TV Cream: The Ultimate Guide to '70s and '80s Pop Culture

Sample Entries

(Not actual size)Before you read the following entries, here's a quick overview as to how the book works.

Basically, the plan is to list some of the best things from the '70s and '80s - that much is obvious. In doing so, we lay out each entry as follows: 1) The title of the thing up for discussion 2) A pithy one-liner subtitle to provide some context . . . or allow us to bung in a favourite quote 3) A peak year in which we think the item under discussion was at its best 4) The actual text itself and finally 5) An out-of-ten rating from our patented nostalgia-quotient-measuring device, the retrometer!

Now read on . . .

3-2-1
Riddle-me-ree television
Peak year: 1982, as half the nation stuck with it every Saturday

Pitching up in 1978 as a blatant spoiler for The Generation Game, 3-2-1 didn’t come close to matching that show in ratings until the early 1980s.

It did outscore its rival, however, in dementedness, asking viewers to sit through – never mind understand – a sequence of dazzling bemusement: three heterosexual couples answering ‘list’ questions against the clock, the winning pair leaving to come back and do it again next week, the other two going on to a physical challenge, then the winners of that watching six sketches and songs and earning a number of clues, one of which related to a huge prize.

‘Fortune and fame’ were promised if you unscrambled these notoriously impenetrable teasers, which in turn were linked to that week’s ‘theme’, usually a half-arsed variation on music hall, involving B-list celebrities doing a turn in between a novelty act and the chance to win a hostess trolley.

The whole thing always felt about to tumble off air, such was its scale – mammoth sets, tons of ‘characters’, from hostesses The Gentle Secs to resident gagsters – and the fact Ted Rogers struggled to hold it all together. Kids and grannies, however, were enchanted with Ted’s dexterous digit-work and Dusty Bin, and 3-2-1 survived until 1988.

It lasted so long because Yorkshire Television threw loads at it, correctly figuring everybody had to be interested in at least one thing, even if it was just the flying YTV chevron at the start.

RETROMETER: 7/10

It's a strip of denim!

The Nescafe advert
Showbiz at its best
Peak year:
1984, when Gareth was in his cups

The campaign that begat a National Gesture, the mid-1980s Nescafé adverts were a prime example of how to succeed in advertising without really trying.

The premise was so-so: middle-of-the-road showbiz faces (Gareth Hunt and Una Stubbs at the core, augmented by the likes of Peter Davison and Diane Keen) relaxed in suburban splendour, discussing the product’s ‘special blend and roast’ and ‘richer, smoother flavour,’ while bizarrely producing handfuls of coffee beans from nowhere by shaking a clenched fist next to the ear. Such unpretentious advertising can only be cherished with hindsight, but who nowadays wouldn't swap a multi-million-pound boreathon with surfers and horses for compact classics such as ‘Gareth’s Garden’ or the award-bypassing ‘Gareth’s Cups’?

As the 1980s really kicked in, Nescafé decided to up the ante, and the annoying Gold Blend couple was born. The sexual speculation foisted on Gareth and co by topical gag merchants up and down the land was spelt out in clunking innuendo, and a happy era of innocence and sweaters ground to a halt.

However, in 1989, Richard Briers and Penelope Wilton performed an ‘ironic’ postscript, showing the sainted Dickie rehearsing for a Hunt-style commercial, only for Penny to leap in with ‘the gesture‘. ‘I wanted to do that bit!’ moaned Briers, childishly. So did we all, Mr B.

RETROMETER: 7/10

It's a strip of denim!

'Girls, Girls, Girls' by Sailor
Possibly not in Germaine Greer’s record collection
Peak year: 1976

In the rich tapestry that is rock’n’roll, it’s fair to say Sailor have never been afforded the respect they deserve for taking a sound pitched somewhere between Roxy Music and The Cliff Adams Singers, a sartorial image heavily indebted to flat caps, neckerchiefs and Richard O’Sullivan, and coalescing it all into something roughly approaching a workable proposition.

