Top of the Pops 27 November 1986


Scrutinised by Chris Arnsby. Gary Davies: “Hey! How ya doin'? Welcome to another Top of the Pops. In an action packed programmed tonight we have Five Star, we've got Nick Kamen, Roger Whittaker and Des O'Connor, but first we start off with those warriors of the wasteland. Here's . Frankie. Goes. To. Hollywood.”

[19] Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Warriors (of the Wasteland). An uncharacteristically surly performance. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, like Madness, are one of those bands who seemed to value appearing on Top of the Pops and worked to make each performance different. Remember the days of 1984 and Two Tribes endless stint at Number 1; Holly Johnson dressed as Norman Wisdom (for some reason); giving the audience Frankie flags to wave; Paul Rutherford probably unwisely waving around a prop gun; giving the audience flowers to wave; and, of course, the live performance on 09/08/1986 when Holly Johnson steps off the stage walks through the audience. And then there's this one. Holly Johnson lounges at the front of the stage with his hands in his suit pockets, as if he's auditioning to replace Neil Tennant in the Pet Shop Boys. Everyone else is dressed in black leather and guitarist Brian Nash stares down the camera as if he's auditioning for The Stranglers. It's certainly different, but not good different. Only drummer Ped Gill and Paul Rutherford look like they want to be there; and Rutherford's shaved off his moustache which is like the ravens leaving the Tower of London.



Spiderman- No Way Home review


Waiting for the cinema to open at the early hour of nine forty, a caterpillar of school kids starts to emerge at the top of the escalators. There must be at least a year group here and guess what film they’d come to view on this most unlikely of school trips? The most we ever got to go to was a piece of waste ground to analyse whatever flora and fauna we could discover there, clearly educational outings have become far more sophisticated. It was interesting to see though that once this film began they settled down and were just as captivated as the rest of us. This was also the first film I’ve been to where I had to wear a face mask all the way through courtesy of the latest pandemic rules. Plus the fact that none of the kids were wearing them. If you’re thinking I’m playing for time to avoid spoilers in this first paragraph you’d be exactly right…

A whole web of spoilers after the break...



Top of the Pops 20 November 1986


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. John Peel: “Hi there, and welcome to the one thousand, one hundred and eighty eighth edition of Top of the Pops.” Janice Long: “A man filled with facts. Tonight on the show we've got glam demi-gods Boni Jovi.” John Peel: “We're gonna start though with Europe.” 

[5] Europe: The Final Countdown. Europe would like it to be generally known that they are a great bunch of crazy pop mates. Check out their grinning, and pointing, and lots of microphone stand work by lead singer Joey Tempest; not his real name, his real name is James Tempest. A round of applause also for the old Status Quo standby of putting an arm round your bandmates' shoulders, for a manly hug. Plus, there's enough headbanging to dislodge even the most stubborn of nits. They are indeed, as Janice Long describes them, “a big bunch of Swedes.” Must be the leather trousers.  Patrick Moore would also just like to have a quick word and point out that if your trip to Venus has “so many light years to go,” you're heading the wrong way and need to turn around when it's safe.


Ad Break- Dancing on the Moon


You’ll probably have seen this Chanel No.5 advert featuring a couple dancing interpretively across the vistas of a golden lunar surface recently as it seems to have been re – released. Originally launched in October 2020 its presumably been pressed into action again because the perfume is one hundred years old this year. Or perhaps because it is really good!



Top of the Pops 13 November 1986


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Mike Smith: “A busy night tonight. We've got to cram it all. We've got Kim Wilde in the studio, Spandau Ballet are here, and on platform three waiting for a train [makes train noises] …  Spandau and Kim Wilde coming later. Here's Madness.” 

[20] Madness: Waiting For The Ghost Train. I'm not sure what happened to Mike Smith's introduction. It sounds like a rare fluff from one of the more polished hosts. The second half of the sentence is in voice over only and feels redundant. Did someone remind him he hadn't said the name of the group? Or, was Smith about to accidentally introduce Madness as Spandau Ballet before he made a last second correction?


Ghostbusters Afterlife review


I’m in two minds about this sequel to the beloved Eighties classic which is appropriate as it is really two films. On the one hand it’s trying to revive the franchise for a new generation, on the other it’s a nostalgic trip for a previous one. When these balance the film is breezy and enjoyable, when they don’t it’s less successful. In the end I suppose it depends on your perspective but I feel this film could be sharper, less shackled to the past and also funnier. The ingredients are there but it’s just a little under baked. I felt the promise of the trailer but somehow the full film doesn't live up to that standard even though it has its moments.


Spooky spoilers sighted…



Top of the Pops 6 November 1986


Presented by Chris Arsnby. Steve Wright: “Hello, good evening, and welcome to another exciting Top of the Pops!!” Peter Powell: “Thank you Steve! Right for starters here's hit fifteen, Bon Jovi!” 

