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.


Doctor Who - The Daemons

 The problem with iconic art of any kind is that it gradually becomes so familiar that you lose the sense of what actually made it iconic in the first place. In the case of this well- known Doctor Who story from 1971 fifty years have dulled the sheen more than a little. Whereas it once regularly topped polls of the fans’ favourite all time adventures it has now settled into a comfier status of series treasure. Its moves and dialogue are so familiar fans can quote them at will while it’s awkward ending only seems weaker the more often you watch it. It’s difficult as well to separate the cast’s fondness for the story based on the good time they had during the shoot with the quality of the end product. The result is like some old possession you just can’t bring yourself to throw away. Yet there must be something about it. So in 2021 can we re-discover just what it was that made `The Daemons` a hugely popular story in the first place?



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.


Dick Turpin Season Two Episodes 1 - 5

The Fox Part 1
16/02/80 W Richard Carpenter / D Gerry Poulson
“You silly slut!” "Hike off!”

Yes, with a barrage of ripe language and pacy action season two opens up with a two part story allowing the extra space several episodes last season could have done with to draw us further into the story. Picking up from the same point as last season ended with Dick and Swiftnick’s direction of travel decided upon by the toss of a coin the duo are en route to London when an old mate of Dick’s called Joe Cutler turns up mortally injured. Before he dies, he entrusts a key to be given to a woman though neglects to say who or where she may be though does mention “the devil’s chimney” and someone called Manderfell. Moments after he’s died a troupe of well dressed riders capture the duo and take them to the country seat of the very same Lord Manderfell. Played with icy relish by Donald Pickering, he appears about to let them go before tricking Swiftnick into answering his name whereupon their disguise is rumbled.


Black Widow film review

It’s been a while. My first cinema trip of 2021 is to see a film completed nearly two years ago. During the past sixteen months the entire rhythm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been disrupted to some extent and the real question I asked myself before seeing Black Widow was this- would this sort of film be as enjoyable now we’ve lived through a proper worldwide crisis for the first time in most of our lives? Do we want kinetic violence, things exploding, peril and potential world threatening events? Turns out we do! Black Widow is a good re-introduction to this type of cinema especially for those like me who’ve not seen the recent Marvel tv series. It’s a very well composed movie with those individualistic flourishes that Marvel do so well so as to differentiate each branch of the franchise. There is the expected peril- and its definitely not mild- the heart pulsing action scenes and plenty of tech yet crucially the film has a heart that makes it worth your while. And you can take your facemask off too which allows you to breathe more easily during some palpating moments!


Warning- Major spoilers beyond this point.


Top of the Pops 26 June 1986

 Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. [15] Bananarama: Venus. Mike Smith, “Welcome to London and a star-studded edition of Top of the Pops. Coming up later we've got Wham! in the studio and the new Madonna video. Let's start with the ladies who've come back from Los Angeles, Bananarama!” Bananarama are on the pentagram decorated Beelzebub stage, but Visual Effects Designer Guy Lunn obscures the offending symbols with dry ice.




Don't Forget to Write

I’ve decided to write this post about a series I only have very distant, foggy memories of and which does not exist in the public domain unless you live in Australia or have access to the archives of York University! The first episode is on YouTube – probably copied somehow from the Aussie release- which is some help though why the person who uploaded couldn’t have done the others I don’t know. The series is about writing. In fact it’s called Don’t Forget To Write` and it is its content which apparently caused it to be shunted off to a shady late evening slot in which it was destined not to be remembered. So is it that writing about writing is boring for anyone who doesn’t write? Or is it that creatives don’t enjoy seeing their foibles on display? How much information can I find about this obscure programme? Whatever happened, the series was once in the `Financial Times' TV critic's list of the 10 best sitcoms ever made. Not that it is really a sitcom either! I have a feeling that it’s main character Gordon Maple would appreciate the whole situation.


