"In the jungle of beauty, loose tongues cut like knives..."

A tribute to the 80s Bonkbuster Mini-Series

In many ways, it was the archetypal TV format of the 80s. Those expensive yet hideous outfits. That sweeping overblown music. Those overwrought characters with needlessly exotic names. Those endless soft-focus lurve scenes. Those half-forgotten actors desperately trying to resurrect their careers. That Stefanie "Bloody" Powers. Yes! It's the Bonkbuster Mini-Series. For a while, no childhood was complete if your mum didn't have a glossy pile of tie-in novels on her bedside table, and no teenage trip to the library was complete without rifling through the "bestseller" shelves to check which pages those hefty tomes would "mysteriously" fall open at. So to celebrate this forgotten cultural tidal wave, here's a lovingly compiled Top Ten.

 

1. THE THORN BIRDS  1983

I will not look down her dress. I will not look down... oh, darn these vows.

This one is the daddy. The stuff of teenage dreams. You'll cry, you'll swoon, you'll shag a Catholic priest. Richard Chamberlain gets his cassock in a twist, Bryan Brown manhandles some sheep, and Rachel Ward displays the acting ability we've all now come to expect from her. Endless classroom sniggering at the bit where the very sheltered teenager Meggy tearfully tells the priest that she's started hemorrhaging mysteriously and is obviously going to die. Clue: there's a much more prosaic explanation ("You're not dying, you're growing up!"). Poor lass.

Needlessly exotic name: Ralph de Bricassart

 

2. LACE  1984

 

Phoebe and her real mum. Possibly.

"Which one of you bitches is my mother?" asks Phoebe Cates, as pornstar-turned-top-actress (yeah, right) "Lili" sets out to research her parentage more efficiently than the Child Support Agency ever could. Will her mum turn out to be the blonde one, the brunette one or the French one? Errr... I think it was the blonde one. Probably. Disappointment all round as legendary "erotic goldfish" scene only appears in the book. Lace 2 followed, with "Which one of you bastards is my father?" and pointlessly long skiing scenes. Ah, those Swiss finishing schools!

Needlessly exotic name: Pagan Tralone.

 

3. A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE  1983

Jenny puts a brave face on being strangled by a large stoat.

True Brit-style working-class-lass-makes-good saga. Jenny Seagrove attempts a Yorkshire accent, suffers nobly and ends up running Harrods (sorry, "Harte's"). Points for managing to look better in a corset than Mohammed Al Fayed. Spawned several glossier, stupider sequels: Hold the Dream (Jenny again and Anthony "pre-cannibalism career slump" Hopkins) and To Be the Best (Tone again with Lindsay "Bionic" Wagner).

Needlessly exotic name: Arthur Ainsley (?)

 

4. HOLLYWOOD WIVES  1985

Jackie Collins's epic made flesh, mainly of the surgically enhanced variety. The thrust of the storyline may have been lost over time, but a lot of other thrusting stays in the mind. Suzanne Somers's character was meant to be a soft-porn actress, whose last film involved her being ravished by dwarves. I'm not making this up. Altogether less hilarious than The Stud.

Needlessly exotic names: Montana Gray, Sadie LaSalle

 

5. MISTRAL'S DAUGHTER  1984

Artistic pretentions here, with Stacy Keach as "Mistral", an overwrought French painter based very vaguely on Matisse. Otherwise it's business as usual. Stefanie "She's Gorgeous!" Powers plays an "I'm just an innocent teenager, honest!" artist's model, skipping and pouting through picturesque Provence and sinful Pareee. Nana "Sodding" Mouskouri warbles "Only Love" at the end.

Needlessly exotic name: Fauve Mistral 

 

6. NORTH AND SOUTH  1985

This one was considered quite classy at the time, and had something for everyone. For the boys, there was a fair amount of blood and swash, plus Kirsty "Cheers" Alley and Lesley-Ann "what was she famous for, again?" Down with bosoms a-heaving. Meanwhile, girls had corsets, parasols, forbidden lurve and Patrick Swayze, not to mention lots of dodgy Deep South twanging and Scarlett-O'Hara-style overblown emoting.