[15] Bon Jovi: Livin' On A Prayer. Bon Jovi take Top of the Pops seriously. Which is a surprise. I would have assumed they were too busy to come to Shepherds Bush but here they are for the second time in two months and having a great time; lots of playing up to the camera; mucking about and grinning and pointing; and Jon Bon Jovi's been working on his Mick Jagger chicken walk. Keyboard player David Bryan is having so much fun he abandons his keyboard and comes to the front of the stage to join in on the guitar held by the one that isn't Richie Sambora... Alec John Such? Unfortunately for David he's largely off camera so his display of bonhomie is overlooked.



Midsomer Murders- A Dying Art / Saints and Sinners

A Dying Art 

Episodes of Midsomer Murders that possessed a macabre turn were becoming less prevalent by 2016 however `A Dying Art` was a definite throwback to those earlier times. The setting of a sculpture park gave director Matt Carter ample opportunity to relish unusual shots around these bizarre modern art installations dotted about a forest. The first murder is particularly well staged with the haunted face of the park’s owner Brandon Monkford appearing through a haze of gold liquid. Later on someone will be pummelled by a very large metal ball and another unfortunate victim will perish and then be propped up alongside a line of coloured dummies.  We are in the orbit of another very rich and disturbed family of the sort that seem to make a habit of moving to Midsomer to be murdered. The Monkfords have enemies aplenty and as Jeff Povey’s script unfurls he manages to frustrate our guessing game by killing off each new suspect!


Top of the Pops DOUBLE BILL! 23 & 30 October 1986


Presented by Chris Arnsby. 23/10/1986 - Gary Davies: “How ya do'in'. Welcome to Top of the Pops. We've got one heck of a programme for you tonight. In the studio we have Cindy Lauper, we also have The Housemartins, on video we have Billy Idol, but first we start with the biggest climber on the chart this week. Don't Get Me Wrong, Here are The Pretenders. 

[14] The Pretenders: Don't Get Me Wrong. I find the cutting between camera angles distracting during this performance. Hilary West is credited as Vision Mixer and because the song has a strong 1, 2 beat (please remember all musical terms are almost certainly wrong) the cuts are all placed on the 1 beat. Effectively what you see on screen is 1- cut to a picture of the drummer, 2,1 -cut to a picture of the bass player, 2, 1- cut to a wide shot of the stage, 2, 1- cut back to the drummer.

The end result is an avalanche of one second cuts. It's a relief when Hilary West holds on shots of Chrissie Hynde for the lyrics before resuming the frantic cutting in the gaps between lines. I know Top of the Pops should be dynamic and exciting but this is too fast*, and it doesn't really work because it's cutting between a series of static shots. The presentation is better during some of the musical breaks when we get some nice moving crane shots.  I realise I'm starting to sound a bit like my nan; “it's too loud”, “why do they have to make the colours so bright?”,”my eyes hurt”, but I promise not to complain about Chrissie Hynde's fringe and talk about how I'd like to give her a haircut.


Eternals review


The latest escapade in Marvel’s ever expanding cinematic Universe is a hard sell in that it introduces not just a new hero and their mates or family but a team of ten and even at over two and a half hours that’s a lot of characters to clock. Inevitably some suffer and there are ingenious devices to ensure that we don’t have to sit there watching ten people talking in one scene. In fact, when all ten of them are together they don’t say much at all, they stand in a well organised line looking majestic and powerful. I wonder if they had a debate about which order they had to stand in. It’s a wonder this film doesn’t tell us because it likes to tell us things though not necessarily the things we need to know.  Like all the Marvel movies, Eternals (not The Eternals btw) has great style  - courtesy of director Chloe Zhao - and some stunning cinematography. However, it takes an age to get going  - from an opening crawl that immediately throws names and chronology at you - and there are moments when the viewer may not feel wholly convinced by what they’re seeing.


Spoilers ahoy from this point…


ABBA - Voyage review


ABBA are back! Back! BACK!! Making even Kate Bush look prolific they’ve just released their first album in decades and people are understandably excited. If they’d just waited another three weeks they could have more accurately described `Voyage` as their first album in exactly forty years. `The Visitors` was released on 30 November 1981 though the last (ahem) Abbactivity was just over a year later in December 1982. The chances of them reforming was a million to one they said but still they have. A couple of new songs for a proposed `tour without actually touring` ballooned into a whole album’s worth and next year you can sort of go and see them performing. Well it’s them but not quite them…



Top of the Pops 16 October 1986


Reviewed by Chris Arsnby. Steve Wright: “Hello!! Good evening!! Welcome to another exciting Top of the Pops!!” Simon Bates: “Easy boy. We've got a new number one. We also have a great video which is so over the top you won't believe. And the Pet Shop Boys to kick off with. Here's Suburbia.” Steve Wright: “Ooh!!”  

[8] Pet Shop Boys: Suburbia. The audience are feisty. Stanley Appel allows their cheers to break into the title sequence and this continues into the first song.

