Tuesday, 22 September 2015

"And after the break . . ." Happy 60th ITV

Yes, it's time to break open the bubbly and blow up the balloons as the 'light' channel, ITV, celebrates sixty glorious years of existence. Well, maybe forty of them were glorious but let's not quibble.

Scrub that. Let's quibble. For me, the ITV of 2015 is a very different creature from the one I knew and loved in days of yore. However much I try, I feel it highly unlikely that I will ever look back on The Cube with misty-eyed fondness or hanker for the good old days of Doc Martin. Nevertheless, someone will.

For me ITV is firmly stuck in the seventies and eighties, providing a backdrop to childhood and adolescence. More so than BBC, ITV became our default channel and that meant hoovering up everything on offer from our local network, Yorkshire Television. Ah - the chevron logo, the strident brass fanfare  . . . and then something as innocuous as Farmhouse Kitchen. Forget Mary Berry - we had Dorothy Sleightholme back in the day, shuffling around her faux country kitchen, preparing Christmas puddings in September. Bless her. In fact, many ITV memories seem to stem from those illicit moments spent watching daytime telly whilst perched on the sofa 'being ill'. A sick day (or two) usually meant the appearance of the 'sickness blanket', the vomit-inducing Lucozade in a crinkly amber wrapper and several hours of ITV.

The 'For Schools and Colleges' programmes ranged from the staggeringly dull to the petrifying. Remember the eerie them tune to Picture Box accompanied by a close up of Alan Rothwell? Or the ear-piercing screech on Experiment as the narrator instructed us to 'write it down'? Things improved at lunchtime with Rainbow (camp pink hippo, nasty old Zippy and hair bear Bungle), Pipkins (camp Hartley Hare, a Brummie pig, thieving monkey) or Hickory House (Alan Rothwell again). Best of all though were the shows aimed at the seventies housefrau such as Good Afternoon. This was a cornucopia of delights as Judith Chalmers or Mary Parkinson chatted with the likes of George Melly and Katie Boyle before offering up some consumer advice. Victoria Wood mercilessly sent this format up in the 1980s. Even more engaging was Houseparty, which was basically Loose Women on soft furnishings. The show would begin with the ding-dong of a doorbell which cued Mavis Nicholson to start mentioning the word 'womb' before segueing nicely into a discussion on flapjack recipes with Elaine Grand.

ITV was also the home for the dramas we, as a family, consumed avidly. I was too young for the original airing of Upstairs Downstairs but watched the re-runs in the mid 1970s. Ditto  A Family at War with the haunting theme tune and the closing credits focusing on a sand castle on a beach bedecked with a Union Flag. We gathered at supper-time to feast on Brideshead Revisited, Born and Bred or the latest US import such as Hill Street Blues. 7.30 pm was reserved on Mondays and Wednesdays for Coronation Street, in an era where the pub and shop didn't burn down or explode with monotonous regularity. If Ena Sharples' hair-net blew off, it was the talk of the playground the next day.

And we laughed. ITV kept us in stitches with saucy yet funny sitcoms such as Man About the House, Two's Company and Rising Damp. We found endless amusement tittering at Richard Wilson in Only When I Laugh or Peggy Mount playing yet another gorgon in You're Only Young Twice. At a time when, as a ten year old, I had little idea of the concept of political correctness, I found joy in Mind Your Language. Not so funny now though.

So thank you ITV - thanks for Crown Court, for Googie Withers in Within These Walls, for Meg Mortimer singing 'We All Need a Little Christmas' on the festive Crossroads, for Susan Stranks on Magpie, for the News at 5.45 with Leonard Parkin, for Dennis Norden every Bank Holiday, for Michael Aspel, Una Stubbs and co on Give Us A Clue, for Emmerdale Farm when it just about Amos Brierley and sheep-dip, for World of Sport and the endless diving from Accapulco, for the terrifying theme tune to World in Action, for New Faces every Saturday night, for Opportunity Knocks every Monday night, for Benny Hill, for the Krypton Factor and it's assault course, for Selwyn Froggatt, for Thora Hird's In Loving Memory, for dippy World War One drama Flambards, for Sooty & Sweep (with and without Harry Corbett0, for Name That Tune, for the unfathomable clues on 3-2-1, for the old ladies forever winning power boats on  Bullseye, for Jack Hargreaves and Bunty Miller on How, for Richard Whiteley and Austin Mitchell reading the local news on Calendar. Thank you ITV for accompanying my formative years. I enjoyed them.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Where the streets have no name

Here we are then, teetering on the edge of the season of mists and mellow fruits . . . or something. The kiddies are safely ensconced in school, the summer holidays are just a memory and Downton Abbey is about to enslave our Sunday evenings for one final season.

Like many people I know, September seems to being on a rush of activities. It's the knowledge that the good weather, such as it is, is about to blow southerly and that CHRISTMAS is just around the corner. We feel the need to fill up those dark nights and chilly weekends. For me then, a splash of music, a West End play and a winter visit to Britain's most famous street. Yes, that Street. Over the past twenty five years I've made several pilgrimages to the Corrie cobbles, both old and new. Some have been as a member of tour groups and others as part of a small group. There is something thrilling yet strangely odd about shuffling around Coronation Street when there is no one else around. I half expected Rita to come bowling out of the shop or Liz to be propped up outside the Rovers having a fag break. Needless to say, I forgot that it wasn't real and began jabbering on as if the characters were. More power to the show for making me a believer.

Of course, Corrie is a world away from reality nowadays but maybe it did have more in common with the Salford backstreets when it began in 1960. Although we can't shuffle back in time to experience it ourselves, I did the next best thing last week and paid a visit to the Photographers' Gallery in London. Women and Children and Loitering Men is an exhibition of the work of Shirley Baker, Salford-born and renowned for the works she did during the 60s and 70s. Baker managed to capture the essence of the disappearing Salford. No cosy old dears with hairnets on display, rather the grim end of a way of life. At the time, Baker worried that in fifty years time, her pictures would be judged as being nostalgic or even worse, obsolete. However, it's difficult not to feel some sort of nostalgia, especially if you lived in s similar area.

The women portrayed in Baker's photographs leave the strongest impression. Sat on doorsteps chatting, each one bedecked in the aprons and 'pinnys' of that era. Even the older ladies, beyond working age, were still dressed for domestic battle. Salford is seen as an area of derelict shops, netted bay windows, waste ground and grubby kids. Rising, as the backdrop to all of this, the unloved tower blocks.

A few of Baker's photos show pubs and shops, grimly hanging on in areas where everything around them had been bulldozed. The paintwork and windows are clean, the curtains are neat and yet everything else has gone. How long would these businesses, with their hopeful, pristine exteriors, survive?

What we don't know is whether or not the inhabitants of these long-forgotten streets were happy to leave it all behind. Did they miss the outside lavs, the tin baths and the filthy back alleys? Did they pine for kitchen ranges and coal fires? Probably not but people did miss their communities and what Baker achieves is to show us the slow dismantling of such communities. The exhibition was fascinating and many of the exhibits can be seen in her book Women and Children and Loitering Men.