Although this relates to a specific and now long-forgotten – that’ll show me – piece in The Guardian, I’ve always been fond of this intentionally daft piece and remain as exasperated at the seemingly inexhaustible iterations of ostensibly the same thinkpiece existing mainly to tell the world how clever you and your friends were for starting watching a usually not all that good television series before everyone else, most of which are generally founded on the idea that television was uniformly silly throwaway nonsense for idiots until Buffy The Vampire Slayer and/or The Sopranos – they never seem to be quite able to make their minds up – came along and ‘tore’ up the ‘rulebook’ ‘forever’. While I’m certainly in no way aligned with the worryingly intense lobby that believe that everyone who isn’t them should be physically forced to watch Sergeant Cork on an endless loop for their own good and what’s more it should be legal to strike them across the hands with an iron bar if they ask for their rubbish modern Great British Bake-Off back, I do also find myself increasingly aghast at the endless hot air talked about the ‘rise’ of ‘authored television’. For a start it’s demonstrably untrue – what were, say, The Prisoner, Hill Street Blues, Rock Follies or Roots if they don’t follow the specifications of these self-important rambles to the letter? – and it’s also a fairly baffling concept anyway, somewhere in the same universe as claiming that A Hard Day’s Night wasn’t a ‘proper’ album because it came before Rubber Soul. Even Going For Gold was somebody’s ‘vision’.
It was also, however, a convenient excuse to give a renewed plug for ten of the most popular television-related features on my old website, some of which as you will find out have since found their way onto this one. Looking back I’m incredibly proud that my cheerleading for Skiboy – a ridiculous programme that nonetheless can tell you more about society, the media and television in general in the early seventies than any more not-especially-widely acclaimed drama about men pacing around cheap office sets of the day – made such an impact, although I’m equally convinced that, now that it’s finally escaped into the wider world, Hardwicke House would not make anywhere near as a strong a showing these days. I would also say that, nowadays, the This Life feature is by far the most popular of the lot, which is especially pleasing as at the same time as it would have the YOU MUST ALL WATCH LOOK STRANGER UNTIL YOU RELENT lobby gnashing their teeth in fury at the mere thought that I would be endorsing something for modern trendies with their WAP phones and major speaking parts for women, it also bewilderingly falls outside the scope of the ‘authored television’ non-argument and never gets critically feted now in the same way as it perhaps did a little too much at the time. Equal opportunities offending, which frankly Anna would have been thoroughly proud of.
In addition to a reference to an ITV children’s show that even the people involved have probably now forgotten even existed, the intentionally silly title of this piece was inspired by one of the games from Dick And Dom In Da Bungalow, a BBC children’s programme broadcast at the wrong end of Saturday Morning that in all honesty was more daring, anarchic, controversial and incisive – at the same time as being gloriously ridiculous for the sake of it – than any programme that everyone keeps insisting I have to watch seventeen million episodes of in one sitting before I’m allowed to say whether I’m interested in it or not. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall any MP’s asking for Better Call Saul to be taken off air in the middle of Prime Minister’s Questions. The Michael Parkinson reference at the end, incidentally, was a running joke on one of my previous websites that would take too long to explain frankly. Though it does seem strange now that he’s no longer such a pervasive grumpy fixture of the airwaves. Meanwhile, if you want to read much more about these sort of programmes, then you would be well advised to invest in a copy of Not On Your Telly, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
The Guardian has recently caused something of a stir with their rundown of ‘TV’s Most Criminally Overrated Shows’. If you’ve not read it, this basically reduces down to a list of ten relatively recent critical favourites, each unflinchingly ‘debunked’ by a columnist saying little more than ‘my friends all liked it but when I watched it I didn’t!!’. Meanwhile, quite what criminality is involved here is sadly not clarified.
The correct response to this and indeed anything like this, of course, is to ignore it as lazy ‘outrage’-courting clickbait nonsense of the first order and just get on with holding your own opinion on the criminal overratees. After all, even if you find This Is England to be patronising misery-porn with distractingly glaring chronological inaccuracies, are bored senseless by The Walking Dead‘s ‘edgy’ rehashing of cliches that you saw in a million straight-to-video epics back when ‘zombies’ weren’t quite so trendy, still want to punch everyone involved in Lost for their smugness over that weak lemon drink con-trick of an ending, and aren’t even entirely sure of what Downton Abbey actually is, you should at least be able to concede that this is entirely a matter of personal preference and that they are all genuinely in the top ten percent of television made in the digital age (if not ever in some cases), and on top of everything else should simply be able to come up with a better argument.