I really like the Pet Shop Boys but they are not the most animated of acts and yet a chorus of excited noises accompanies Neil Tennant's every move. He starts the song facing away from the crowd and is rewarded with whoops simply for turning round. Later, after the first chorus, he moves the microphone stand and you could believe he was turning somersaults on the spot. The downside of all this approval, it starts to break through Neil Tennant's aloof persona. He clearly feels the need to give the crowd more but he's no Jimmy Somerville. What's a Pop Star to do? Awkward fist pumping is the answer, although I wish it wasn't. The Pet Shop Boys have set up their traditional white computer monitor and Stanley Appel (who this week is credited as Producer & Director, how does the BBC's job title system work?) gives it two big close-ups, as if it's the third member of the group. In fact, it gets a close-up before Chris Lowe who occupies himself with playing the keyboard.



Ad Break- The John Lewis Christmas Advert 2021


Launched a week earlier than usual the annual John Lewis advert lands at a time when the future of the retailer has never been less certain. A combination of factors including the pandemic lockdowns and the shift to more online shopping as well as decline of the department store model mean we don’t know how many more John Lewis Xmas adverts there will be. The 2021 one is called `Unexpected Guest` and when I happened to go into the shop this afternoon, unaware of the ad being launched, it was playing on a number of large television sets dotted around the place. It debuted to a wider audience on ITV tonight at 8.15pm. In some ways it is the archetypal John Lewis ad yet as Xmas is all about archetypes and traditions that seems appropriate enough. A spot on choice of song and a lightness of touch means the ad doesn’t appear to try too hard and for me is the best they’ve done for several years.



Top of the Pops 9 October 1986


With Chris Arnsby. Gary Davies: “Hey! How ya doin'. Welcome to Top of the Pops. Also welcome to Top of the Pops for the very first time to Simon Mayo.” Simon Mayo: “Thank you Gary. Great show coming up including Howard Jones and Julian Cope in the studio, that Paul Simon video, and a new number one.” Gary Davies: “Yeah. Loads of good stuff, but first we have to learn how to walk like an Egyptian. At number twenty, here are The Bangles.”

[20] Bangles: Walk Like An Egyptian. It's seven months since Simon Mayo was first introduced to the BBC1 audience on the 20/03/1986 Top of the Pops. At the time he described himself as doing “Gary's bit in the middle,” which is how Gary Davies used to refer to his lunchtime show for anyone concerned about Radio 1 initiation rituals. Simon is currently wandering from show to show as a holiday stand in, although his base is the 7.30pm Saturday evening slot (Saturday sounds and surprises, according to The Radio Times) which he inherited from Annemarie Grey. Apologies to Annemarie but I don't recognise the name, a quick Google search suggests she later worked on the BBC's Caribbean Service which relaunched in 1988. Mr Mayo has worked on his TV persona, a bit. He's mostly stopped looking at the floor, he doesn't really know what to do with his arms, and he needs to work on the self-conscious smirk which makes it look like he's about to laugh in Gary Davies' face. 6/10.



The Sparks Brothers review


Few bands have had such highs and lows as Sparks. Yet they keep coming back, re-inventing themselves with each iteration over twenty five albums that span multiple musical genres from pop to rock to electronic to classical and beyond. Edgar Wright describes himself as a “fanboy” yet the director’s two and a quarter hour documentary is a thorough journey through different musical eras. It doesn’t crack the mysteries surrounding the Mael brothers; we learn nothing much about their personal lives except as kids growing up. However, it is an absorbing film packed with rare footage and photos (I wish some of it could be made more readily available) and even at this length is probably not long enough to show just how incredible a musical progress Sparks have made.



Dune review


Adapting Frank Herbert’s lengthy sci-fi classic into a film is not an enviable job. Its not so much that the plot is complex; in fact, it’s quite straightforward, it’s more to do with the way the book presents it. We’re given the detailed inner thoughts of a number of principal characters and masses of historical, geographical, political and linguistic information about the scenario. The book’s emphasis is as much on a look or a movement than it is about action. David Lynch’s 1984 version squeezed the 500 plus page book into a two hour movie by ruthlessly editing the story, stripping it of any finesse and the results did not really work. Dune is a story that needs to be told carefully and at a medium pace so is more in tune with modern television than film making. Denis Villeneuve though has cracked this toughest of nuts by dividing the story into two- there is a pointed Part One underneath the on screen title- and editing with precision to service the overall story rather than the running time. At two hours forty minutes this is still only half the story.




Top of the Pops 2 October 1986


Presented by Chris Arnsby. Mike Smith: “Welcome to the most heavily lacquered TV programme on the air. Will Michelle change her mind? Find out in half an hour. Until then let's go to the lofty heights... of Top of the Pops and OMD!”

[11] Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark: (Forever) Live And Die. Mike Smith starts October, which means this episode wasn't shown on BBC4. It's available to download in two flavours from the super-secret super-horde at https://mega.nz/folder/h0snQACa#uiNNqosfbdrfzODHsE1clw/folder/phc3iYCY

There's a copy direct from the BBC archive (good picture quality) or off-air (lower resolution but with a glimpse of the old BBC1 computer generated globe). Take your choice. Mike Smith, like a lot of the hosts, chooses to riff on the latest happenings in Albert Square. Tonight's comment relates to the never-ending saga of Lofty and Michelle. The Eastenders Wikipedia is here to help; Tuesday 30 September “Michelle tells Arthur she cannot go through with the wedding so he takes her home..” Ahh. Poor Lofty. (John- Wasn’t he even a tiny bit peeved by this?)


