(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –May 2021)
There was a time Angry Birds was the squabble for peanuts in the feeder hanging from the washing line and Super Mario was the compliment you gave the waiter as he waltzed from table to table with his oversized pepper grinder at your favourite Italian restaurant.
Every camping holiday the Allan family had in the late 60s and early 70s was accompanied by that Scottish summer dependable – rain and lots of it. As the constant drumming of water on canvas lulled you into a near stupor, Mum would bring out the entertainment.
A pack of cards.
Rummy, Vingt-et-un, Trump (long before any insurrectionist US president) and if no-one would play with you Patience. I don’t know if these names were genuine or if we made them up but Solitaire, the game lurking behind the main screen of many an office worker’s computer, is the same deal (pun intended).
Another family outing to a cottage on the bleak east coast, where the rain off the sea was horizontal, the only saving grace was a copy of The Beatles white album and a well thumbed box of Scrabble. While George’s guitar was gently weeping we were holding back tears of desperation as my Dad, openly scoffing at our 3 and 4 word attempts, would place his 7 letter blockbuster utilising both J and X on a triple word score. He always won. He was a former English teacher, we had no dictionary and he was the self appointed adjudicator. I didn’t know there was a specific word for a Moroccan goat herder’s assistant.
Joint holidays with my cousins brought out the more mathematical puzzles like Yahtzee. 5 dice and a scorecard basically. The more cerebral Mastermind tested the code breaking skills of the potential Turing’s among us (Enigma at Bletchley Park where my Mum worked during the war and couldn’t talk about until the 90s !)
Various school chums had convoluted puzzles like Mousetrap where you built up the contraption as you went along or Operation where removing tiny objects from an electrically charged cadaver with tiny tweezers was the macabre objective.
My brother, who was in his school’s chess team, tried to introduce me to the noble game. I figured out how all the pieces moved but struggled beyond that. Bro, much to my annoyance, could stare at the board for minutes on end before making a move. A skill he perfected a decade later playing Trivial Pursuit. As fellow participants we sighed and shuffled in our seats at big brother’s slowness. He eventually picked up a card and proclaimed,
“Just to be different I’m going to tell you the answer and you have to give me the question. OK, the answer is ‘cock robin’ ”
We of course were stumped. After another lengthy delay,
“What’s that up my arse Batman ?” You had to be there !
My uncle claimed that when he took the bus to work he sat next to a gentleman and they would exchange instructions like ‘bishop to queen 4’ to which my uncle would reply ‘knight to kings 3’. On arriving at his office, he would set up a small chess set and periodically phone up his opponent, who presumably had a similar arrangement, with his next move. This was how he spent his day as a professor at one of Scotland’s most prestigious universities. That’s were your hard earned taxes went if you are to believe him !
There were always dominoes to hand in their custom made wooden box courtesy of No.2 brother’s woodwork project. In later years I never plucked up the courage to gate crash the old regulars playing at my local with all their secretive masonic tapping of tables going on.
I obtained travelling sets of both cribbage and backgammon in my later teens. One late evening in a Parisian hotel room I was playing backgammon with my girlfriend (well, what else would you be doing at that time in the city of love ?) who in her excitement mistook her rum and coke glass for the dice tumbler. Luckily she stopped herself casting the contents over the board.
Then there was the game that launched a thousand capitalists Monopoly. My game plan was to get the motor car or the Scottie dog and not suffer the indignity of the iron or the thimble before passing go and collecting ₤200.
A sailing weekend in Lochgilphead turned into a game of Risk in the boat shed as conditions outside were not navigable. This is a game of world domination which brings out the megalomaniac in anyone. I’m sure Hitler gave this the thumbs up before invading Poland.
The only domination now is from the onslaught of mindless adverts while flicking through the myriad of games apps on your mobile.
Pavlovian catch phrases. Class and race/ethnicity stereotypical themes. Telegraphed slapstick routines. Sexual innuendo from leering, creepy old goats.
Benny Hill, On the Buses…………….
The odd gem: Reginald Perrin, Dad’s Army and Fawlty Towers…. excellent although all fell back on lazy 70s comedy devices on occasion.