Top of the Pops 11th & 18th June 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. 11 June -

[20] Sigue Sigue Sputnik: 21st Century Boy. Mike Smith. “Live from London! It's Top of the Pops!”  Sigue Sigue Sputnik perform their second single on their second visit to Top of the Pops. 21st Century Boy will also be their second best performing release and peak at number 20. The song also sounds like Love Missile F1-11 played at a slightly slower speed, which makes it second hand. Sadly for numerology this is where the run of twos break down because 21st Century Boy stayed in the Top 20 for only one week. Check out lead singer Martin Degville who often forgets when he's supposed to be miming because he's more interested in grinding his crotch against the air. Mike Smith. “Sigue Sigue Sputnik, this week's number twenty with 21st Century Boy. This week we have an international extravaganza of bonhomie, fashion, and good taste. Top of the Pops. Live on a Wednesday night. With Falco.”


Midsomer Murders - Wild Harvest

Midsomer Murders has been accused of becoming less bizarre over the years but it still has its moments and this 2014 episode opens up with someone being eaten by a wild boar.  I was kind of hoping for an army of wild boar to attack the town but I think that may be a different series! What transpires is that local farmer Martin Strickland’s demise is not particularly mourned by several women in his life and what ensues is wrangling over his estate, Wyvern House. This includes a restaurant, run with an iron spoon by chef Ruth Cameron a sort of female Gordon Ramsay.

The chief suspect was the donut.


Top of the Pops 5 June 1986

Presented  by Chris Arnsby. [15] Cashflow: Mine All Mine. Gary Davies. “Welcome to Top of the Pops and here to start us off is Cashflow and Mine All Mine.”
Check out the Mine All Mine video where the padded shoulders have reached excessive proportions, even by the standards of the eighties. Cashflow look considerably less ridiculous in person. Everyone is a little less hunch-shouldered, although there's a nasty selection of pastels on display and, regardless of what the guitarist thinks, orange is a bad colour for a suit.


Why are e-scooters everywhere?

You may have seen e-scooters in your town or city. After a mixed reaction to hire bikes which require the effort of pedalling, e-scooters have proved more popular as they zoom along under their own power. The only effort they require from the rider is a sense of balance. You can ride e-scooters either on the road or the pavement avoiding traffic lights and busy junctions. They can be charged and do not emit the sort of air pollution that a motorbike would plus they are easier to park than bikes. There are seemingly no restrictions as to where they can be left- I’ve seen them parked in all sorts of places. It can only be a matter of time before someone creates a phot of one parked on the Moon! Inevitably there have been complaints about e-scooters being a public nuisance- but not for the reason you might think.. 



Top of the Pops 29 May 1986

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. [3] Doctor & The Medics: Spirit In The Sky. Janice Long. “Hi-ya. Welcome to a live Top of the Pops and would you please welcome, at number 3, Doctor and the Medics and Spirit in the Sky.” Doctor and the Medics have been upgraded to the main stage. It gives them a little more room. Last time The Anadin Brothers (that's the two pale Kabuki-esque dancers/backing singers) had to work awkwardly around the drummer, this time they've got more space.

The band have all dressed in white. Henry Barber is Lighting Director again, and he avoids colouring the band with lighting. Instead he illuminates the foreground audience with constantly changing colours and keeps the background dark. This allows for some great panning shots with the band standing out against the dark background, as the audience pulse from red to purple to green and blue. The exception to all this is the drummer. He looks like the Hulk because he's been sat right on top of a green spotlight. I guess Henry thought it looked nice.



Dick Turpin Season One Episodes 9 - 13

 The Whipping Boy

03/03/79 W/Richard Carpenter/ D Dennis Abey
“I’ll see you hanged, you rascal!” “I’ll send you a ticket”

There are more villains than heroes in this excellent episode which is one of those which definitely would have benefited from being a two parter. As it is a lot of developments are nimbly squeezed into 23 minutes without a second of waste. Turpin and Swftnick steal a large sum of printed money from the Duke of Hertford though at first Swiftnick thinks it’s just paper! Needless to say the Duke is livid and calls in his henchman Tobias Moat to bring the county to heal. Moat has a reputation for ruthless cruelty and is accompanied by the sound of a whip every time he turns up. He also seems to have a set of black teeth for no other reason than to make him look even deadlier. Moat has history with both Turpin and Spiker having served with them – or by the sound of it more against them- in Gibraltar.