Except that they’ve now chosen to follow it up with a list of ‘TV’s Most Underrated Shows’ – essentially a collection of uber-hip programmes that their friends haven’t discovered yet and so are presumably OK to like, punctuated by Top Gear which at least gets talked about more than practically any other current TV show, and Time Trumpet, a misfiring sketch show that even hardcore fans of the participants would be hard pushed to describe as anything stronger than ‘quite good’. True, you would hardly expect such a list to feature Colour Me Pop, The Secret Service, Ask The Family and Rik Mayall Presents, and indeed nor should it. There’s not even anything particularly wrong with the majority of the actual choices on either list, just the smug, mock-‘iconoclastic’, I’m-in-a-secret-club-and-you’re-not attitude underpinning the entire venture. Nobody needs to be told off for watching or not watching something. Unless it’s Captain Butler.
Yes, that’s all very well and good, as some shirty individual is probably already saying on Twitter, but I didn’t like Mad Men either!!!!!8 so what are you going to about it eh eh? Well nothing, frankly, other than to suggest that maybe you read the first three paragraphs again. This has started off an interesting train of thought, though – what are the ten most popular programmes ever covered on here, and what do they say about what people really think is over-and-underrated in television? Probably very little if we’re being honest about it, but you’re getting that top ten and you’re liking it. Doctor Who has been left out, though, as it quite obviously eclipses anything else by a long margin. Anyway, we’re starting somewhat inevitably with…
Amazingly, when my feature on Skiboy (which you can find here) first went up, there were quite a few accusations that it was all an elaborate hoax. Some suggested it might have been some kind of sophisticated satirical prank on the obscurer-than-thou element of archive TV enthusiasm, while others even named a couple of likely-sounding films that I might have lifted screengrabs from and pulled off some convincing Photoshop trickery with. But no, it’s a series as real as they come (and if you don’t believe me, you can see some clips from it here), and one that for all its flaws and ridiculousness I would love to see released on DVD in full; it’s certainly more underrated than sodding Treme. What’s more, judging by the number of hits it continues to get, I’m not the only one.
9. This Life
A surprisingly high entry, given than on the whole posts about more ‘modern’ stuff never do even half as well, and that these days This Life seems to get at best written off as self-consciously trendy ‘of its time’ fluff and at worst to blame for any given malaise currently afflicting the broadcast industry. But within minutes of going live, my collection of observations on rewatching This Life – which you can find here – was being shared like crazy, which suggests that there’s a silent majority out there who actually quite like it and aren’t ashamed to say so. This Life probably wasn’t too far away from that ‘Most Overrated Shows’ list in fact. To which we say yah boo sucks, frankly.
The week of in-depth features on seventies Children’s BBC Christmas Specials was a huge success all round (well, apart from the one on Bod for some reason), but for some reason, the one about the little-seen feature-length Rentaghost Christmas Special Rentasanta – which you can find here – went way beyond all the others, and is still hovering inside the top ten most viewed posts each week even now. Part of this can be explained by someone noticing that some of the panto costumes were actually recycled from Doctor Who And The Robots Of Death, but beyond that, presumably people just didn’t remember it and REALLY wanted to know Dobbin’s origin story. So good that somebody stole it, read it out on a YouTube video over some images taken straight from the article, passed it off as their own work complete with personal references left in, and sent me a angry message accusing me of infringing Bob Block’s copyright when I told them that I was fine with it as long as they put a link to the original feature in alongside it!
This look at the story behind Buzzfax (which you can hear more about in Looks Unfamiliar here) actually technically the first part of an epic-length look at the Battle Of The Planets two-parter The Fierce Flowers – currently available in Can’t Help Thinking About Me here – but the huge drop-off when it came to the (actually impressively viewed in themselves) instalments proper points towards it being the weird one-week-only Ceefax Linking Saturday Morning TV experiment that everyone was really interested in. Hardly surprising when you consider how ‘grubby’ Rae Earl remembered Battle Of The Planets as being on Looks Unfamiliar (which you can find here). There’s probably a serious point to be made here about how these sort of odd one-offs were both more likely to get through and indeed more likely to be remembered in a pre-multichannel/streaming landscape, but probably everyone would just get huffy that you were dissing Joss Whedon or something.