I live near a showbiz retirement home in Twickenham… I see odd 70s era characters venturing out to exercise their gums on Werther’s originals.
Mad Frankie Fraser was a resident. Probably the funniest guy there. He must have had an equity card to get in (from appearing in some sycophantic gangster worshipping TV show). My pal, ex mayor of Richmond borough, encountered Frankie during an official visit. Frankie eyed up his mayoral bling.
Contrast to US comedy of the 70s era. The Odd Couple, MASH, Taxi, Mork & Mindy, All in the Family, SOAP……..
US comedy had sharper dialogue, more nuanced themes and juxtapositions of pathos / humour. They had a phalanx of writers on each script and hence 3.5 jokes per iambic pentameter.
One imagines the typical two man UK comedy writing team collaborating, in their diamond Pringle pullovers, eying their watches for their afternoon golf appointment with Tarby, and hence agreeing to pad out a script with a prat fall and an unfunny one liner so they can meet the submission deadline and the tee off time.
A key characteristic of US comedy writing is sharp dialogue, which in turn is probably influenced by the strong Jewish presence in US showbiz. I have noticed it in US literature too.
For example: I can re-read works by Philip Roth, James Elroy, Elmore Leonard and Michael Connolly due to the wit, menace and rich content of the dialogue.
On the music front Steely Dan lyrics are as evocative as the music.
I digress again… On balance there are some British gems. Reginald Perrin hit the spot, genuinely sad and funny, albeit occasionally reverting to the catch phrase and the “catch image” (the hippo mother in-law was actually funny on repetition).
Even Fawlty Towers could not resist the catch phrase and use of the ethnic comedy device, with the Man(uel) from Barcelona as the foil.
The brilliance of Capt Mainwairing and Sgt Wilson’s exchanges, in Dads Army, were often interrupted by irritating repetitions of “we’re doomed” and “don’t panic”.
UK comedy has evolved, in the context of so many great, current comedians. Steve Coogan, Paul Whitehouse and Ricky Gervais are the homo sapiens that have evolved from the primordial swamp that produced Bernard Manning, Mike Reid et al.
The Office is a work of genius, albeit descended from Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap.
Some say there are many funny UK sitcoms. I don’t believe it….
“We’re ready for your close-up now”…the words any telly wannabe longs to hear.
And, as it turns out, the very phrase that was NEVER uttered in my direction thanks to two monumental cock-ups.
I’m holding my hands up for one of them, it was my bad. But I was totally blameless for the other.
To get the first one out the way, I was offered the chance to do a screen test at Scottish Television for a continuity announcer.
Remember them? They were the on-screen presenters who sat there, usually late at night, and gave you the cheesy link between one programme and another.
The date for the screen test, my golden ticket to the big time, came through the post – but it clashed with a midweek cup tie I was due to play in.
There was only one thing for it. I called them up, explained about the game and said I could come along another time – as long as it didn’t interfere with my football, obviously. Forty years later and I’m still waiting on them calling me back.
So, yeah, lesson learned with that opportunity being knocked out the park. But the other epic fail wasn’t down to me, not in the slightest.
The chance came during my eight-week journalism block-release course at Edinburgh’s Napier College in 1978 when we teamed up with the students who were studying TV and film.
The idea, I seem to remember, was to mix both classes in “a positive way to showcase the respective skill sets”. In reality, we were thrown together for two back-to-back projects more in hope than expectation.
We had a scenario where would-be reporters were asking questions of would-be drama students while being filmed by would-be camera operators.
There were two drama students – one male, one female – who posed as police inspectors to read out statements about imaginary crimes and then we got to question them about it.
Readers of Part 1 of this post will be somehow reassured to know that these make-believe offences also took place in poor old Oxgangs, the crime capital of the western world.
It’s fair to say there was a lukewarm response to this shiny, bright initiative so the college hierarchy fell back on the one thing guaranteed to get everyone’s attention – a juicy bribe.
We were told the videos of the top two interviews would be sent away to be assessed by STV and the best one would be…cue drum roll here…selected for a screen test.
That did the trick. You couldn’t get near the mirror in the toilets as everyone got ready for their big interviews.
