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I think this is the quietest week so far, but at least there are some more films that are new to Freeview – and enough, all told, to avoid the seemingly hundreds of Christmas films that have been on since September and possibly even earlier. If the numbers for the week do not satisfy, you can always catch the 60th anniversary celebrations of Coronation Street. These include the very first episode, originally transmitted 9 December 1960, but showing this week Monday 7 December, 10.00pm on ITV 3 (Channel 10).
THE RAILWAY CHILDREN (1970) Saturday 5 December 2.45-4.30pm BBC 2
Again, I would urge you to avoid the treacly Christmas films and watch a true family classic! The story of three children adjusting to a new life in Yorkshire is a timeless one and, with the exception of her performance in Equus (1977), this and Walkabout (1970) remain Jenny Agutter’s best work for the big screen.
DIRTY GOD (2019) Saturday 5 December 10.00-11.40pm BBC 2 P
The subject matter is quite uncompromising – a young woman, disfigured in an acid attack, tries to get her life back on track – so we chose not to book it. However, anchored by a brilliant performance from newcomer Vicky Knight, it’s an impressive effort all round and deserves to be seen.
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961) Sunday 6 December 2.35-4.50pm Channel 41
We’ll work on the assumption that it will be a cold/wet afternoon and settle down to the film that was the precursor to the long-running TV series. The strong cast of veterans includes Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine and Peter Lorre. It’s all about saving the Earth by firing missiles into the Van Allen belt and is very entertaining.
THE WORKSHOP (2017) Sunday 6 December 10.10pm-12.00 midnight BBC 4 P
We have a strong literary tradition in Lyme (and Bridport) so this French social-realist drama should be just the ticket (and we are at the seaside, too). An angry teenager signs up for a successful author’s writing workshop and tensions arise.
APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1950) Monday 7 December 1.15-3.05pm Film Four
The plot stretches credibility a little: Alan Ladd is a Post Office detective on the trail of a murderer; Britain’s Phyllis Calvert is a nun who witnessed the crime. The result is a tidy, enjoyable thriller – but even so, Mr Ladd must have been pleased that Shane was on the horizon.
LEAN ON PETE (2017) Monday 7 December 11.15pm-1.40am Film Four P
Alas, this well-meaning, decently-made drama didn’t work as our Christmas offering (2018-19 season, reaction 72%). Charlie Plummer absconds with a horse that has outlived its usefulness on the racing circuit and they form a strong, loving bond as they head for the wide country.
HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949) Tuesday 8 December 6.00-7.40am Channel 41
Actually, this is a proper Christmas film that is well worth seeking out and relatively unknown. The director (Don Hartman) is unheralded, too. Janet Leigh is a widowed mother with feelings for two men (Robert Mitchum and Wendell Corey) – whom will she choose? Holiday Affair is a gentle, sweet-natured treat.
BLUE MURDER AT ST TRINIAN’S (1957) Tuesday 8 December 3.05-4.30pm BBC 2
This, the second in the famous series of British schoolgirl comedies, is the only ’new offering’ we can make this afternoon! It’s not as funny as the first, overall, but it does have Joyce Grenfell, Terry-Thomas and, for those of a certain age, Sabrina.
HOUSEBOAT (1958) Wednesday 9 December 2.50-5.00pm Film Four
Houseboat is a nicely-played romantic comedy in which Sophia Loren is hired by Cary Grant (it was their second teaming) to look after his three children. Nothing earthshaking, then, but it’s colourful and generally evokes fond memories from those who have seen it.
THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (1951) Thursday 10 December 3.15-4.30pm BBC 2
Now, this is a 5-star comedy, courtesy of Ealing Studios. Alec Guinness is the timid bank clerk who believes he has planned the perfect heist (in this instance gold bullion); Alfie Bass and Sid James form part of his gang. Look fast for Audrey Hepburn.
BROOKLYN (2015) Thursday 10 December 8.00-9.40pm BBC 4
Brooklyn opened our 2016-17 season (reaction: 89%). After receiving a job offer, young Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) takes the boat for New York and later falls in love with an Italian-American. When tragedy strikes at home, which of the two worlds will claim her?
THE SCARLET AND THE BLACK (1983) Friday 11 December 2.55-5.15pm Channel 41
This very classy TVM (better than many cinema releases I could name) is programmed regularly by Sony Movies Action and deserves an audience. Gregory Peck is the priest helping the persecuted to escape, Christopher Plummer is the Nazi colonel trying to trap him and John Gielgud appears as Pope Pius XII.
THE MERCY (2017) Friday 11 December 9.00-10.40pm BBC 2 P
Two versions (Crowhurst is the other) were released in 2017 that tell the story of Donald Crowhurst; with Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz, this has the greater star power. Our local sailors will recall that, in October 1968, the yachtsman set sail from Teignmouth on a round-the-world race. Later, his trimaran was found but he was never seen again.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
TV THEMES AT RANDOM!
