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?


Ad Break#14- Confusion, Ketchup and being Perf

Confused.com – Get past the confusion? 
Well I’m confused. The latest in a long campaign by Confused.com has the usual ubiquitous driver (played by Timothy Murphy) stuck behind a large vehicle dubbed 2019- The Year of Confusion. Yet the tone has altered from previous ads which understandably focussed on the dazzling amount of offers and products about. This time we are firmly in political territory as the confusion includes “votes about votes about votes” (a clear reference to the Commons votes earlier this year on different forms of Brexit), the circus being in town (Trump) and “another delivery”. The latter re- imagines Amazon’s famous symbol as a sort of monster. Quite how a comparisons website can get us past such issues is a mystery. I’m sure if they could MPs might have consulted them! 


Benjamin review

From his early days sarcastically undercutting pretentious pop stars Simon Amstell has trod a fine line between being an outsider and becoming exactly the sort of person he’s cynical about. And he’s aware of it as well. Benjamin marks both his big screen writing and directing debut and is set in a world he clearly knows well enough to poke fun at. It concerns a filmmaker concerned about his new project as it nears release but unlike his character, Amstell has made a well rounded, small scale movie that even those outside the milieu in which its set will appreciate.


Top of the Pops 2 Aug 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Simon Bates: "Welcome to Top of the Pops. We have a world exclusive on the new George Michael video coming up later." Gary Davies: "And we've got lots of other great music as well like Prince, Tina Turner, the Kane Gang, but first to get us underway here's Black Lace. Agadoo."

[19] Black Lace: Agadoo. So soon? I knew it had to be coming but these repeats have only been running since 2011. I hoped I would have more time to prepare.
Black Lace, the very name sends a chill up the spine. Hang on. I've used that "the very name" line from The Daemons before. *checks card index* Yes, 13/04/1983. I was going on about Black Lace's other terrible song Superman. And on that occasion I misquoted the line as "the very name sends a shiver up the spine." Oh the shame. The shame. I've done Doctor Who wrong. I'll never be allowed in The Tavern again. *tears up Anti-Dalek Force membership card and ceremonially burns pile of Top, Faze, and This Way Up*.

This is Black Lace's third song to make Top of the Pops after the terrible Superman, and the terrible, terrible Mary Ann, the UK's Eurovision 1979 entry (7th place).

In total Black Lace made nine appearances on Top of the Pops. Two for Mary Ann, don't ask how when the song didn't even break into the Top 40. Superman also got two performances as will their post-Agadoo song Do The Conga. Agadoo itself will clock up three appearances; two on regular editions and one on the review of 1984. For those of you keeping count this was performance number five of nine. (John- Surely there was a review back then that just said: Agadon’t)


Blinded by the Light review

The idea of an Asian teenager in the Eighties taking inspiration from Bruce Springsteen sounds unlikely at first but not only is this film inspired by a true story but if you look at the Boss’s lyrics they have a universal appeal. Based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s book `Greetings from Bury Park`,it tells the story of a British teenager of Pakistani descent whose outlook is transformed when he hears Springsteen’s music and lyrics for the first time. Conveyed via a striking sequence in the film it is the words in particular that galvanise Javed into rebelling against his strict family to become his own person whoever that may be. If this sounds like a standard rites of passage movie the result is much more than that. Gurinder Chadha’s film niftily staples Javed’s awakening to the political times in which he lives. It’s as feelgood a movie as the posters suggests though in a down to earth manner where Javed’s aspirations start and end with getting out of Luton, getting a girl and making some money. These may seem limited ambitions but in a family hamstrung both by tradition and the economic state of the country plus a swathe of racism swirling around not as easy as it might sound. 


Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition

Today I did something different with my lunchtime and checked out the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition at Liverpool’s World Museum which is actually only a short walk from where I work. Open since May and running till 1 September the exhibition features dozens of images from The Royal Observatory Greenwich's competition which has been running for ten years now with a prize of £10,000 for the overall winner. The exhibition shows the winners, runners up and several commended entries in each of the ten categories. Judging from what I saw today the standard is incredibly high with dazzling photographs that display incredible detail or camera skills. 


Top of the Pops 19 July 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Richard Skinner: "Hello and welcome to Top of the Pops where the music may be recorded but the stars are all here live and here in person." Peter Powell: "On the stage you're going to see Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Divine, Billy Idol, Blancmange, but for starters The Mighty Wah! and Come Back!"

