reading about?). I like Big In Japan but, rather like Mothers Talk which opened the last edition of Top of the Pops, it feels as if Michael Hurll is deliberately resisting the obvious by putting this song in pole position.


Tolkien review

Given that this film is not endorsed by the writer’s estate and did badly in cinemas I was still intrigued to see what take it took on the formative years of one of the best known authors in the world. It is easy to see why the movie didn’t take off as we live in a time where historical characters are encouraged to speak with a modern tone and Tolkien resolutely and refreshingly stays in period. Its dialogue springs from the screen but because it’s not talking about kejoree for breakfast or something similarly Downtonesque it means we have a movie which celebrates diversity of language and literature which is always a hard sell. I’m not sure the means the filmmakers employed to liven this up always works either though there are some very satisfying aspects to the movie.


Space 1999 - Breakaway

In 1975 television fantasy was thin on the ground. Most popular shows from the States were either police based or else Earthbound stuff like The Six Million Dollar Man. The Star Wars boom was still a couple of years away while in the UK apart from Doctor Who these sort of shows sat mainly in the children’s programme slots. It’s important to mention this because when it arrived Space 1999 seemed like a breath of fresh, colourful air. People watched it with enjoyment at the time and it is only later that it came to be seen in a somewhat less appreciative light. Personally I loved it and had models of the Eagles (the spaceships not the group) and those poster magazines with gorgeous colour photos of weird alien locations.

Many of the criticisms of the series are at least partly valid- there is certainly a lack of empathy amongst the main characters and some of the plots are hugely derivative. The science is of course all over the place and you have to smile at the idea that what was then a view of 30 years into the future depicted everyone still wearing the flares and hairstyles of the mid -70s. At the same time, the series is enormous fun to watch with its gaudy alien planets and impressive model shots.  And can you really dislike a programme whose opening credits give away half the plot and depict the two stars staring into space while slowly revolving on a platform. I mean everyone does that at home don’t they?

So over the coming weeks I’m going to be watching every episode of the first season to see what I find then nattering about it on here. It’s important to point out these are not intended to be either episode guides or definitive reviews of the series, just reactions and observations as I journey alongside Commander Koenig (no relation to Ezra or Walter) and a remarkably smooth flying Moon through the Universe. If I survive the G Forces I’ll probably do season two next year. So let’s go back to 13 September 1999 or to be more precise 4 September 1975 when the first episode was originally broadcast….


Top of the Pops 16 Aug 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Steve Wright: "Well hello!! Good evening!! And welcome to another edition of Top!! Of!! The Pops!!" Andy Peebles: "Yes. Good to have your company. Let's get under way. Over here on my right will you welcome please Tears For Fears and their latest single Mothers Talk."
[38] Tears For Fears: Mothers Talk. Steve Wright is jiggling like someone 24 hours into a course of antibiotics for a bladder infection. He doesn't have a UTI. It's his normal presenting style.
[Paragraph of criticism of Steve Wright cut. It's Andy Peebles I feel sorry for]
It's Tears For Fears. What are they up to? Singing about the weather. As Mark Twain said, "everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." (John – I’m sure Boris will get round to it once he’s `sorted` Brexit)


Top of the Pops 9 Aug 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. John Peel: "Hello and welcome to another half hour of the hardest street sounds around like Hazell Dean and Frankie Goes To Hollywood."
Richard Skinner: "We've got street-credible Blancmange and beach-credible Tracey Ullman here's Sunglasses."
[26] Tracey Ullman: Sunglasses. Gordon Elsbury has been credited as Producer since the start of August. This normally means that Michael Hurll is off doing something else. In this case something else might be organising the new series of The Noel Edmonds Late Late Breakfast Show which starts on 01/09/1984 with an ambitious live cross Channel (English, rather than BBC1 and 2) extravaganza. Who's going to be directing that outside broadcast? Oh, it's Gordon Elsbury again, in his ongoing role as hired gun for Michael Hurll.
Designer Rod McLean and Gordon Elsbury are trying something different for Sunglasses. They've constructed a new set rather than invite Tracey Ullman to perform in front of the standard perspex scaffolding. It's just a blue backcloth with a spotlight shining a sun in the middle but it's surprisingly effective and it's good to see the production team thinking of simple ways to ring changes in the presentation.
Also on stage is the world's largest deckchair. Now, Google tells me that Tracey Ullman is 1.66m tall (that's about 5'4'' in old lengths) and the seat of this deckchair is at the height of her waist. Why does the BBC have a deckchair that big in stock? What's it for? Who had it made? And why? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad it exists. Having impractical and bizarre props on hand is exactly the sort of thing the BBC should do but I'd love to know what programme requested the oversized deckchair. A strange Lilliputian version of Summertime Special?