6. Orbiter X
Not strictly a TV programme – well, not actually a TV programme at all – but the response to some dry but passionate background detail on a creaky old radio serial that I thought only I was listening to was little short of phenomenal, widely shared and even picked up on by a couple of academic and archive literature sites. I’d deliberately tried to make my look at Orbiter X – which you can find here – more than just a ‘review’ and give as much of a feel to the information on the context and production of the show as to the descriptions of the show itself, and this must presumably have struck some sort of a chord. I’d very much like to do more about forgotten old radio on here so this is a good incentive.
5. Days Like These
It took a long time to put together a decent comparison of the first episode of That 70s Show with its tepid point-missing ITV remake Days Like These – which you can find here – and it first it seemed that this might have been wasted effort. Nobody really appeared to be that interested, and it was rapidly eclipsed by a jokey look at a couple of Doctor Who clippings from Radio Times that went up shortly afterwards. However it eventually took off and even Days Like These scriptwriter Sam Bain got in touch to say he’d enjoyed it. As an attempt to look at why a notorious television flop didn’t work rather than just sneering, I’m quite proud of it I have to say. Just please don’t try rehabilitating Days Like These.
4. The Mersey Pirate
This look at the strange story behind ITV’s most ill-advised idea for a Saturday Morning show ever The Mersey Pirate – which sets sail from here – wasn’t exactly written in the brightest and most upbeat of circumstances – more about that here – but in some ways that made me more determined than ever to turn it into an interesting and amusing account and I’d like to think that the staggering popularity it met with reflected this. Identifying which actual ferry Gerry Marsden was on in which promo film is probably verging on madness, but it’s also the sort of detail that people seem to enjoy and which really gives an extra sense of depth. Yes, depth and The Mersey Pirate in the same sentence.
3. How Do You Do!
When I announced that I’d found some wiped episodes of long-forgotten BBC children’s show How Do You Do! – you can find the full story behind that here – some prat decided for no obvious reason that this meant I had found Doctor Who And The Power Of The Daleks and went around saying as such on various sodding forums, leading to badmouthing and threats when the ‘truth’ emerged. Other more general archive television enthusiasts were unstinting in their gratitude. And then there were the massive number of teary-eyed late thirtysomethings who got in touch to thank me for letting them see Carmen, Greg and Miss King’s Class again. Happy to be of service to all of you. Yes, including the mad Doctor Who fans.
2. Play School
Perhaps a bit of an obvious one, and also it’s a ‘score’ based on a couple of posts combined (though even separately they’d still sneak into this list), but there’s no getting away from the fact that both the look at the Christmas Eve edition of Play School from 1970 (which you can find here), the attempt to work out what might have happened in the long-lost two hundredth edition from 1965 (which you can find here) and the look at BBC Records And Tapes’ children’s albums (which you can find here) attracted massive interest from the off, as indeed did my trivia-drenched live-Tweeting of that edition of Play School that BBC Four repeated. While we really shouldn’t be encouraging Hamble, perhaps this is an indication that Play School is a programme that the BBC really ought to be doing more to exploit?
1. Hardwicke House
Well, it looks as though more people want to see ITV’s notoriously banned sitcom than perhaps anyone had expected. This is certainly true if you look at the sheer number of sites that have copied the content of my Hardwicke House pieces uncredited – only with more italics and exclamation marks! Scandalously, of course, it’s still not officially available for ridiculous and quite possibly spurious reasons – although you can find my sleevenotes from the abandoned DVD release in Well At Least It’s Free here – and I say again, you may find my obsession with this show baffling (though I’m clearly not alone), but what possible good is being done for anyone by continuing to withhold it. There’s your entire overrated, underrated, good, bad, best, worst list right there, Grauniad!
Having said all that, as we’ve already established, there is one individual, whose many and varied adventures across time and space would appear, in terms of his or her enduring popularity at least, simply to have no equal.
Hang on a minute… Parky? What’s he doing here?!
Buy A Book!
You can find features on most of the Top Ten Most Least Best Worst Underrated Overrated Up And Down In And Out Round About Eeny Meeny Macka Racka Rare Are Dominacka Shickeypoppa Dickywhoppa Om Pom Stick TV Programmes In The World… Ever! in my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
You can find features on Skiboy here, This Life here, Rentasanta here, Buzzfax here, Orbiter X here, Days Like These here, The Mersey Pirate here, How Do You Do! here, Play School here and Hardwicke House here.
You can hear me talking about Skiboy – and see some clips from the show – as part of my appearance on Perfect Night In here. Buzzfax was covered in the edition of Looks Unfamiliar with Chris Hughes, which you can find here. Rae Earl talked about Battle Of The Planets on Looks Unfamiliar here, while Samira Ahmed was baffled by the story of The Mersey Pirate here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.