[28] The Mighty Wah!: Come Back. The Mighty Wah! finally make it on to BBC4. Their previous song Story Of The Blues got all of 90 seconds airtime on the repeat of the 03/02/1984 edition. The full performance went unrepeated as it featured on an edition blocked by the estate of Mike Smith [06/01/1983]. Of course, on that show the band appeared as Wah! Lead singer Pete Wylie has got through more band names than Spinal Tap; Wikipedia lists Wah!, Wah! Heat, Shambeko! Say Wah!, JF Wah!, The Mighty Wah! and Wah! The Mongrel. It's entirely possible Pete Wylie isn't taking seriously this whole being a pop star thing. Regardless of name, The Mighty Wah! are the ideal band for Peter Powell. They've even got his preferred punctuation built into their name.


How Not To Hurdle!

It’s the summer and the season of athletics, the sport people can’t seem to get worked up about however enthusiastically we are told we should. As it goes my most embarrassing public moment occurred on an athletics track many, many years ago. It’s not what you’re thinking- and no, it wasn’t that either. Once upon a time I found myself in the school sports day. This in itself was something of a miracle, maybe everyone else was on holiday or something. The event was held on the university’s playing fields which had an actual stand on one side meaning potentially hundreds of people might be there. Sports Day in fact was very well attended as it was held the same weekend as Founder’s Day. Yes, it was that sort of school that even had us in at the weekend (ok only once a year) though we didn’t have a school swan as you’ll know if you’re a regular reader. Anyhow I was in the sprint relay team which was fine because I could sprint 100 metres and that was basically it, I was out of energy by then. Then, on the actual day, in the actual changing room I was informed that due to some detail I can’t recall now I was also running in the 100m hurdles. OMFG!!!
Hurdles. What is the actual point???!!!


Top of the Pops 12 July 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Tommy Vance: "Hi there, welcome to Top of the Pops. We've got loads of bands in the studio tonight. Haven't we John?" John Peel: "We certainly have and we're going to start the show with Shakatak and my mate Bill Sharpe wearing yet another truly hideous shirt."

[33] Shakatak: Down On The Street. Yes that shirt's pretty vile but it's only on the fringe of a nasty head on collision between unremarkable jazz funk, terrible fashion, and the eighties in general. The lead singer comes off worst. Big hair, padded shoulders, giant earrings... and that was just the teachers! No, sorry, that's not the right punchline. Just how close was the relationship between John Peel and "his old mate" Bill Sharpe? Shakatak appeared on Top of the Pops 9 times between 1982 and 1984, and three of those shows were hosted by John Peel. A Peel Factor of 33%. Is that statistically significant? I don't know. There's never a statistician around when you need one. 
Shakatak- I don't know what you mean about the hair.


Review Round Up- Midsomer Murders, The Kid, How to be an ex Prime Minister

The Midsomer Murders episode `Talking to the Dead` was recently shown on ITV3 as part of that channel’s seemingly endless trawl through the ITV detective archive and what a splendid episode it is. It takes a series of incidents that could easily nestle into a horror film and runs them past the viewer who, if you go with it, will enjoy it tremendously. Its not social commentary we might be familiar with but it taps into rural superstitions and folklore. First shown in 2009, events are vividly realised by director Sarah Hellings’ use of shots of creaking trees at every opportunity and a pale palette that brings out the autumnal. Its the time of year when all Midsomer Murders should really be made and the perfect setting for a tale of a supposedly haunted woods and a pile up of several bodies announced in gruesome style. One of the signatures of the series used to be (they’ve cut back on this more recently) that it ventured as near as it could to fantasy before explaining the melodrama in practical terms. This episode does is as well as any.


The Best Song about the Moon

Of course there are many, many songs that reference the Moon but most of them are not actually about the Moon at all. The one that springs to mind right away is the classic `Fly Me To The Moon`, a misleading title if ever there was one as Frankie is not instructing a pilot to actually carry out that task rather he is simply using it as a metaphor. His demeanour might have been far less cool had someone actually attempted to fly him to the Moon!  There’s old grumpy chops Van Morrison’s assertion that it’s a wonderful night for a `Moondance` but it is just too difficult to imagine him dancing. `The Whole of the Moon`, The Waterboys’ epic tribute to Prince takes its name from one of many comparisons writer Mike Scott makes between himself and the Purple one- “I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the Moon”. And we have to mention `Dark Side of the Moon`, the best selling Pink Floy opus yet this once again uses the Moon as a symbol in a work about fulfilment or sanity (or otherwise). On the other hand the much less epic `Sleeping Satellite` sung by Tasmin Archer is actually about the Moon and not just that, it’s about the Apollo missions. Even more impressively it laments the ending of the missions and expresses the hope that they will one day resume. That’s quite an achievement for a chart topping single. 