Dick Turpin Season One Episodes 4 - 8


The Poacher

27/01/79 W Richard Carpenter / D James Allen
“That painted macaroni’s no highwayman”

Appearances can be deceptive in this fun episode which opens with Turpin and Swiftnick’s latest coach having already been robbed. Seems there’s a poacher about and suspicion soon falls on a mysterious newcomer Joshua Vizard who certainly looks like he could be a highwayman with a dark demeanour that suggests villainy. On the other hand Sir John’s visiting cousin Willoughby is a powdered ponce fond of quoting poetry and sporting the latest fashionable wig from London. He couldn’t possibly be the poacher could he? Richard Carpenter’s script creates a pantomimesque atmosphere filled with word play and somewhat exaggerated performances from the cast. This is Carpenter in his element jousting with language and the proceedings play well for all ages- kids will enjoy the action and the silly accents, older viewers will appreciate the allusions and the neat twist of the plot. Perhaps the final five minutes which becomes a sort of hide and seek in Glutton’s manor is a touch too overplayed but by then you’re with it all the way.


Dick Turpin Season One Episodes 1 - 3

 A series about a notorious highwayman yet aimed towards a family audience is not an obvious idea for a drama but for writer Richard Carpenter it was a typically left field choice. After all he’d already written shows about smugglers, an eleventh century wizard, a group of ghosts and a boy from space. He liked outsiders and the way they interpreted their surroundings, his work packed with rich characters and a sense of place that means they’ve not dated as much as other contemporaneous programmes have done. Often made for younger viewers they have a sophistication and a refusal to talk down to the viewer that makes them easily accessible to people of all ages. Though this series is named after an infamous historical figure the series is not telling that real story at all but one that actually begins with the hanging of Dick Turpin…



Top of the Pops 15 and 22 May 1986

Double bill! reviewed by Chris Arnsby

15 May 1986 -

[25] Status Quo: Rollin' Home. Mike Smith. “Good evening and welcome to Top of the Pops from Television Centre. Let's start with the highest new entry this week, Status Quo- Rollin' Home.” Status Quo's last studio appearance was when The Wanderer charted, 25/10/1984. What have they been up to in the meantime? The usual, splits, solo projects, and court cases. And a 1985 appearance at Live Aid, of course. The court case with original member Alan Lancaster was settled early in 1986, and the band are back with a new line-up and the same sound; dun-der-dun-der-dun-der-dun. "Everybody was coked-up and hating each other,” was how Francis Rossi described the mood at their 1984 Milton Keynes Bowl concert. Well, they're all good friends now. At the start of the instrumental Francis Rossi turns his back on the audience and makes a crank-it-up gesture to the band. He does something off camera which makes the guitarist (who isn't Francis Rossi or Rick Parfitt, and definitely isn't Alan Lancaster) and the keyboard player smile, and then Rossi whispers to Rick Parfitt and makes him break off and laugh.



Midsomer Murders- Dark Secrets

In this excellent episode from 2011, the death of an unpopular social services official sends Barnaby and Jones into the orbit of the Bingham family. Elderly William and Mary Bingham rattle around in their large mansion ordering too much food and piling up the daily papers for over thirty years into a number of impressive towers as tall as buses. Quite how such an ageing couple achieve this gravity defying feat is not really addressed though you just know that sooner or later one of these is going to topple over on someone. 


Top of the Pops 8 May 1986

 Introduced by Chris Arnsby. [23] The Cure: Boys Don't Cry. Janice Long. “Hello and welcome to a very live Top of the Pops and to start us off tonight at number 23 it's the wonderful Cure and Boys Don't Cry.” 
Robert Smith is in fine form. He's perfected a distracted amble round the stage which he uses to good effect during Janice Long's introduction. He wanders away from the microphone and it looks for a second like he won't make it back before the lyrics start but, of course, he does. What a pro. He's also wearing the essential item of 1986, a suit which is plainly too big. However it's less a fashion statement than a prop. He clutches at it, and twists it, and wrings it in his hands, and thoroughly incorporates it into the Robert Smith persona.

For those keeping count (ie, me) this is only the second live show of 1986, and John Peel's third of six appearances. Like a lot of the long term hosts he seems to be winding down now (or he's not being asked back as much). He'll clock up one programme in February 1987 and that will be it until December 1995 when he's invited back one last time as a pretext to get him on This Is Your Life.