What is Facebook's Metaverse then?


It does sound like something from the Marvel films but the Metaverse is a real idea that is in the pipeline for our increasingly tech shaped future. Most people only became aware of it this week when the news that the company was set to hire 10,000 people to work on it albeit from the EU rather than the UK. Which says something about Facebook’s politics and let’s not forget one Nick Clegg is the company’s head of global affairs. Indeed the news story has been spun with a Brexit twist. However, most people’s reaction was “Yeah but what is the Metaverse?”



Ad Break- Currys, Lenor and Moneysupermarket

Currys PC World has changed it’s name..to Currys. This is the theme of their new advert which has the tagline “Say hello to Currys”. It’s a bit of a mix and match this one still using the old musical motif, pushing the rebrand yet starting with a series of clips showing accidents in the home, the sort of video clips you’d see on You’ve Been Framed. “I’ve got this – the three most dangerous words in the English language” says the narrator who calls for people to consult experts rather than doing it themselves. Most oddly of all The Stranglers have been chosen for the background music. It’s a curiously off hand way to approach the name change especially as they offered just the same remote tech advice service before. Basically, nothing has really changed except the PC World bit of their name has gone and the remaining `Currys` has a new font. As its only 13 years since the dual name was introduced it’s not exactly a shock in any case. The ad does seem a little last year too focussing on their online tech help when you can actually now go into the shops and talk to people. This very laptop I’m typing on was bought with considerable help from someone at Currys’ PC World last year just a week before the first lockdown.


Top of the Pops 25 September 1986

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Janice Long. “Hello. On the show tonight, in the studio, we've got Loose Ends and we've got Darryl Pandy. On video we've got Huey Lewis, we've got Genesis, and we've also got Run DMC. We've brought the girls in, soon to be appearing at a venue near you because they're on tour, here are Amazulu, Montego Bay.”

[23] Amazulu: Montego Bay. Derek Slee is again credited as Lighting Director this week, he seems to be on rotation with Fred Wright. Top of the Pops normally uses big slabs of colour (purple, blue and red) to light the studio but this week Derek's decided to ring the changes. Amazulu are on the main studio stage and it's lit in a much more colourful way with greens and yellows thrown into the mix. The intensity of the lights is also dialled back, and the result is a studio with a colourful background rather than one that's shaded in moody violets (wasn't that the name of a band?). It's good. The studio looks more like a funfair and it suits the bouncy and fun feel of the song.




Kingdom Hospital

 In 2004, a series called Kingdom Hospital came and went without very much of a reaction. Based on a Danish eight episode mini series by Lars Von Trier called The Kingdom it was originally intended to be of similar duration. It was eventually developed into what was intended to be an ongoing series though in the event it only lasted for one thirteen episode season. It was developed by none other than Stephen King, more used to others developing his work, and directed by Craig R Baxley.  To describe it as slow would be to understate considerably because it moves like a snail with a tendancy to repeat certain visual or musical signatures. I’m not even sure how you would define it. Is it a medical drama? Yes. Is it a fantasy? Yep. Is it extremely weird? Oh yes. It unpeels mysterious happenings, oddball characters and bizarrely is set in an interior that seems to bear no relation to the striking exterior shot we see of the building.  There is a palpable sense of unease generated by the direction and script, and its circuitous structure can sometimes irritate not least that song which is playing when Peter Rickman is first run down by a truck. Yet if you become absorbed in it- and it is a big If – it seems important to watch every bit of it.



No Time To Die review

There was a time when all James Bond films seemed very similar. The locations and villains may have changed but basically the plots were the same sort of thing – plenty of action and very little character development. The five films starring Daniel Craig have changed some of that; not only is each distinctive in its own way but they act as a five episode story arc that gives James Bond a more contemporary hue. However preposterous some of the notions that are given screen space we can now see Bond as a real person, someone who may still be essentially a state employed assassin but also has thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions. That its been done so subtly and while maintaining most of the things that Bond afficionadoes like is no mean feat. No Time to Die is the culmination of this arc and surely a contender for the best James Bond film ever.