When it came to mine, I found myself face to face with a Juliet Bravo-type who was pretty confident with the cameras rolling a few feet away.
She read out the bare statement – about a drugs bust in Oxgangs – in a professional manner and stepped back, in character, to await my questions.
Okay, Juliet, there’s something you’re not telling me here. “You say a quantity of drugs were recovered from the house,” I venture, “What kind of drugs and what was the quantity?”
“It was 10 kg of heroin,” she replies.
Now we’re motoring. “And what’s the street value for that amount,” I ask.
“You must be pleased. Now, you mentioned the two arrests made at the scene came at the end of a lengthy operation. How long?”
“It was nine months.”
“Would it be fair to say there was an undercover element to the operation?”
There was a flicker across Juliet’s face before she replied: “Yes, that’s correct.”
I was on to something, I just didn’t know what, so I asked: “How many officers were involved in that?”
“There was one at our end.” Now the flicker on Juliet’s face has been replaced by a deep red beamer.
I’m all over it now. “You say ‘our end’…where was the other end and how many were undercover there?”
“Erm, it was in Amsterdam and two officers were involved there. But I’m not at liberty…”
“How many arrests were made in Holland?”
“There were three, at two different locations, but I can’t really…”
“So it would be fair to say this joint operation has smashed an international drugs ring?”
“Erm, yes it would.”
Boom! Job done. A few more questions for Juliet and then I went off to write my story.
It turned out I was the only one to get the scoop on the Holland angle and was told on the QT that I was in pole position for the screen test prize if I did a decent job in the second assignment. Bring it on. But if I caught a break with Inspector Bravo helping me with my enquiries for the first interview, then my luck ran out when I landed an Inspector Clouseau clone for the second one.
Inept doesn’t begin to cover it. The hungover drama student forgot to bring his crib sheet with him, so there was no further information forthcoming about an imaginary armed bank robbery in Oxgangs.
I tried my damndest with a scatter-gun interrogation technique which started with me asking: “Was it sawn-off shotguns or revolvers?”
“I just know it was guns.”
“Okay, how much was taken in the robbery?”
“Err, I don’t know…I mean, I can’t say.”
“What about the make and colour of the getaway car?”
“Erm, it was light – or maybe dark – and probably foreign. Or not.”
“How many robbers were involved?”
“Just what I told you earlier in the statement.”
“You didn’t give a number.”
“Ah, well, there you go.”
I gave up right there. I’d been left with a story which had all the clarity of a man puffing on a giant Castella in the middle of a pea-souper and, needless to say, there was no screen test prize for me.
Probably for the best. You know what they say about having the perfect face for radio…
We’re all creatures of habit and I think it starts at an early age.
I remember my after-school routine at Primary School, it consisted of having a snack and watching a bit of tv before attempting to do any homework and waiting for my Dad to get home from work to have my tea.
This was well before my Crossroads days mind, so Miss Diane was just a twinkle in my eye back then.
The after school viewing options were all targeted at primary school children although by this stage (Primary 3) I remember thinking Andy Pandy and The Flowerpot Men were getting a bit stale and hankering for Tom & Jerry which was shown a bit later.
The post-school programmes I remember watching from this era were….
Watch with Mother – Andy Pandy and The Flowerpot Men, entry level stuff that was starting to get a bit tiresome.
Animal Magic– good old Johnny Morris and his hilarious talking animals
Vision On– Tony Hart and his art, we all thought he was a dull version of Rolf Harris, little did we know!
Crackerjack– on every Friday, my favourite! what you wouldn’t do for a Crackerjack pencil back then
This particular day didn’t seem much different to any other, we were learning our times-tables, I’d gagged on the lukewarm school milk as usual, I’d walked home from school with my pals as normal looking for anything we could use as a football. On getting home I’d given my Mum a hug as she served my daily aperitif and snack, orange Creamola Foam and a Lyons chocolate cup cake, and I was ready for some well deserved R & R after another hard day at the coal face.
As I settled down to watch my daily helping of kids tv I didn’t recognise the title on our black & white DER television screen – ‘Tales from Europe’…. maybe Johnny Morris had gone to a zoo in Bavaria or perhaps Tony Hart was going to sketch Caravaggio’s gruesome – ‘Salome with the head of John the Baptist’?