Inspired by Neil Brand’s new series on BBC 4, I thought it might be fun to produce a list of favourite TV themes. How we first engaged with the world of music as young children can be very varied, of course; in my case, TV scores were influential. I can remember experimenting with my dad’s reel-to-reel tape recorder and recording music from the likes of The Saint and the Edgar Wallace B-films. It’s a good idea to make these lists quickly, otherwise it grows and grows and I am sure that I will have overlooked something (Tony Hatch’s score for The Champions, anyone?). The list doesn’t have very many programmes from recent years, either. Partly, this is because I do not have Sky or Netflix so I am not familiar with some of them. However, I do think also, as with many recent films, the preference is to use a minimalist score and they are not something you are likely to hum years later.
Please note: I haven’t included themes from sports programmes (with one exception), have resorted to grouping some together to keep the list manageable AND, most crucially, Bagpuss would be on a separate pedestal, overseeing all that lay before him.
20. CORONATION STREET – Eric Spear’s theme music will probably be with us for another 60 years!
19. STEPTOE AND SON – I have found room for one comedy and you’ll see Ron Grainer’s name elsewhere in the list.
18. MATCH OF THE DAY – so well known that even those who don’t like football (perish the thought!) will recognise it: Barry Stoller was the composer.
17. Z CARS – actually taken from a Liverpool folk song, but we’ll include it. Composer Bridget Fry and her husband, Fritz Spiegel, both worked on the series.
16. DALLAS – probably the most successful series of that era; Jerrold Immel composed the score.
15. HILL STREET BLUES – groundbreaking in its presentation and it was compulsory viewing for me in the 1980s. Mike Post was the composer and it was a popular piece of music.
14. CAGNEY AND LACEY – Bill Conti was responsible this time. Two female buddy cops was a new concept back then and fans helped to keep the show on the road.
13. The legend that was GERRY ANDERSON. Barry Gray worked on all the series, I recall – including Stingray, Joe 90 and the iconic Thunderbirds. Little did I realise, he was born in Blackburn . . . .
12. Ah, all those weekends and school holidays: The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, The Flashing Blade, The White Horses, Freewheelers, Banana Splits and Champion the Wonder Horse.
11. THE BRIDGE – we do have one recent series (and one of the best). The vocals might not be so easy on the English ear, but it set the tone brilliantly.
10. HAWAII FIVE-O – the surf, the crashing music, the dramatic turn to side profile by the star of the show, Jack Lord. He was also a good artist – well, he was certainly in the right place for inspiration!
9. VAN DER VALK – this theme was so popular, it made the Top 20. The composer, Jan Stoeckart, was himself Dutch. The reruns of the original are much better than the update, for sure!
8. Westerns - and eschewing a separate list: we’ll keep them doggies movin’ (Rawhide) and stop by at the Ponderosa (Bonanza). Billy Goldenberg did a very catchy theme for Alias Smith and Jones and wrote other good pieces for Universal Studios. Perhaps the most memorable theme was Percy Faith’s for The Virginian. More recently, very nearly the traditional western’s last gasp was Paradise (1988-90). Jerrold Immel did a great opening for this, but to appreciate it fully, you have to watch the credits sequence as you listen!
7. THE SAINT and THE PRISONER. We must thank Edwin Astley and Ron Grainer for these and, again, we are very much in the territory of having to see the visuals that go with them.
6. STAR TREK – but which one is the best? They are all memorable and essential to each series. Let’s have a go, in reverse order: Star Trek, Next Generation, Voyager and then Deep Space Nine (it must be the trumpet).
5. DR WHO – one of the most iconic themes in British television, or anywhere else. The idea of an electronic score was so innovative – and guess what, it was Ron Grainer again. Australian born, he was playing piano at the age of two and, obviously, went on from there!
4. THE AVENGERS – Laurie Johnson worked on several series, but he is remembered most fondly for this one. The Diana Rigg episodes contain most of the classics, but the whole enterprise is such a British institution. I think I might prefer the French title, though – Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir.
3. THE PERSUADERS – it is okay to swop around the top three as we are splitting hairs. John Barry’s theme is one of the very best in itself, but together with the opening credits it’s a mini-masterpiece.
2. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – the long-running series was popular (but not ever so), entertaining, had a Black actor (Greg Morris) on an equal footing and a superb score by Lalo Schifrin.
1. MAN IN A SUITCASE – a cult series (only 30 episodes), a cult actor (Richard Bradford), fond memories of late-night viewing and a wonderful theme from . . . Ron Grainer. For me, the icing on the cake is that some of the best episodes were directed by our friend Peter Duffell.
So, there we are. Oh, heck, I have just remembered Ennio Morricone’s music (‘Chi Mai’) written for the series on David Lloyd George (12 weeks in the charts in 1981). Never mind!
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