Why the UK shouldn't leave Eurovision...

 …and how we can get more than nul points.

It goes like this every year. Beforehand our latest entry for the Eurovision Song Contest “stands a real chance this time”, we’re `taking the contest seriously` and this is our best entry in years. On the day though the song is, well, not quite right and we score close to no points or as we did this year no points at all. Then comes the ritual of saying the song was actually no good at all and we should take the contest more seriously or perhaps we should quit altogether. Brexit 2? Well I reckon that would be a hasty decision just to save however much per year we contribute towards the staging of the contest a deal that at least allows us to avoid the humiliation of being knocked out before the Final as our recent entries surely would have otherwise been. No, I reckon we should sit it out, not take the contest seriously and we could just do a lot better. How, you ask?



Top of the Pops 1 May 1986

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. [32] Maxi Priest: Strollin' On: Mike Smith. “Good evening and welcome to Television Centre in London for Top of the Pops with Maxi Priest.” Strollin' On is a nice enough song to open the show but it doesn't do a lot for me. I'm considerably more interested in the efforts of the saxophonist and trumpet player as they do their best to synchronise their constant bobbing motions.

Mike Smith: “The line up tonight is so dazzling I've got to keep my shades on for it. The trouble is, I can't see you. Are you there? Oh you are, good. We've got Princess tonight, we've got Madonna, we've got Joyce Sims, come over from the States, and of course we've got the new Top 40 for you with Janet Jackson at number three.”



Titans season one

 Given the similarities between superheroes across various franchises it is becoming more difficult for tv shows and films about them to stand out. This series, launched in 2018, is from the DC stable whose television work has generally surpassed their big screen offerings, Wonder Woman being the exception. Based on the Teen Titans comics, the series is clearly aimed at a younger audiences with it’s cool stylings, outbursts of kinetic violence and edgy characters. It is an earnest narrative full of teenage angst even if some of the characters are older.


Top of the Pops 24 April 1986

 [17] The SOS Band: The Finest. Janice Long. “It's Top of the Pops and please welcome a band who have just flown in. It's their first appearance on Top of the Pops. At 17, The SOS Band. It's The Finest.”

Check out the sliver clad dancer/backing singer at stage right. Eighties fashions have progressed to the point where the jackets resemble 40s Zoot Suits, although the padded shoulders are trés eighties. Observe the way they shoot up every time the sliver clad fellow raises his arms and leave him looking like a turtle pulling its head into its shell. This is not my kind of music, so my attention lapses and I am confused when a green-jacketed man suddenly starts serenading the lead singer. Was he hiding behind a microphone stand? All becomes clear when his bit ends, and he retreats back behind the keyboard.

Little else happens of note. We get a new Quantel effect during the keyboard break. The picture zooms back into a small box, a second picture drifts out from behind it, and the two camera shots briefly bounce around the screen. These kind of picture effects are normally reserved for cutting between the hosts and the charts, and it's become unusual to see them used during performances.



Dark Nature - new children's novel available now!

Dark Nature - The fifth Heart of the World novel

Deep inside the mountain known as Devil’s Peak, a group of misfit scientists’ amazing plan to solve ecological problems is threatened by an elemental menace with dangerously different ideas. As Tom Allenby tries to stop this new threat to mankind, he faces the most serious peril of his fifteen year old life. Things will never be the same again. In his toughest, most personal adventure yet can Tom save the world and those closest to him? Or will humanity fall to the storm of the century?

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Dark Nature in Kindle ebook format



Top of the Pops 17 April 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. [10] Big Country: Look Away. Gary Davies. “Welcome to Top of the Pops and here to start us off Big Country and Look Away.” A nice enough song, and a good performance, but it leaves me with very little to say. I'm not mad keen on Stuart Adamson's carpet remnant coat. Gary Davies. “What a great way to start. Big Country and Look Away. So, all on my own in the studio tonight, well not exactly on my own, also in the studio we have George Michael, we have A-ha, and It's Immaterial but first here's this week's Top 40 over this video from Falco and Rock Me Amadeus.”