Actually, what followed was a lot more traumatising than the Caravaggio masterpiece.
This is my summary of the anguish that followed, so for any of you that forget the actual storyline of this gruesome fairy-tale, here it is, in all its macabre glory….
It all started off well enough with a fanfare and a handsome Prince on a horse.
He was on his way to a big castle to sweep a beautiful Princess off her feet and to ask for her hand in marriage – a classic start, this looked promising.
The Princess wasn’t for sweeping though, and it turned out she was a bit of a brat, cascading the pearls he had gifted her to the floor she demanded a grand gesture, not expensive trinkets – “The Singing Ringing Tree – Bring it to me!”
The Kings court thought this was hilarious, she was sending the poor guy on a wild goose chase, but undeterred and in true fairy-tale fashion the Prince was determined to win her hand and off he went to fairyland to find the novelty tree.
So far so good, but then 10 minutes in, a dwarf appears, scuttling around, stalking the Prince and looking a bit menacing.
Now you have to remember, any experiences of small people in my young life up till now have been pretty positive, the fun-filled dwarves in Snow White, the playful munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, the vertically challenged Tom Thumb and all the fairytale Elves and Pixies. And not forgetting of course my favourite little fella – Jimmy Clitheroe, a 4ft 2in comic genius.
Charming little guys, the lot of them – so nothing to be scared of here.
But there was something instantly menacing about this little guy, he didn’t appear very friendly, plus he had magical powers which was a bit disconcerting. Jimmy Clitheroe was cool, but he couldn’t turn a horse into a concrete statue by waving his hands.
The Prince being a bit giddy makes a deal with the dwarf – if the dwarf gives him the tree he will ensure the Princess falls in love with him by sunset, enabling the tree to truly sing and ring. If he doesn’t achieve this, he will gladly let the dwarf turn him into a bear, yes you read it correctly – A Bear!
And he actually volunteered this forfeit himself! Not the brightest Prince – too much in-breeding obviously…
Off the Prince trots, back to the castle, tree in hand to present it to his betrothed, only she’s not very impressed, with either the tree (it’s not very special for a magic tree to be fair) or the fact that it’s not singing or ringing. When Princey says it’s up to her to make the tree perform by showing the love, she goes full-blown Mariah Carey on his ass and kicks him out of the castle for a second time, in a tumultuous diva meltdown.
Being the fickle sort however she decides a few hours later she does want the tree after all and manipulates her father the King to go in search of it. (daughters twisting Dad’s round their little fingers – who’d have thought!)
By this point the handsome Prince has been turned into Yogi Bear and the dwarf is now openly mocking the Prince, suggesting he should try courting the Princess as a bear.
Not best pleased ‘The Bear formerly known as Prince’ confronts the King who’s come to Fairyland to claim the tree for his disgrace of a daughter and makes a deal with him.
The King can take the tree back to the castle as long as the bear takes ownership of the first person the King meets when he gets there (oh I wonder who that will be???). The King agrees.
The impatient Princess waiting for his return sees her father coming back to the castle in the distance, shoves the footmen down the stairs, trips up her maid, kicks the dog out the way and guess what – is first there to greet her father in order to get her tree.
To say she’s not best pleased to hear the deal Daddy made to get the tree is an understatement and she persuades him to send the Captain of the guard instead of her, to kill the bear.
Great plan except this bear is indeed smarter than the average bear, and now he’s really pissed off, so he kidnaps the princess, avec tree, and takes her back to Fairyland (which if you’re wondering is quite close to Anniesland).
Then for no reason other than to demonstrate Eastern Bloc special effects in 1957 a giant goldfish appears in a lake and the Princess true to form acts all diva-like, enabling the dwarf to change her appearance to match her distasteful personality. Bizarrely he gives her green hair, and she now looks like Billie Eilish.
Distraught at her appearance the Bear tells her she’ll need to change her ways to regain her beauty, so, stripped of her privileges and looks, she starts to become a nicer, more gracious person – she’s kind to animals, particularly the goldfish and a random giant reindeer who appears in a snowstorm and she’s even nice to Yogi now.
