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.


Years and Years Episode 6 review

As the series concludes further into its harsh future than ever, yet worryingly easy to recognise, we have a finale that will be slightly more familiar to those of us who followed Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who than those who haven’t seen it. Not in plot terms but in the way it draws together its themes amidst a cacophonous turn of events and delivers powerful speeches and character moments. In its final quarter of an hour it even looks like Doctor Who as ailing Edith’s memories are uploaded and she summarises what they amount to. RTD has said he wrote this scene many years back and I’m glad he saved it for this rather than using it in other series because it fits the Lyons family perfectly even if family (actual or acquired) has always been one of the central themes of much of his work. Some cynics may scoff at such a simplistic conclusion but I think as they get older or wiser they may come to agree with it. It’s a fitting end to a series that has somehow not clicked with large audiences possibly because it is so difficult to promote. Yet if you like your drama filled with vibrant life and wild ideas yet tethered to the here and now you should really give it a watch. 


Top of the Pops 7 June 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. John Peel: "Hello and welcome to another Top of the Pops. Another half hour in the company of attractive young people wearing extraordinary trousers." David Jensen: "Not only that but everybody on the programme tonight is live except of course for the DJs." John Peel:"Yes, we're miming I'm afraid and not awfully well. Gonna start the programme with Spandau Ballet."
[5] Spandau Ballet: Only When You Leave. Spandau Ballet are dressed in black leather jackets with white trousers and shirts. It's a stark monochrome look. Tony Hadley's gran presumably refuses to pay the extortionate £34 annual cost of a colour TV licence and is watching in black and white (£18). With this in mind there's no point in the band wearing a rainbow of colours. Speaking of clothing, t-shirts with big block printing are becoming a fashion thing. Behind the band can be read "Oui" "WET" and the 1984 classic "RELAX".


Years and Years Episode 5 review

Rather like the neurons that coalesce to allow Bethany’s somewhat frightening augmentation into the entire Internet and its hinted beyond, this episode draws together storylines with a masterful touch. While it may appear low key compared to what’s gone before it contains some of the most intriguing scenes and pulls together when Bethany discovers her father’s worst deed yet at the end. I had been wondering if the stories of the Lyons would or even should collide directly with Vivienne Rook; till now save for Rosie’s brief interaction with her at a hustings they’ve remained separate. Yet here in a scene that plays out all sorts of potential directions, Vivienne meets Stephen who has now accepted a job in dodgy mate Woody’s property outfit. It’s a tense meeting alright yet with a tiny sign of weariness, even fear from Vivienne at the idea she might sail away from everything, “They would have me killed” she says in a tinier voice than we’re used to. 


Top of the Pops 17 May 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Simon Bates: "Hello. Thursday night on BBC 1 welcome to Top of the Pops with two number ones, a future one and a present one, as well as two great new videos." Peter Powell: "Also on the show we've got Hazel Dean, we've got Ultravox, and for starters we've got Break Machine and Break! Dance! Party! Here it is!"

[16] Break Machine: Break Dance Party. Break Machine are turned out in the height of 1984 fashion; black polyester tracksuits splattered with yellow, red, and blue geometric shapes, and matching yellow headbands. The patterns on the tracksuits make Break Machine look like real world versions of the 1986 Top of the Pops title sequence when the theme tune changed to The Wizard by Paul Hardcastle. I'm always interested in the lengths Top of the Pops will go to hide even the most trivial production mechanics. When the lead singer wants to show off his break dancing skilz he hands the microphone to another member of the band. This is done while the camera is pointing at the third member of Break Machine to avoid even the slightest breech in the illusion that Top of the Pops is broadcast from some mythical endless dance party rather than anything so mundane as a television studio in W12. Likewise, towards the end of the song the lead singer sidles up to the edge of the screen and hands the microphone off to an audience cheerleader so that he can windmill away until the music stops. At the same time the second member of Break Machine dances to the back of the stage and quickly bends down to pick up a cloth so that he can do what I believe is called the-spinney-hands-thing. It's all so carefully choreographed so that it's easy to miss.


Years and Years Episode 4 review

This series is sort of like the news in that whenever you think you’ve seen the worst thing that can happen to people something even more horrific turns up. So it is with episode 4 which has a noticeably heavierm desperate tone from the start and goes on to present two key developments. For now at least the leering presence of Vivienne Rook becomes more shadowy as we focus on Stephen’s affair and Daniel’s attempts to get Viktor home and safe. Its fair to say that these are things that are never going to end well for the characters.