Sailor entered our consciousness in 1975 with a debut hit that invited us to ‘get together’ over a ‘Glass of Champagne’, but it’s for their banjo-picking, wolf-whistling tribute to what the squash club set referred to as ‘the fairer sex’ that we shall remember them.

In three minutes flat, ‘Girls Girls Girls’ tipped its hat at any passing crumpet, from ‘shy girls, sexy girls’ to ‘Miss World and beauty queens’ to, well, anyone from Japan (‘they know how to please a man!’), with an exuberant 1930s-style chorus that compelled the listener to launch into that Charleston-era, polishing-the-windows-with-both-hands routine, before essaying that crossing-over-hands-on-knees optical illusion-cum-dance.

In between the close harmonies, ‘Girls Girls Girls’ contained some invaluable practical advice for the budding accounts department smoothie (‘don’t rush, keep it nice and gentle, and sentimental’).

If all this reeks a little of Brut 33, remember that this was a different time, an era when the respective merits of Anthea Redfern and Miss Brahms off of Are You Being Served? were regularly debated in parliament. And there’s always the nagging suspicion that the whole thing might have been tongue-in-cheek. Either way, hop on, the world is swinging, don’t stop and twiddle your thumbs, get up and meet those pretty girls, girls, girls!

RETROMETER: 6/10

It's a strip of denim!

Triangle
Felixstowe! Gothenburg! Amsterdam!
Peak year: 1981: The good ship Dana Anglia made its maiden TV voyage between Nationwide and reruns of Star Trek

An avowedly BBC take on glamour, the North Sea-faring soap was the brainchild of Bill Sellars who had produced the successful 1970s business ball-buster The Brothers.

The programme may have broken new ground by filming everything on a working ferry, but the downside was an overall drabness. The necessity to shoot cabins with blinds drawn over portholes (to avoid continuity problems with external lighting) hardly helped matters.

Kate O’Mara was the big name here, playing hard-nosed Katherine Laker, who beguiled Chief Engineer Matt Taylor (a perspiring Larry Lamb) with such seductive doublespeak as: ‘Think of me as your universal aunt . . . the crook of a little finger isn't always the promise of happy times,’ – whatever that meant.

From the off the critics were down on it, but the public were more forgiving, even if the show did translate Southfork-style disputes about oil wells into spats over the lack of Scandinavian dishes on the ship's menu.

All in all, the Dana Anglia wove its way between the dizzyingly glamourous locales of Felixstowe, Gothenburg and Amsterdam for three series – O’Mara jumping ship before it all came to an end in 1983.

RETROMETER: 9/10

It's a strip of denim!
Gambit
Fred Dinenage hosts a teatime quiz as only he knows (or dares) how
Peak year: 1982, when couples were desperate to be subjected to the wrath of Fred

People think Anne Robinson was the first person to slag off contestants on a TV show, but Fred Dinenage was doing it two decades earlier – though that wasn’t always the intention.

Gambit, in anyone else’s hands, would have been a straightforward teatime quiz to enjoy over the haslet; basically Pontoon on the telly, contestants were asked questions, getting a card for each one they got right, and whoever had the nearest to 21 would get the chance to play for Anglia-standard prizes of Mini Metros and canteens of cutlery on the mystical Gambit board.

So far, so ordinary, but the masterstroke was the casting of Fred as host, who brought something of an air of menace to the usual antiseptic atmosphere of these things. He wouldn’t tolerate any talkback from his contestants, once famously asking, ‘you got a problem there?’ to a contestant muttering during his link.

There was also the repartee with dippy hostess Michelle Lambourne, whose banter couldn’t have received a frostier reaction had she been outside the studio. Rightly so, as in TV Times Fred claimed his show was ‘an Olympics of the mind’ and advised contestants to read an encyclopaedia every night in bed.

Sadly, in 1983 Tom O’Connor took over as host, and was far too polite to the punters. Unsurprisingly, the series ended soon after.