Through being charitable and thoughtful, the Princess magically regains her beauty and comes back looking a bit like Holly Willoughby.
But just when things are looking up, she encounters the dwarf for the first time who’s a bit pissed off that kindness and compassion are alive and well in his kingdom. He tries to poison her mind against the bear, but to no avail, she professes her love for the bear.
Cue the singing ringing tree which is now singing and ringing to its little hearts content.
The dwarf ain’t having any of this though and duly creates a ring of fire around the tree, (sadly, without the accompanying Johnny Cash soundtrack). Undeterred the Princess channels her inner Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains and walks through the tinfoil, ahem flames, to embrace the tree, and by doing so, expels the Dwarves powers, which sends him plummeting underground (we’re assuming to the big fire).
All smiley and in love she duly jumps onto the back of the horse with the Prince who’s cast aside his bearish charms and now looks like Phillip Schofield and they ride off into the sunset together to host This Morning (except for Fridays).
Now as crazy as this all sounds, unless Mum sneakily infused some magic mushrooms into my cupcake (and I wouldn’t rule it out, I used to be given whisky for toothache!) then that’s what went down, I know this to be true, because I have YouTube and Google.
It all sounds very silly so why did it traumatise so many of us?
Well like I said we were used to little people being charming and friendly so the fact that this little imp was so nasty, and evil was kind of a game changer.
Also, he had no ulterior motives, he was just f*cking with everyone for the sake of it and the irrationality of this was bemusing to an 8-year-old in a world where everything kind of happened for a reason.
The show lasted for 72 minutes but was serialised in 3 episodes to ensure that children everywhere had three sleepless weeks instead of just the one.
I can vividly remember being freaked out by the little guy, had he really been killed off like the Wicked Witch of the West, who had evaporated into a kale smoothie at the touch of water, or could he come back to torment us?
That’s what kept me awake, that’s what made me continually check my cupboards and under the bed, and up in the loft – that’s what gave me the frickin’ heebie-jeebies!
Like most of us I’ve watched thousands of hours of tv (the average in a lifetime is 78,000 hours apparently) and there are certain things you never forget –
Bowie’s first appearance on TOTP
The ending in The Sopranos
Basil thrashing the car in Fawlty Towers
Archie Gemmill’s goal v Holland in 1978
And I would have to add this show and the evil dwarf to the list as it’s been burned into my psyche since I saw it. 55 years ago.
As Rita Cruikshank rightly says – “you never forget trauma”
(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2021)
I will endeavour to present this article to you, the general public, without the use of quotes. Thank you.
“It’s !……………….” Ah, false start.
We kids of the 60s were brought up on a numbing TV diet of the crass and corny. Think “The Dick Emery Show”, “On The Buses” and “Steptoe & Son”. The bland – “Charlie Drake”, “Harry Worth”, “Hugh & I” and the innuendo strewn and mildly titillating “Carry On” films “Up Pompeii” and of course “The Benny Hill Show”. There were a few stand outs – “Dads Army”, “The Likely Lads” but on average our comedic viewing was……………………… well, average.
“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” emerged from the ashes of “The Frost Report”, “At Last the 1948 Show” and “Do Not Adjust Your Set” in 1969 but didn’t come to my attention until a couple of years later. It continued the surreal elements of “Peter Cook and Dudley Moore” and Spike Milligan’s “Q”. It became an unexpected success.
“Nobody expects the Spanish…………………………….” No !
Five ‘Oxbridge’ dons and a Yank cartoonist wrote, created and performed a sketch show which stretched the boundaries of what we had previously known and witnessed. This was no traditional nor conventional comedy sketch show with a beginning, middle and end. Continuity was abandoned, chaos was unleashed and we teenagers lapped it up.
This was our generation’s comedy, our Beatles and Stones moment of hilarity and mirth and best of all……………………….our parents didn’t get it !
“Turn that rubbish off !”
“Isn’t there snooker on the other side ?”
I think the show went to air on a Thursday evening and on Friday morning, the registration class was a buzz with soliloquising falsetto voices. Come recess, a pit of 4th year Python prodigy would slither sideways across the playground in a great arc flicking it’s tail and baring it’s fangs at any stray juniors with a caustic Cleese like come down.