X Men Dark Phoenix review

Supposedly the last X Men film for a while, Dark Phoenix can’t quite muster the physical or emotional heft of Avengers Endgame but is a pacey piece of work that is better than the messy Apocalypse by a considerable distance and definitely not the dud some critics have made it out to be. On the other hand it’s no Days of Future Past either. If a certain feel of déjà vu does creep in from time to time its mostly offset by some gymnastic set pieces and a sense of purpose that, rather like its antagonists, will not be stopped by anything. In attempting to tie together the myriad of loose ends and contradictions littering the franchise however it actually makes matters even more complicated!

Spoilers past this point


Britain's Got Talent Final 2019 review

The more agreeable of Simon Cowell’s twin headed ITV behemoth is guaranteed to deliver on entertainment value. This year’s competition continued the trend of including both more professional performers and more non British talent moving further from the concept of homespun acts cooked up in someone’s living room. The appeal of the show lies partly in its instant rewards with the live shows running across just a week rather than the drawn out X Factor routine. Even the prize- £250,000 and a slot on the Royal Variety Performance is done and dusted well before the following series whereas X Factor victors have to wait a year by which time interest has palled. What appeals to the voting audience is someone’s story which explains why 89 year old Chelsea pensioner Colin Thackery triumphed with 25% of the final’s votes over slicker, riskier and more entertaining acts in this year’s finale. 
Ant and Dec missed the wardrobe memo


Years and Years Episodes 2 and 3 reviews

The tone of this series may appear bleak- and certainly this episode’s main developments are that- yet the spark of humanity shines through. Set in the year after the nuclear explosion that ended the first episode it initially shows the Lyons getting on with life despite what happened. Yet peppered throughout are signs of a nastier, uglier society that proves to be the perfect platform for the political rise of Vivienne Rook. Emma Thomson makes great work of the role, the character’s fake sincerity and ability to play to the lowest common denominator is a trait we’ve seen from many a politician. It’s authentic but also a bit worrying how easily swayed crowds of people are. Recent events have clearly inspired her creation- there’s a whiff of Farage and even Trump about her notably when her lack of knowledge about tariffs is exposed at the hustings for a local election. Yet she bounces back with another of the series’ future tech ideas- and who knows the Blink as it’s called may well be in development today.


Top of the Pops 10 May 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. David Jensen: "Well hi there and welcome again to Top of the Pops. Hey! Long time no see." John Peel: "Yes it's been a long time since we last did the programme. Fact there's been a lot of changes. These days he's John Peel and I'm Kid Jensen." David Jensen: "And this is Belle and here's The Devotions."
[12] Belle & The Devotions: Love Games. John Peel is right, it's been nine weeks since the pair last presented Top of the Pops, 01/03/1984. They were scheduled to present the 05/04/1984 show which was sacrificed to resolve the scene shifters strike. The Top of the Pops presenters schedule like the Mayan calendar cannot be easily altered and once Peel and Jensen lost their April slot they just had to wait for the next epoch to roll round. David Jensen kept the wolf from the door with a Radio 4 documentary. Soundings, in which he probed the morals of young church goers to see if they are "different from the public statements of the churches they attend." Fascinating, please tell me more at 6.15pm on 29th April 1984. (John- Or; look there’s some wet paint drying right over there) What was John Peel doing during this nine week lost weekend? The best he could look forwards to was a Roundtable in the Radio 1 Roadshow caravan at Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds. Part of the Radio 1 in East Anglia season in which a bevy of DJs looked east and travelled round Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and wherever Bury St Edmonds is; in the second week of March*.
Belle & The Devotions are fresh from their triumphant seventh place victory in groovy metropolitan wind-swept Luxembourg. Sweden won with a song called Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley. Belle & The Devotions placed lower than a band from Denmark called Hot Eyes which sounds like a medical complaint.(John btw it came seventh in the Eurovision Song Contest and this was seen as a disappointment. Cripes! We'd love a seventh place finish now!)


Rocketman review

How to take the career of one of pop’s most flamboyant performers and bottle it in a format that will fit in a two hour movie is no small feat. Well, Dexter Fletcher’s done it. His dazzling, exciting take on the legend that is Elton John is such a good film that it left me with the idea of seeing it again. And that doesn’t happen often. Eschewing a year by year career trajectory (there are great leaps, ardent fans might find them too great) or even musical continuity (the story stops in 1983 but there are songs from beyond then) Fletcher and writer Lee Hall instead make magic. They use the basic facts, the essence of the story and fashion what early promotion called “a true fantasy”. Course, if you don’t actually like Elton’s music this is perhaps not the film for you but you still might be surprised. For those of us who do those songs are deployed with precision – and often in surprising ways- to support the narrative. It definitely takes more chances than Bohemian Rhapsody -with which it is inveitably going to be compared- and they pay off in a big way.


Ad Break #12 Aspirational Ads

Amstel- Bringing people together? 
These days an increasing number of companies like to be seen as being on the right side of issues that are consuming public interest so adverts are becoming more idealistic and aspirational. Like for example why can’t we bring more people together in this divided world? If that sounds an unlikely ambition for a drink, then the link between bridges and beer is even more tenuous but Amstel’s latest advert features no less an icon than Jeff Bridges to convince us otherwise. Appropriately enough he portrays a bridge! 