RETROMETER: 8/10

It's a strip of denim!

Gobots
‘Mighty robots, mighty vehicles’
Peak year: 1986, Hanna-Barbera release the cinematic masterpiece Gobots: War of the Rock Lords

The whole 1980s vehicle-that-changes-into-a-robot phenomenon was an extremely confusing and perilous scene for the uninitiated and if not too careful could result in tantrums as little kids were given Optimus Prime by a well meaning relative when what they had asked for was Giant Zrk.

Whilst less well known than the ubiquitous Transformers, the Gobots were actually first to hit the market. Released by Tonka toys in 1984, they were based on the already existent Machine Robo range that had been created by Bandai.

The original Gobots were a lot smaller than the Transformers and came in packaging depicting a cartoon version of the toy you were purchasing that looked far more impressive than the actual thing itself. Much like other toys of this ilk, the robots were necessarily oddly designed, such that Cy-Kill (the first Gobot out of the factory) had rather obvious motorcycle wheels for shoulders. The extensive range covered all forms of transport including planes, dumper trucks and police cars.

Although aesthetically there wasn’t much between them, the Transformers were marketed far more aggressively and successfully positioned themselves as the hipper of the two lines. Indeed by the mid 1980s, the poor kid who owned the entire Gobots line was something of a laughing stock – as was his dad who still insisted on recording all his favourite TV programmes on Betamax.

RETROMETER: 9/10

It's a strip of denim!
Other entries in the book cover topics such as:2000AD, A Clown Too Many by Les Dawson, Ace of Wands, Action Man, Adrian Juste, 'Ain't No Pleasing You' by Chas and Dave, Airfix, All Creatures Great and Small, Angel Delight, Ask Aspel, audio taping, Aztec bars, Barratt Homes ads, BBC Christmas idents, Beeb magazine, Big D nuts on cards in pubs, Blankety Blank, Blue Jeans, Bob Block comedies, Bob's Full House, The Book Tower, British Leyland, Bunty, Buster, Buzzfax, Captain Beaky, Captain Zep - Space Detective, the Casual font, Champ comic, Chose Your Own Adventure, Christmas card postboxes, Clive Doig's programmes, Colour Separation Overlay, Copy Cats, Crosse and Blackwell Alphabet Soup in a cube, Crown Court , Cue Frank by Frank Bough, 'Day Trip to Bangor' by Fiddler's Dram, Desmond Wilcox documentaries, Dingly Dell, Doctor Who Target books, Doomwatch, Dungeons and Dragons, duplicators, Emu's Broadcasting Company, Everest windows, The Family, Fast Forward magazine, Game For a Laugh, Giles, The Golden Shot, 'Green Door' by Shakin' Stevens, Ice Magic, Instant Sunshine, I-Spy, ITV idents, Johnny Ball's Think programmes, Look-In, Masquerade by Kit Williams, Match of the Day annuals, Me and My Girl, the Midland Griffin, The Mighty World of Marvel, Misty comic, 'Mr Blue Sky' by ELO, Murder Casebook, National garages, 'New Song' by Howard Jones, Now Get Out of That, Pages from Ceefax, Palm Sport, Pan horror anthologies, pencil toppers, 'Pipes of Peace' by Paul McCartney, Pipkins, polystyrene gliders, 'prog' boardgames, Programmes for Schools and Colleges, Public Information Films, Radio One Roadshows, the raising of the Mary Rose, 'Rock Bottom' by Lynsey De Paul and Mike Moran, Rockliffe's Babies, Ronco products, Saturday morning shows, School Fun comic, Simon Bates, simulcasts,SMP, Stork SB, summer holiday mornings, the Terry Wogan/Jimmy Hill interface, Today newspaper, Total Control Racing, Trade Test Transmissions,TV Comic, TV Tops, Usbourne books, The Wheeltappers and Shunters' Social Club,Where the Wild Things Are by Morris Sendak, Willard Price's Adventure books, Women's Realm, Woolworths at Christmas and World of Sport.
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