We would then curl up in a huddle to re-enact the previous evening’s episode. We must have looked like a convention of young Tourette sufferers with our silly walks and Gumby impressions. (Having a knitted tank top, I was half way there already !)
Cross country running was the staple of many a PE class. Off twenty odd gangling teenagers would trot around Kilmardinny loch a few times, sufficient to fill a double period. A group of us would hang back and turn a sharp left up to Graeme’s basement for a few tracks of “Another Monty Python Record”, it’s cover a crude crayon scratching out of Beethoven 2nd Symphony in D Major, then rejoin the stragglers 15 minutes later in our Upper Class Twit of the Year personas.
“Simon-Zinc-Trumpet-Harris, married to a very attractive table lamp………..” Oops !
The 70s brought us the cinematic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the iconic “Life of Brian” with all it’s ridiculous accusations of blasphemy. What could be better publicity than rabbis and nuns protesting with placards !
Sadly the circus packed up and left town. Cleese to the equally iconic ‘Fawlty Towers’ then basically any film that required his cameo. Palin went off on his travels. Gilliam became one of the leading film directors of the time. Idle tried to revive some sketches on Broadway and Chapman and Jones left the stage altogether.
“’E’s expired and gone to meet…………………….” Sorry !
The word pythonesque is now the standard bearer for anything deemed as ‘surreal comedy’.
Even today, when I pick up the axe to chop some fire wood, I can’t help humming to myself the first few lines of “I’m a Lumberjack”. Or maybe the smirk is because…
“I cut down trees, I wear high heels
Suspendies and a bra
I wish I’d been a girlie, just like my dear Papa”…………………………..damn it !
Who can’t resist on hearing the final refrain of Sousa’s “Liberty Bell” blowing that squelching raspberry.
Or is it just me with my highfalutin ideas ?
Come on. I know you want to say it. In your best falsetto voice now……………
There seemed to be a disproportionate amount of TV cop shows around in the Seventies – and by my reckoning there could be only three reasons for that.
One: I’ve somehow blocked out all the tat from that era so that any good stuff gets more prominence in my memory.
Two: My dad must have liked the genre because he had full control of the telly scheduling in our house.
Three: Erm, there WAS a disproportionate amount of TV cop shows around back then.
Whatever the reason, it worked out well for me. There were more cop shows on in our house than you could shake a police baton at.
Like a lot of people in the late 60s and early 70s, I was introduced to police dramas via Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars. Well, when I say dramas…there didn’t seem to be anything dramatic going on.
Nonetheless, I remember being fairly excited to be sitting down to watch the programmes. Well, when I say sit down…I had to get up and change the channel first as my dad issued instructions from his chair which, incidentally, was slap-bang in front of the telly and the nearest to it.
Peering up from the telly pages of his paper, he’d say: “Z-Cars is coming on, son. Turn it over to BBC1.” Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the word “please” missing from that sentence. Welcome to my world as a human remote.
I plodded along (see what I did there?) with Dixon and Z-Cars, but the tame, procedural stuff was beginning to lose its appeal for a 16-year-old looking for a TV adrenaline rush.
Whoosh! Along came The Sweeney in the mid-70s and blew me away, along with any villains who dared stand in the way of Inspector Jack Regan and Sergeant George Carter.
There were dramatic car chases, shoot-outs, sex scenes, punch-ups and dawn raids. One of which spawned the classic line: “Get your trousers on, you’re nicked.”
This was more like it – you never saw this sort of stuff on Dixon or Z-Cars. The bar had been raised and, for a while, I was content to follow Regan and Carter as they took a battering ram to London’s underworld on ITV every week.
But I was hankering for something else, something different. So I turned my attention to some of the Seventies American cop shows which were flooding in to Britain at the time.
There was so much to choose from. Using my human doofer skills, I was soon turning through the channels to check out episodes of Ironside, Hawaii Five-0, Cannon, Police Woman, The Streets of San Francisco, Shaft, Charlie’s Angels, McCloud, Starsky and Hutch, The Rockford Files, Columbo and Kojak.
Using my own detective prowess, I quickly sussed there were different templates being used to make these shows successful.