“Now look here double oh seven, there are spoilers after this point…”



Top of the Pops 11 & 18 September 1986

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby 11/09/86 . Mike Smith. “Evening. Welcome to the BBC Club. Crammed in here tonight we've got Cutting Crew, Jermaine Stewart, we've also got The Psychedelic Furs, and hold on tight because here comes Sam Fox.”
[26] Samantha Fox: Hold On Tight.  The new (old) format holds true. Once again we start the new (old) way with Mike Smith talking to camera to introduce the first act. Stanley Appel is tonight's holder of the Produced & Directed by credit and he is presumably not allowed to make changes to the sacred format while Michael Hurll is in absentia. What does Stanley Appel do when he's not keeping Michael Hurll's seat warm? Not a lot according to BBC Genome. He's listed as Producer on Blankety Blank, currently in it's Les Dawson incarnation, and that's it. Blankety Blank and the occasional Top of the Pops. That seems like a cushy job. This week Blankety Blank even has a Top of the Pops crossover with Bruno Brookes as one of the panellists; along with Fred Trueman, Nerys Hughes, Derek Jameson (ugh), Eve Ferret (no idea), and Sara Hollamby (ditto). (John- According to her website she’s “a very experienced television presenter” who did Crackerjack and Wish You Were Here. Eve Ferret is an actress who was in Absolute Beginners). Sam Fox's song is no better than her previous diet Kim Wilde efforts but it at least sounds different. It's more of a rockabilly/hoe down affair. This is the last time we'll see Sam in 1986, but she'll be back in 1987. And 1989. So we've got that to look forwards to.



When a giant spider walked round Liverpool...

Dateline 2008. Something is lurking on the drab exterior of a derelict city centre office…something very large and something that has eight legs. It has appeared overnight to startle early morning commuters already battling with high winds and lashing rain. Emerging from the train station below they can only gasp at the sight above their heads and in seconds mobile phones and cameras are clicking, people are talking, local radio and tv reporters are hovering about. On first glance the object appears to be some sort of Victorian era or steam punk machine made of metal with the appearance of a spider; sat on the side of the office block it seems to have no purpose and puzzles onlookers. There had been word of a unique piece of street theatre that would debut a couple of days later- was this part of it or something else? The more people gawp, the more obvious it became that this whatever-it-was is no machine and no abstract creation either but a creature that demands to be brought to life like some fugitive from a Tim Burton movie. It’s huge as well; even semi curled across several floors of the building in a shape that suggests it will crawl down any moment. Hey, didn’t it just move a fraction? Nah, that was the wind. Are you sure….



Top of the Pops 28 August & 4 September 1986

DOUBLE BILL! Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. 28 August:
[6] Jermaine Stewart: We Don't Have To... Janice Long. “Hello and welcome to a live edition of Top of the Pops, and here at number six it's Jermaine Stewart and We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” Brian Whitehouse likes to begin with a big dramatic camera move across the studio. In fact, since he returned from holiday on 14/08/1986 he's repeated the same move on a weekly basis. The camera crane is raised to capture the audience on one of the scaffolding bridges, then it moves down and under the bridge and zooms across the studio floor towards the main stage. At least that's what it says on the camera script. This week something goes a little wrong and the camera ploughs (gently) into the back of one of the audience. Either the crane failed to lift up and over the heads of the audience, which is what happened on the previous two shows, or Floor Manager Cliff Pinnock was distracted and unable to shove the dancers out of the way in time. Oh well, that's all part of the fun of live television.


Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings review

 An efficient new entry to the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is thankfully not nearly as impenetrably mythic as its title suggests. In a sharp two hours it manages to stay grounded while at the same time providing plenty of mystical material plus some tub thumping action sequences. While there is a pattern to Marvel’s introductory films that this one sticks to, there is enough new ground to make it worthwhile even if the subject area is not as fresh as, say Black Panther or even Iron Man. Like the latter non  Marvel enthusiasts may never have heard of Shang Chi (I hadn’t) but just as we were all that time ago with Tony Stark we’re glad to have shared his story.



Under the Volcano review

 For a decade Air Studios was the go-to place for some of the world’s top rock stars to record. Situated on the remote Caribbean island of Montserrat it was founded by producer George Martin in 1979 as a spin off from his Air London studios. Over the next decade it birthed some of the Eighties’ biggest albums and was used amongst others by The Police, Duran Duran, The Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffet, Earth Wind and Fire and Elton John. It was a markedly different environment to the city bound or even countryside studios most of these artists were used to. Gracie Otto’s involving film includes anecdotes both from those who recorded there and also the people who lived there many of whom worked at the studios. It’s a great documentary reflecting the laid back atmosphere that made the studio such a favourite destination.



Top of the Pops 21 August 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. [25] Depeche Mode: A Question Of Time. Bruno Brookes. “Hello, good evening and welcome to Top of the Pops.” Gary Davies. “And here to start us off with a question of time it's Depeche Mode.” Lighting Director Derek Slee is conducting an experiment. How many spinning lights can he jam into a confined space before Brian Whitehouse tells him to stop being silly? Derek gets up to twelve; that's two globes hanging from the ceiling; four pairs of rotating lights at the front of the stage; and two spinning light poles at the back. Not counting, of course, the usual studio lights, and a myriad of flashing mini-strobes which have been packed into the scenery at the back. It's possible the scream from the studio audience is not excitement but an involuntary electrical spasm caused by induction from the massive electromagnetic field in the studio.