Moonbase 3 Episodes 4 - 6

Eloquently written and elegantly presented, `Outsiders` really taps into the possibilities that surely inspired the creation of the series. So far we’ve had characters defined by either their strengths or weaknesses yet lacking a certain human touch. There’s been little levity or sense of what these people really think. John Brason- who also wrote the strong episode `Behomoth` - puts this to rights with an effective and sometimes affecting narrative centred around a couple of researchers who prove to be the outsiders of the title. John Hallam plays Peter Conway, already seen in earlier episodes whose ground breaking creation of a `foam metal` reaches a successful conclusion. We’ve already seen how he enjoyed spreading rumours of a moon beast a couple of episodes back and here he is a distant, thoughtful soul whose scientific achievements seem increasingly less important to him. In fact the very idea of scientific progress seems to disappoint him. He yearns for a simpler life and in one telling scene simply looks through the base’s much in demand telescope just to look. He wants a truth that is deeper and wider than just scientific truth. John Hallam shows this with a perfectly pitched performance looking so naturalistic it shows up some of his cast mates who are still in the irritated mode we’ve seen thus far.


Moonbase 3 Episodes 1 - 3

As if masterminding the successful 1970-74 period of Doctor Who was not enough, in 1973 Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts also devised a more serious sci- fi show Moonbase 3. Instead of adventures and monsters, this series was intended to take a different tack heading into the future. It certainly depicts a more believable scenario than ITV’s Space 1999 eschewing fantasy for a more straight laced depiction of life in an isolated environment. It’s a premise you could run with now, probably more successfully, however back then this series’ initial six episodes were its only ones. Somehow it never took off with viewers in 1973 who given the pedigree involved were probably expecting aliens and space plagues. Even Terrance Dicks later acknowledged they “overdid the grimness and forgot about the sense of wonder that science fiction is all about.” Yet when you watch it, while the pace is certainly slow there is lots going on and out of the six episodes at least three are good enough to be considered alongside the best of UK 1970s telefantasy shows.


Ad Break#13 Food freedom, Unlimited everything and chicken town

Deliveroo- “Food freedom”
One noticeable trend in the past couple of years has been the increase in adverts for online services showing on mainstream television. You wouldn’t necessarily think people who buy lots online would even be watching scheduled tv but presumably they are. Till recently, Deliveroo have been mainly visible in the form of daring bikers who weave though the tiniest possible gap between pedestrians in an attempt to deliver pizza while its still vaguely warm. This year though has seen them launch their global Food Freedom campaign. Intended to show the flexibility that comes from using the company, the two ads seen in the UK so far are from the Wieden+Kennedy London company. The promotional material says "Nothing really beats tucking into a burger in your joggers in front of the TV.  Using a hyperbolic lens, we placed a bunch of simple takeaway truths at the heart of the campaign, showing that, with the ease of Deliveroo, nothing can get in the way of your food”.   Emily Kraftman, Deliveroo’s UK and Ireland marketing director, added:  "Life is too short for disappointing takeaways. At its core, our new campaign is telling people Deliveroo can give you the freedom to have what you want, when you want it, where you want it.". 


Freddie Jones 1927 - 2019

An actor who combined theatrical extravagance with television discipline Freddie Jones always made an impact whatever the size of the role. His career is packed with memorable performances on tv, stage and film. For me his signature role was as Sir George Uproar in the brilliant series The Ghosts of Motley Hall, ostensibly a children’s show but courtesy of writer Richard Carpenter full of three dimensional characters. His role required a performance both larger than life yet sprinkled with emotion. For many though he is best known for his stint in Emmerdale from 2005-19, an achievement indeed for an actor to reach his public pinnacle in his eighties, wider recognition he thoroughly deserved. He brought the same skills to the part of Sandy as he always did earning widespread praise for his performances. 