Needlessly exotic names: Virgilia Hazard, Elkanah Bent 

 

7. RETURN TO EDEN  1985

"I may look like a box of Milk Tray, but at least I'm not trying to get off with Kenny Rogers."

Glossy Aussie job, with a legendary storyline - a woman is savaged by crocodiles, has her face rebuilt by plastic surgery, becomes an international model and sets out to get revenge on the people who threw her to the crocs in the first place. Her intention is to win back her old house, called "Eden" (hence the name, see?). Actually, the surgery leaves her looking fairly similar to the way she looked before, but no worries ­ her old enemies totally fail to recognize her when she's in evening dress with her hair up.

Needlessly exotic name: None. At least, nothing half so exotic as Kylie Minogue. 

 

8. MASTER OF THE GAME  1984

Dyan "my parents couldn't spell Diane" Cannon was aged 47 at the time, but put her in a frilly smock and she is totally believable as a little girl. Isn't she? The show follows her whole life, and believe me, the 90-year-old version of Dyan is much more convincing. Was an international diamond business involved in the plot? Possibly.

Needlessly exotic name: Salomon Van Der Merwe 

 

9. SINS  1986

Joan "Who else?" Collins lives through the war and grows up to do the Alexis thang again. Set a record with Joannie's 85 costume changes. Count 'em. You probably won't have much else to do. Timothy "Dull" Dalton tries to look enthusiastic about the prospect of snogging Joan. He fails.

Needlessly exotic name: Luba Tcherina 

 

10. I'LL TAKE MANHATTAN  1987

Valerie "utter rubbish" Bertinelli tries to rescue her father's failing magazine empire and find true lurve. Some amusement caused by mentioning lots of absent famous people that the magazine is supposed to be interviewing: "Oh look, is that Mel Gibson over there?" No, it's not, you can't afford him, stupid. Absolutely dire.

Needlessly exotic name: Maxi Amberville

 

Bubbling under.... 

Richard fails the audition to play the young Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Shogun Ricky Chamberlain again, and Toshiro "Seven Samurai" Mifune in classy samurai epic. More of a boys' thing, really, with only a spot of romance, and all the best dresses are worn by men. Needlessly exotic names: Dutch sailors called Maetsukker and Croocq.

Winds of War/ War and Remembrance Interminable "quality" saga with Robert "Craggy" Mitchum and Jane "Le Jardin de Max Factor" Seymour living through the entire Second World War. At one point, Jane learns the Yiddish phrase for "boiling potatoes". Then she boils some. Needlessly exotic name: Franklin Delano Roosevelt...

Deceptions Twice as much Stefanie Powers as usual: she plays a dowdy twin and a glamorous twin who swap lives, with less thrilling consequences than you might imagine. Joan Sims is the comedy housekeeper. Needlessly exotic actress name: Fairuza Balk (the characters cannot compete.)

Scruples Lindsay "Bionic" Wagner in an early example of standard "marrying a zillionaire won't make you happy" shenanigans. Needlessly exotic name: Lilianne de Vertdulac.

If Tomorrow Comes Sidney "One in every airport" Sheldon tale about a wronged woman forced into a life of crime ­ of the glamorous, international-diamond-theft sort, of course. Liam Neeson was in there somewhere. Needlessly exotic name: Ernestine Littlechap.

Riders At last, the British get to have a go, and Jilly Cooper's in the saddle. So it's Stephanie "Connie" Beacham, Michael "Hooded Man" Praed, many a tipsy Sloane girlie and a veritable orgy of tight jodphurs and single entendre. Needlessly exotic name: Grania Pringle

 

Which one of these charlatans is my second cousin twice removed? - Jill Phythian, Phil Norman, Uncle Feedle, Dave B, and the TV Cream Ask The Family family.