Dick Turpin's Greatest Adventure

Five episodes first shown 16 May to 13 June 1981 W Richard Carpenter / D Gerry Poulson 

Back in the days when only scheduled television existed and there weren’t even videos the audience was very much at the mercy of schedulers and they sometimes made the oddest decisions. Two seasons of the regular Dick Turpin tv series had already been made but only half of the second broadcast when ITV decided to show what has since come to be called Season 3. The other half of season 2 thus became season 4. This is a larger scale co- production with RKO Pictures intended to be shown as a single feature length story in US cinemas. Instead ITV decided to break it up into a five episode serial only they tacked on the atmospheric (but rather lengthy) opening sequence to each episode. While Richard O’Sullivan and Michael Deeks are still on board, a raft of familiar faces take guest roles meaning there is no place for Christopher Benjamin or David Daker whose presence the production sorely needs.


Top of the Pops 14 August 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. [10] It Bites: Calling All The Heroes. Simon Bates. “It's Thursday night. It's Studio 6. And it's time for Top of the Pops. Here's It Bites with Calling All The Heroes.”

Solo hosts are the great new innovation of 1986. If by innovation you mean going back to an idea last used in 1983 which I do, fortunately. Lots of great things from 1983 should make a comeback; the Moonwalk, Octopussy, Clover spreadable butter, Raiders of the Pops Charts, the Oric-1, those keyrings which beep when you whistle; who keeps hiding my keys? Solo hosts are the great new innovation of 1986 but it's it's not an idea Top of the Pops immediately leapt upon with great abandon. There are 52 editions of Top of the Pops in 1986 (surprisingly) and only18 with one host. Mike Smith, Mr TV himself, clocks in with the most, 9; Gary Davies with 5; followed by Janice Long, 3; and Simon Bates with this, his solo effort. Which is odd, because he's the only one on the list to have solo hosting experience from the pre-1983 days. Gary Davies is a bit of a surprise but someone upstairs likes him. He was chosen to relaunch the solo host format, which at the time made me purse my lips and invoke the spirit of Sergeant Wilson, “do you think that's wise Michael Hurll?” But yes, apparently Michael Hurll did think this was wise and he's gone on to become one of the senior hosts since his first appearance in 1982.



Just the music...

Interesting Instrumental Hits from the 1970s...

Popcorn- Hot Butter (1972)

Probably one of the first electronic instrumentals a lot of people heard, `Popcorn` was originally composed by Gershon Kingsley of the First Moog Quartet on their album `Music to Moog By`. Born in 1922 in Germany, Kingsley was a pioneer of electronic music and in later life would compose for Broadway musicals. He lived to the age of 97!  Another member of the First Moog Quarter, Stan Free, re-recorded `Popcorn` and it became an unusual 1972 hit.

It is one of those pieces of music that seems timeless, it could have been recorded in 2021 rather than almost fifty years ago. The catchy tune is rendered with the lightest touch the sound resembling one of those old video game noises while the drums have the timbre of military snares. The production has a clarity allowing you to hear every element and it retains its allure of futurism even today.




Free Guy review

In these uncertain times we are trying to re-discover our purpose or perhaps find new ones and though it was made in 2019, Free Guy suits 2021 perfectly. While the concept is not new and has featured in various iterations across a number of films the take is fresh, vibrant and frequently very funny. Rarely for modern films it seems to exactly fit its running time with not an ounce of flab, not one moment when your attention wanders. When it was finished it was one of those movies where I wished I had written it because it must have been so much fun to create and is a blast to watch.

Warning- spoilers beyond this point…



Top of the Pops 7 August 1986

Introduced by Chris Arnsby. [19] Status Quo: Red Sky. Mike Smith. “Good evening and welcome to Top of the Pops. We start tonight at number nineteen with Status Quo, spot the new drummer, here is Red Sky.” Who drummer Kenny Jones steps in for Status Quo's own unwell Jeff Rich, probably. It's not easy to keep track of Status Quo's Spinal Tap-esque succession of drummers; John Coghlan, 1962-1982; Pete Kircher, 1982-85; Jeff Rich, 1985-2000; Matt Letley 2000-12; John Coghlan (again), 2012; Leon Cave, 2012- present.

Stanley Appel, a veteran Light Entertainment Producer, also steps in for this week only to cover for Producer/Director Brian Whitehouse. Hopefully he's off on holiday. Stanley Appel keeps the cameras tight on Status Quo so Vision Mixer Carol Abbott bounces mainly between static mid shots and medium close-ups; with regular cutaways to Kenny Jones who gets his own camera. The paucity of sweeping crane shots makes the performance feel claustrophobic and boring, or maybe that's just the song. At the end the camera pulls back until Mike Smith is frame, and then he turns and introduces the next song. It's the first time this move has been seen for a while, it's fallen out of favour presumably because Brian Whitehouse doesn't like it very much.