Inspired by the likes of Silent Running, Moon is a film that relies on a narrative that won’t lead where you expect while also having exquisitely rendered special effects. The debut feature from Duncan Jones who both wrote and directed it, the 90 minute movie comes across in the manner of a serious indie offering despite the surroundings. Instead of a dystopian future we’re in the midst of what seems a boom as it has been discovered that helium 3 is abundant on the Moon and can generate enough fuel to keep things ticking back on Earth. At first you’re wondering why, if this is such an important resource, it’s been left in the hands of a single man on a three year contract. Won’t he go a little crazy?


Top of the Pops 28 June 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Steve Wright: "Welcome!! To another exciting!! Enthralling!! Top of the Pops!!" Andy Peebles:"Yes, pleased to meet you. Let's get under way. Number 36 on the chart this week. They're from Scotland. They're the Bluebells. This is Young At Heart."

[36] The Bluebells: Young At Heart. Steve Wright is back for the third of his six appearances in 1984. For the rest of the year he is mostly teamed with Andy Peebles, with the exception of one show in December when he'll be paired with Peter Powell. Steve Wright is carrying a tennis racquet because he's well nutty! And also because it's the start of Wimbledon fortnight. It will take nine years for Young At Heart to reach number 1 on the back of a 1993 Volkswagen commercial. Astonishingly this isn't the longest gap between a song being released and topping the charts. That honour goes to Tony Christie who released (Is This the Way to) Amarillo in 1971 and saw it get to number 1 in 2005, 34 years later. This is The Bluebells second appearance on Top of the Pops. They performed I'm Falling back in April, 19/04/1984. On that occasion there were only three Bluebells. Now there are five. Two of them must have missed the train down to London in April.


Spider- Man Far From Home review

A while into this second film in Spider-Man’s third iteration in the past twenty years there is a sense of déjà vu. Despite the refreshing mixture of school vacation trip bonhomie mingled with post Endgame angst, when it comes to the new threat it seems rather over familiar, clichéd even. Could it be that Marvel has finally run aground? Was Thanos so powerful that those who follow him will struggle to impress?
Spoilers after this point.


Don't forget about Apollo 10

The lesser known Apollo 10.
This month is the fiftieth anniversary of the first Moon landing an event now so familiar that it has probably lost much of it’s sense of achievement. Nowadays people are more interested in trying to prove it was somehow faked than being  impressed that it happened which doesn’t say much for advancement in other areas of life. I don’t really recall much about it except that there was a buzz of excitement and families did huddle together watching grainy tv footage as events unfurled. When you’re a child it is hard to understand the technology and power of sending someone to the Moon, in fact I’d only just put aside the notion that the Moon was actually a giant luminous face in the sky. By 1969 I was probably formulating the idea that it was inhabited by alien beings of some sort. When Neil Armstrong’s boots touched the lunar ground those aliens had just stayed hidden. 


Top of the Pops 14 June 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Peter Powell: "Hello! Welcome to another edition of Top of the Pops!" Mike Read: "And we have a group who [indecipherable] their very first appearance on British television. They have been number one in Holland and now they're.. doing... pretty well over here. This is Art Company and Susanna."
[20] The Art Company: Susanna. The Top of the Pops audience are really into this song. I don't think I've ever heard such an enthusiastic response. There are whoops and cheers on almost every line and the crowd go crazy for the accordion solo. It's not healthy for them to get this excited. The crowd know all the call and response bits. They really love whatever the lead singer does when he walks out of shot to do something hilarious with the accordion player. (This is why we have camera rehearsals, people. There is no point in doing funny business if the camera operators don't know it's going to happen). Frankly it's all rather odd. My memories of 1984 can be hazy but surely I should remember The Art Company? They're huge, and this feels like not remembering Ghostbusters or Fingal the Hampster (for those of you old enough to remember 1984 and the way the whole country seemed to go mad for Fingal's catchphrase, and constantly doing the happy banana dance). (John- Weirdly I can't recall this song either and I knew everything in the charts in 1984)
The mystery is solved by listening to the original song on Youtube. It's not my first guess, which was that The Art Company paid someone to stand off camera and provoke the crowd with gestures. It's also fortunately not my second guess, which is that my memory has fractured and all of reality is up for grabs. No, The Art Company have just added the  audience reaction as part of the single. Which is cheating.