Years and Years Episode 1 review

It takes a bold writer to pen a tale that starts right now (with a voiceover adding headlines from the day it was broadcast!) then unfurls into the near future and that’s at the kernel of Russell T Davies’ new drama. It seems an audacious idea simply because things never tend to roll out the way sci-fi authors say they will. Being one of the best tv writers though, RTD skims neatly over too many specifics taking the tone of modern British society and presenting increasingly extreme versions of it. Make no mistake this is a sci-fi series alright but not the type you might expect from someone who spent five years at the helm of Doctor Who. The nearest neighbour is probably Humans. What it does take from all of RTD’s previous work is the focus on families which allows an across the board look at how different generations respond to events. And what events these are. From the moment outspoken entrepreneur Vivienne Rook (an acidic Emma Thompson) utters the f-word on Question Time we are hooked. Lets face it sooner or later someone will actually do that. Rook’s rise to public attention is marbled throughout the episode even though she only appears on tv footage. Rook becomes, by a turn of events shown over the next five years, the symbol of what is wrong with the world today. Her knee jerk response to a question about the Middle East elicits controversy but also support. By the end she’s forming her own political party the wrily titled Four Star Party, the moniker based on the standard way the press report a swear word!


Top of the Pops 3 May 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Steve Wright: "Good evening!! Welcome to another Top of the Pops with me and 'im!!" Mike Read: "That's right. We're going to kick off tonight with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. This is a great track, Locomotion." 
[6] O.M.D. :Locomotion. Michael Hurll is contractually obliged to bring back Steve Wright for the second of his six appearances this year. I've got no idea what the criteria are for using Radio 1 DJs on Top of the Pops. A quick glimpse at the schedules for week beginning Monday 30th April 1984 suggests the only name missing from the regular weekday roster is Adrian John.
He presented the antisocial 6am to whatever-time-the-big-name-breakfast-show-host-can-be-bothered-to-get-into-the-studio show; in 1984 this was Mike Read (7am) but sometimes the start of the breakfast show drifted back to 8am. Adrian John appears to have held a death grip on this slot and hosted it more or less constantly from 1982 to 1993 before he packed it in to spend more time with his pillow.
Presumably the only thing stopping Adrian John from hosting Top of the Pops was the logistics of getting up stupidly early in the morning the next day. He does crop up on a few editions (normally the big party ones hosted by multiple DJs), watch out for the pale exhausted bloke propping his eyes open with matchsticks. Adrian John is not to be confused with Adrian Juste who hosted a weekly Sunday radio show, and is absent from Top of the Pops because he's terrible.Meanwhile, here's O.M.D. Andy McCluskey has worked out a Flick Colby-esque literal interpretation of the lyrics. How many can you spot? There's a sliding hand gesture for "walk down the sidewalk," a scurrying motion for "run down the boardwalk," wobbly hand wave for "sail across the seaways," and a brilliantly corny point-into-the-camera for "can't say no [POINTS] to you."


Primeval - New World

This Canadian produced series takes the premise of its UK predecessor and is able to make use of the more interesting locations of North America. Some things have not changed- the dinosaurs mostly pop up one a time and there are plenty of scares and near misses. The gore quotient is slightly higher and the language more ripe as this is aimed at a wider audience, not just a family one like the original was. To bridge the gap Connor Temple pops up in the opening and final episodes though in the first one he makes only oblique references as to why he is there which probably baffled most of the audience. Instead of having government involvement behind the operation the series initially portrays billionaire  software developer Evan Cross as pursuing a personal fascination with the anomalies. A handy flashback sequence in the opener tells us his wife died at the claws of a visiting dinosaur and this is what spurs him on. 


Top of the Pops 26 Apr 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Janice Long: "Hello. Welcome to Top of the Pops. Isn't it hot? We've got some great stuff tonight. Duran Duran and Echo and the Bunnymen. Simon Bates: "And what's more we're live from Studio 6 at Television Centre and to prove it here's Sandie Shaw with The Smiths and Hand In Glove."

[36] Sandie Shaw & The Smiths: Hand In Glove. The Smiths? What, as in Morrissey and Johnny Marr? Apparently yes. Who'd have thunk it? Apparently the pair approached Sandie Shaw as fans and after some persuasion here she is covering The Smiths' first single live on Top of the Pops. With some bonus writhing on the floor, for reasons that never become clear. The band are barefoot because that's how Sandie Shaw used to perform in the sixties. Well, Marr and Andy Rourke are barefoot. I'm going to take it on trust that the drummer is also is unshod. Meanwhile, Morrissey gets the night off.