Mike Mills is a photographer, music video director, documentary maker and, every once in a while, he also makes a film. There have been three so far (a fourth is on the way) the latest of which is 2016’s 20th Century Women. 2010’s Beginners is the best known having won veteran actor Christopher Plummer an Oscar. Mills’ debut feature Thumbsucker was released in 2005. The story is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Kim though the film is also semi improvised. Mills uses a directorial style we could call relaxed. Sometimes the camera seems to drift from one person to the other which when you’re used to sharp talking fast cuts comes as a surprise. This emphasises the uncertainty felt by the family at the heart of the film and gives matters a dreamy quality. The title refers to the fact that seventeen- year- old Justin Cobb still sucks his thumb despite his parents’ attempt to pull him out of the habit. At first Justin appears to be the typical angsty movie kid but this is not a coming of age movie in that the story suggests we never come of age. We spend our lives seeking to do so, looking for answers but as one character suggests  “we’re all scared little animals”.


The Suicide Squad

Sort of a sequel to Suicide Squad (presumably the next will be titled Thee Suicide Squad) this madcap rollercoaster almost defies you to dislike it with enough thunder to kick up quite a cinematic storm. The premise is the same as the first film with some more wayward superheroes added into the mix yet some of the lessons of that first film have not really been learned. Its overcrowded and shouty with a Big Bad so preposterous that when I type it after the break I will not believe I am actually typing it nor that I actually saw it. Though macho arrogance is the movie’s calling card the best performances and the most interesting characters are all female. Sparks of intelligence are snuffed out by repetitive violence. Yet out of this melee there is a film you can definitely enjoy at least while you’re watching it.

 Ludricous spoilers after the break



Top of the Pops 31July 1986

Your guide: Chris Arnsby. [15] Spandau Ballet: Fight For Ourselves. Mike Read. “Hello. Welcome to Top of the Pops we kick off tonight with Spandau Ballet and Fight For Ourselves.” This week's big question, is Gary Kemp wearing a beret or a Tam o' shanter? The decision could go either way. The item of millinery in question is being worn sloped, like a beret, but it also has a pom-pom on it, like a Tam o' shanter. (John- Hat's enough)

For the first time in ages the two hosts do the post-first-song link in front of the neon logo, to the right of the main stage. This means Janice Long and Mike Read suddenly appear deep in the background of wide shots around the one minute forty five mark, having snuck on stage during a close-up of Spandau Ballet (disappointingly, the close-ups are not close enough to settle the vexed beret/tam question). This is useful information for anyone who often wants to know the location of Mike Read. (John- eg The FBI, KGB, MI5 etc) And we have an early winner in the most-boring-job-in-the-Top-of-the-Pops-studio competition. It's the camera operator in the white shirt who has to crouch behind one of Spandau Ballet's amps in order to catch a left profile shot of drummer John Keeble. Vision Mixer Priscilla Hoadley makes use of his services twice.



Titans Season Two Episodes 9 - 13

`Atonement` brings us back to the present as Dick’s confession to everyone about what really happened causes a parting of the ways leaving only Gar. Trusted to look after the still unconscious Conner we have a lighter interlude as Gar tries to keep himself occupied with positive thoughts, healthy eating and reading classic literature to the sleeping stranger. His positivity lasts all of a few days and then Conner wakes up. Eager to fill him in on the role of a superhero, Gar takes him outside only for Connor to misunderstand the fundamentals and take on a whole squad of police! Ryan Potter has been left on the sidelines in recent episodes so it’s good to see him exercising his comedic side again and the scenes between Gar and the baffled Conner are great fun. It’s good too that at least one person still maintains a sunnier outlook on the Titans and believes they ultimately do good which counter balances the older members angst this week.



Titans Season Two Episodes 5 - 8

 The fifth episode `Deathstroke` packs an enormous amount into its thirty seven minutes, perhaps too much. There are times when it plays like a clips show zapping from one revelatory conversation to another with gusto though the cumulative effect is hugely enjoyable. It’s a plot that pulls at the relationships between young and older Titans and asks questions of their working methods. Has Dick recruited the younger Titans without really telling them what could lie in store? How can Rose come back to life? And just what is that black thing that looks like wings which keeps sprouting from Rachel? It’s a heady brew punctuated by violent action and some heartfelt scenes though I did find the latter somewhat basic at times. Some conversations seemed to just have characters saying one cliched line after another. Yet it all comes together somehow.  



Titans Season Two Episodes 1- 4

Have heroes of any series been in such a difficult corner as the Titans find themselves at the start of season two? The only issue with having a cliffhanger ending to a season is that casual viewers may be bewildered so you  have to commend the producers of this show for creating a succinct summary at the start of the episode which is called `Trigon` (episode titles are not the series’ forte) It’s a scenario that places the characters very much in harm’s way as the released Trigon divides and defeats them one by one with the ultimate attempt of breaking his daughter’s heart. Literally. Most of the episode deals with the immediate moments after the first season ended and by any standards it’s a dark, grim way to begin. Of course a lot of what we see is illusion or dreams so the true condition of the regulars is not immediately clear but there were definitely moments when I thought we were going to end up with a smaller cast.


Top of the Pops Double Bill! 17th and 23rd July 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. 17 July: [14] Steve Winwood: Higher Love. Mike Smith. “Good evening and welcome to Top of the Pops from Television Centre in London. Let's start this week's show with a man at number fourteen in the charts. It's Steve Winwood and Higher Love”.