First you had solo maverick cops – with a gimmick – who paid little or no attention to their superiors but still managed to catch the bad guys (McCloud, Shaft, Columbo and Kojak).
The double-act maverick cops who would go above and beyond to catch the bad guys (Hawaii Five-0, Starsky and Hutch, Police Woman and The Streets of San Francisco)
Then the former cops who still love to catch the bad guys (Charlie’s Angels and Ironside) and finally the former cops/cons-turned-private-investigators who always seemed to get a right doing before they managed to – you’ve guessed it – catch the bad guys (Cannon and The Rockford Files).
It took me a while, but I eventually whittled down my favourites to The Rockford Files, Columbo and Kojak. So props to James Garner, Peter Falk and Telly Savalas for bringing the characters to life.
It only took a few bars of the Mike Post-Pete Carpenter theme tune for the Rockford Files to draw you in, but you were hooked a few seconds later when the answer-machine kicked into life with the words: “This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I’ll get back to you.”
It was the same for every episode, a neat gimmick to grab your attention right from the start.
And Columbo wasn’t short of a gimmick or two himself. Apart from his crumpled raincoat, his cigar and his dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards demeanour, the show went the opposite way from most conventional cop programmes.
There was no “whodunnit” value because it started off by showing you the crime and the perpetrator – so the value came from watching Columbo piece the crime together.
And you knew, you just knew, he was about to catch his killer when he turned on his heels as he was leaving a room to say: “Oh, just one more thing…” Busted!
If Columbo looked like something the cat dragged in, then Kojak was top dog in the sharp-dressing stakes. The bald detective was always suited and booted and sucking on a lollipop as he tracked down the baddies on New York’s mean streets.
Sometimes bending the rules – but ALWAYS using his wisecrack one-liner “Who loves ya, baby?” – Kojak would invariably ferret out the perps and bring them to justice.
Rockford, Columbo, Kojak…these guys were certainly top of the cops. The telly detectives of the Seventies were held in high esteem and even featured in novelty records.
Whodunit by R&B band Tavares is a song about a guy searching for the love-rat who nicked his girl and name-checks McCloud, Ironside, Baretta and Kojak amongst others.
Then there’s King of the Cops by comedy impersonator Billy Howard. It’s a load of tosh, but it still reached number 6 in the charts back in 1975.
Howard’s song, which features impressions of McCloud, Columbo, Frank Cannon, Ironside and Steve McGarrett, ends with his Kojak character busting them all and, with tongue in cheek, saying: “How do you like that.. police officers making records.”
(Post by Paul Fitzpatrick, of London – February 2021)
I’ve always had a strange relationship with Billy Connolly.
Not that we’ve ever met.
I call it Christopher Columbus syndrome – You find an artist, hear a song or read a book that hardly anyone else knows about, you become an early adopter and spread the word, and before you know it everyone loves them – with people even asking you if you’ve heard of them!
It drives you mad because you feel like you’re the one that DISCOVERED THEM, and if it wasn’t for you unearthing their great talent and spreading the word, they’d be nowhere.
You even begin to resent their newfound fame – they’re being greedy or they’re overreaching or they’re forgetting where they come from, or some other daft notion.
Welcome to my relationship with Billy Connolly.
I’m pretty sure the first time I heard Connolly utter a word was on the Pavilion stage in February 1974.
There was a buzz as the relative unknown had sold out several nights at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow, something only Sydney Devine (Scotland’s answer to Elvis) could do back then.
My pal Barry suggested we get tickets to see him on a Friday night as we had no school the next day, we were both 15 at the time and part of the plan was to find a pub and go for the full Friday night Glasgow experience.
We duly found a wee working mans pub round the corner from the venue, and foraged for a seat out of view, it was tea-time on a Friday, so the pub was busy with artisans in their work clothes finishing their shifts for the weekend.
We must have stood out like sore thumbs.
I think Barry braved the first approach to the bar and I was amazed but delighted when he came back with 2 halves of lager and 2 vodka and oranges’ (non-diluted orange squash of course).
A half and a half back then was the working mans preferred tipple, so who were we to challenge the established order of things.