Simon Bates is bursting with the news that tonight's show is live and coming from studio TC6. He can't believe it when Janice Long misses this vital information out from her introduction. All she wants to do is talk about how warm the weather has been over Easter 1984. Quite how Sandy Shaw appearing with The Smiths proves that Top of the Pops is live is anyone's guess.


Mortal Engines review

This high octane adaptation of Philip Reeve’s novel ticks a lot of cinematic boxes so it is puzzling as to why it ended up faring so poorly. Its been called a “steampunk Star Wars” (and worse) but Mortal Engines is not the dud its been made out to be, at least as far as I’m concerned. It looks fantastic, it provides plenty of thrills and spills and the setting is an interesting one. Yet somehow the film didn’t chime with the public which is a shame as my feeling at the end of it is that I’d have liked to see a sequel. Certainly this depiction of a dystopian world in the aftermath of a terrible `Sixty Minute` war avoids the usual clichés instead depicting what remains of the city of London. This version of the city though runs along on huge wheels swallowing up smaller wheeled towns like a predator, salvaging what it can and integrating the people into its own. Where it not written long before the word Brexit was invented you could mistake it for some sort of allegory about the issue though it certainly has something to say about our capital city. I’m sure the novel probably goes further in detailing the parallels because losing sovereignty of a city or even ideas is very much what the story is about. That this version of London is depicted as a ravenous beast that can never get enough resources from smaller towns to keep it moving certainly rings a bell! Someone does actually declare “we should never have entered Europe” when fuel is running low so perhaps this an early version of the Brexit debate (the story was published in 2001) but turned on its head. Here it’s not Europe that’s the problem – it’s London.


The Spoiler Alert Tag

This has been a tricky week for those of us who prefer not to know important plot developments before they are showing in a film or tv series. We’ve had Avengers Endgame, a crucial Game of Thrones episode and the latest twists in Line of Duty. It is actually more difficult than you imagine to avoid spoilers because they can pop up in the most unexpected ways. You might avoid entertainment sites, social media and work conversations only to overhear someone walking past say “I thought Milo’s death from the top of the tower was shocking..” and there you go. You’ve followed Milo’s plot for six years, through highs and lows and now you know he falls off the tower. Can you even watch the next episode of Flugelhorn Warriors the same way? It’s all over. Aaaaarrrghhhh.


Avengers Endgame review

The pre- release hype for Avengers Endgame has been quite intense and avoiding spoilers even more so. It is hard to recall a superhero film that has such a weight of expectation sitting on its shoulders not to mention multiple suggestions as to just how that cliffhanger at the end of Infinity War might be resolved.  Like a lot of you I re-watched that movie a few days back but did not predict what happens. Of course such situations can end up meaning people are disappointed only because they’ve built up a scenario on their head. So does it live up to all the heady anticipation? Well let’s see shall we, as ever, after the spoiler warning…


Top of the Pops 19 Apr 1984

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Singers: "Freeeee, Nelson Mandela. Freeeee. Freeeee. Free, free, free Nelson Mandeeeeelaa." Peter Powell: "Hi and welcome to a live transmission of Top of the Pops! It's absolutely packed! We've got Queen and also Thompson Twins!" Gary Davies: "We've got Blancmange and err [waves hand] we've got Nick Kershaw. We've got great music. Stick around. First though, to get us under way, the err Special AKA."

Top of the Pops time slip: Last time on BBC4 it was 29th March. Suddenly it's 19th April. What happened? The strike by Scenic Services workers came to a head on 4th April after 12 weeks of disruption. The BBC's policy had been to keep live programmes going and accept disruption to recorded ones, which might account for the escalation of live editions of Top of the Pops since the move to the smaller emergency strike studio; four out of six shows This policy changed at the start of April when striking workers were sacked and staff at Television Centre walked out in sympathy. BBC1 went off the air for 24 hours on Thursday 5th April but the union did not have the resources for a prolonged strike and the dispute came quickly to an end. BBC4 skipped Top of the Pops' triumphant return to its ancestral seat (studio TC8) for more prosaic reasons (D*v* L** Tr*v*s) and suddenly it's Maundy Thursday 1984.


Ad Break#11 Acceptable in the Seventies

Three odd Seventies ad campaigns. 
 “I’m a Gnu
Typhoo. Gnu. It’s such an obvious rhyme when you think about it. This is the way people thought in the 70s.  Launched in 1903 and named after the Chinese word for `Doctor`, Typhoo always had a witty way with slogans and as far as  can be ascertained the company chose to use a Gnu simply because it rhymed with their distinctive moniker. The series of ads were animated and featured a very civilised Gnu extolling the worthiness of the product. The song accompanying them was an adaptation of a ditty composed by Flanders and Swan, a comedy duo popular in the 1950s and 60s.