This Mike Smith show went unrepeated on BBC4 because of his never resolved contract dispute with the BBC. It's an off-air recorded in 1986 and it hasn't gone through the modern photosensitive epilepsy compliance process. Maybe I was tired when I watched this episode but it felt particularly hard on the eyes. Steve Winwood appears on the main Top of the Pops stage; the one with the hideous new (ish) neon logo to stage left. The space behind this stage is where the Floor Manager sometimes arranges Cheerleaders but on this occasion they've been replaced by a couple of spinning light poles. When the light poles shine directly into the camera the entire picture whites out and the abrupt change in contrast from the normal dark, smokey studio is noticeable.

I don't recall previous Mike Smith episodes being this squint-inducing. Maybe the studio is a bit darker than usual, or there's more smoke, or maybe this episode has been encoded differently; who knows. It's the first time I've noticed and been grateful for the process which reduces the contrast of the BBC4 repeats. I don't normally need to watch Top of the Pops with a paracetamol chaser. It turns out my nan was right. Too much telly really is bad for my eyes.



Top of the Pops 10 July 1986

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. [16] Midnight Star: Headlines. Simon Bates. “Welcome to studio six at Television Centre and this week's Top of the Pops. Let's kick off with Midnight Star and Headlines.” There's the faint sound of studio chatter in the gap between the end of The Wizard and Simon Bates' introduction. It's a woman issuing instructions to the studio but, alas extensive digital audio forensic work is unable to clarify what is being said. The Floor Manager this week is Iain McLean, so it's not him. It must be someone firing up the Cheerleaders who is also standing close enough to Simon Bates for his microphone to pick up the sound. What sort of orders do you have to issue to the Cheerleaders? “Smile and dance like your lives depend on it.” 

Midnight Star are a seven piece American group. What makes them notable? They have three keytar players who all appear to be wearing suits made out of pattered wallpaper.


Top of the Pops 3 July 1986

Introduced by Chris Arnsby. [3] The Housemartins: Happy Hour. Janice Long. “Hello and welcome to Top of the Pops and here, in the studio, at number three with Happy Hour. It is, The Housemartins.” London 0, Hull 4 is written on the front of Hugh Whitaker's drum kit (a sneaky bit of promotion for their album), and he's rooted around in his wardrobe to find a 1984 model FRANKIE SAYS ARM THE UNEMPLOYED t-shirt. There's more sneaky promotion for fellow Go! Discs artist Billy Bragg who makes it on to Top of the Pops, sort of. Stan Cullimore's t-shirt features the cover of Levi Stubbs', Tears Bragg's new single.

Down at the front, the audience are waving THE HOUSEMARTINS banners. Last spotted back in December 1983 when they were issued to the crowd for Slades' performance of Me Oh My, although those banners had SLADE printed on them obviously. What are the logistics of this? Are they paid for by Top of the Pops or the record company? The SLADE banners were pretty crummy, thin strips of plastic with SLADE printed only on one side. These are a much higher quality. Double-sided printing, and solid enough that the text on the far side doesn't bleed through; unlike the one-sided SLADE banners which caught the light and made it look like the audience had been issued with banners that read EDALS (but mirrored).

Someone's spent a lot of money today.



Dick Turpin Season Two Episodes 10-13

The Godmother 
13/02/82 W Richard Carpenter / D James Allen
“I’ve never met such a bewitching pair of husseys!”

There have been some unlikely disguises Turpin has appropriated but this one takes the biscuit! In an episode that revels in its farcical premise, he ends up dressing up as the sister of Gluttons’ solicitor Gooch. Sophinista Gooch has herself been requisitioned by Sir John to pretend to be his wife during the visit of his fearsome godmother the Duchess of Durham. Turpin is unaware of this of course so when he locks up the Goochs during a raid on their house to obtain documents relating to fraudulent land deals Sir John’s henchmen turn up expecting Sophinista to go with them. Thus by a turn of events that stretches credulity to it’s absolute limit Turpin ends up dressed as the woman on his way to pretend to be Lady Glutton! At this point the hi jinks are a bit wearing but to my surprise once everyone is in place we are in for a frantic perfectly performed pantomime that is actually funny. Thanks to comedic timing par excellence from all concerned and a willingness to indulge in playfulness the story actually works.


Dick Turpin Season Two Episodes 6 - 9

The Thief Taker
22/03/80 W Richard Carpenter / D James Allen
"I’m not Turpin – you are!”

In which Turpin himself assumes the role of thief taker in order to catch…Turpin! There’s a lot of fun to be had in an episode which shows just how easily in these days someone could assume an identity. It’s a trick Richard Carpenter seems to enjoy and this time after Lord Faversham is robbed by the highwayman and offers a substantial reward for Turpin’s capture, the latter and Swiftnick assume the roles of Jeremiah Snare and Jonathan Handy. They offer to deliver Turpin and then set up an operation to frame Captain Spiker. I wondered where he’d got to and it’s great to see David Daker yelling again, especially at the end when he is carted away by Faversham who assumes he is Turpin.