The drinks were downed pretty quickly, and we enjoyed a few more bevvy’s before floating off down the road to the Pavilion in good spirits.
Stand-up comedy in the 70’s was dominated by middle aged men who wore suits and bow ties and told corny jokes about their mother in laws or minorities or Germans bombing their chip shops.
This guy Connolly was different though he was younger, he looked like a welder on acid and he spoke our language.
A bit like listening to the opening 4 tracks of Led Zeppelin IV for the first time, Connolly literally took our breath away. I had never laughed so long or so hard before, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t since, although Jerry Sadowitz has come close a couple of times.
He was loud, gallus, hilarious and the audience loved him, his stories were relatable, and he was one of us.
I remember hearing the Crucifixion sketch for the first time that night, it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard, he was irreverent and didn’t give two hoots about poking fun at religion or sectarian taboos or bodily functions or the establishment, no topic was off limits to the Big Yin.
It was a memorable evening; from the nervous bus-journey into town wondering if we’d get served or huckled for being underage, to the journey home, fish supper in hand, trying to recount all the jokes and patter and remembering we had football for the school the following morning.
We were so smitten by Connolly that we spent the next couple of weeks spreading the gospel, telling everyone we knew how great he was, mostly to blank faces however, as no one had heard of him.
His career really took off after a live album of the Pavilion material was released in May 1974, and the following year he finally came into the general public’s consciousness.
In 1975 Connolly sold out an unprecedented 12 nights at the Glasgow Apollo, as well as appearing on Parkinson for the first of his record breaking 15 appearances.
That year he also showed off his acting chops by appearing in a powerful Peter McDougall TV play called ‘Just Another Saturday’ which was about West of Scotland culture, beliefs, innocence and sectarianism.
If that wasn’t enough, he also headlined a London gig for the first time and even had a number one single, appearing on TOTP with a parody of Tammy Wynette’s Divorce. It was the archetypal rags to riches story; the guy had gone from zero to hero in the space of 18 months.
There’s a picture that was taken in 1975 by Ronnie Anderson, a newspaper colleague of one of our contributors George Cheyne, that is my favourite Connolly portrait.
The occasion was an after-party in The Dorchester for the first of Billy’s sell out shows at the London Palladium in 1975, and it features – Billy, Alex Harvey, Jimmy Reid the shop steward, Hamish Stuart from AWB, Frankie Miller and Jimmy Dewar (a musician from Stone the Crows and Robin Trower Band).
A motley crew of 6 Glaswegians toasting their mate’s success in a foreign land.
If I’m being completely honest, the parody single was the point when I started to think the Big Yin was overreaching.
A parody single? That was for Benny Hill and Rolf Harris but not for the Big Yin!
I’d also noticed that his accent had started to soften a bit and he was definitely losing some of his tough Glasgow brogue.
Of course, I look back now and understand he was just reaching out to a wider audience, the guy was a welder turned folk singer turned comedian, he had no idea how long this gravy train was going to run for.
He was simply making the most of his opportunities
As Connolly got bigger so did his global reach, hanging out with Hollywood celebs and Royalty and appearing in big budget movies and hosting TV specials.
There was a point where he seemed to be everyone’s favourite comedian, but he probably wasn’t mine anymore.
I had discovered American stand-up, guys like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Bill Hicks, and I liked the cut of their jib.
I still liked Billy and I would go the odd gig, but for me comparing his newer, more mainstream material to his earlier stuff was like comparing Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You to Superstition or Living for the City.
And I guess I’ve just addressed some of my issues right there!
If Stevie can’t maintain unrealistic artistic excellence, who can??
On a subconscious level I also think that for some absurd reason I thought he’d forsaken his Scottish roots, which is illogical, particularly as I moved away from Scotland myself in 1984.
There’s no doubt that Connolly has had a fantastic career, he’s adored by millions and he is and always has been a wonderful ambassador for Scotland.
As he’s got older, I think he’s got back to being a bit more irreverent and a bit more outspoken, and that’s the Billy I adore.
I’ve loved stand-up comedy since I was 15 thanks to the Big Yin, he was my first and he was one of the best.
When all’s said and done, I’m glad I got to discover the Big Yin in February 1974 and share him with the rest of the world.