62-39 Was His Number


According to Smash Hits, Elvis Presley made about three million films, all of which were called either Elvis Has A Kiss-Up In Hawaii or Elvis Says It's Swinging, Pops. And, if you watched BBC1 during the school holidays, didn't you just know it.

Presumably as much on account of their cheapness and indeed sheer volume as it was due to tweedy old shirts behind desks thinking that Elvis was what 'young people' liked, Double Trouble, Fun In Acapulco, Girls! Girls! Girls! and all two thousand nine hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety seven others of them, some of which Elvis probably didn't even realise he'd actually made, rolled round again and again and again alongside Why Don't You...?, The Monkees, King Of The Rocket Men and all of the other decidedly convenient holiday morning entertainment staples. Oh and Play Chess.

You'd be forgiven for assuming that youngsters came to resent this hip-swivelling intrusion into the schedules where the cheap swines could at least have put on Help!... It's The Hair Bear Bunch! or something, but actually they proved quite popular; hardly surprising when you consider that the movies had the same sort of combination of pop-fuelled hi-jinks and exotic retro allure as The Monkees and The Banana Splits. They were of course especially prevalent around the Christmas holidays, to the extend that an entire generation now associate sleigh bells and tinsel with a glorious technicolor Elvis in a loud Hawaiian shirt even by Hawaiian shirt standards being comforted by some youngsters on the stairs after momentarily losing the girl of his dreams.

There was, however, one very notable exception to this. Jailhouse Rock never seemed to find its way into these repeat seasons, presumably due to a combination of its black and white nature (not that this ever stopped them flinging out endless Edgar Kennedy 'shorts' nobody asked for), the slightly violent theme underpinning the storyline, and the fact that it was somehow seen as more serious and 'worthy', and the preserve of brow-furrowed Whistle Test spin-off 'Rock Goes To The Movies' theme nights. As absurd as it may sound, you usually had to ask to 'stay up' to watch Elvis Presley's most famous film.


Now, however, you can just roll up to the cinema to see it. Jailhouse Rock is a staggering sixty years old - although, weirdly, now seeming far less culturally remote than it did back when Elvis films were a school holidays staple - and to mark this occasion has just been re-released in a restored and staggeringly high quality print which makes those crumbly photocopy-esque bits of footage they used to use in things like The Rock'n'Roll Years feel like they came from another film entirely. What's more, you can get an authentic flavour of those tabloid-alarming dancing-in-the-aisles times by watching it in a packed auditorium full of so many over-excited first-time-around Elvis fans that you start to worry that you're about to see a re-enactment of Monty Python's 'Hell's Grannies' sketch; fortunately there were no vicious gangs of Keep Left signs to go with them, but at least they might keep bloody quiet during the film.

Jailhouse Rock is a film that stands up far better than anyone might not unreasonably have expected it to. It may well have been a quick production-line effort rushed out to cash in on the international success of someone who said 'well' a lot whilst TV cameras studiously avoided showing anything south of his shirt buttons, but those are just the literal specifics of its circumstances. It's tightly directed with convincing sets, is underpinned with a rock-solid script where the numerous musical numbers actually form part of the storyline (and for different reasons each time too), and despite essentially playing an even more exaggerated version of his stage persona at the time, Elvis acquits himself well as an actor, to the extent that you sometimes lose sight of the fact that you're actually watching an Elvis Presley vehicle rather than simply a good film from the time. It's also worth considering the fact that it runs to an economical yet packed ninety minutes, and that the main plot is set up in less than three minutes; something to bear in mind the next time you're covertly looking at your watch while waiting for the latest film that everyone says you 'have to see' to actually get started.

There were funnier, weirder and more socially aware pop movies to come. There was a brutally effective inversion of the upbeat music biz shenanigans it explores in Slade In Flame, which is in many respects a much more interesting film. And there was Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter, which people still think you're making up if you try explaining it to them. Jailhouse Rock, however, remains a potent and effective - and surprisingly mature - effort from the very dawn of both pop music and youth cinema which probably few at the time would have expected anyone to care about even six years later, let alone sixty. Yeah, see you at the re-release of The Wayward Bus, then.

Of course, Elvis wasn't alone in those schedules, and there was also a similarly unending procession of George Formby films on hand for the schedulers to fill time with. It's no wonder Play Chess seemed so comparatively tolerable.




If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots more about old films and early pop music in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

We Love TV (But We Don't Love We Love TV!)


Basically, more or less everything about We Love TV was just plain wrong. A light-hearted quiz show about all things televisual, it ran on Friday nights on ITV between 1984 and 1986, and is sometimes described as ITV's 'answer' to Telly Addicts. If it was, then the question must have been 'how can we do a show that's essentially the same as Telly Addicts yet the exact polar opposite in terms of quality, wit, imagination, choice of archive clips and overall enjoyability?'.

We Love TV adopted the same sort of baffling yet widely-accepted 'TV=Fifties' stylistic trappings as Telly Addicts - a conceit that would doubtless appeal to mouth-frothing 'opinion-makers' now, providing they continued to enjoy blissful ignorance of the fact that for most of the fifties television was on for about three hours a day, two hours and fifty nine minutes of which were that London To Brighton On A Potter's Wheel thing followed by about three seconds of Billy Cotton introducing Neddy The Dancing Horse - with opening titles featuring Alexandra Palace-evoking newsreel-esque transmitter-based graphical antics and cut price suspiciously session musician-sounding Beverley Sisters types chirruping "No doubt about it/can't do without it - We Love TV!" over the top. It then promptly dispensed with these trappings entirely by cutting to a none-more-eighties pastel-shaded set and questions with a suspiciously heavy slant towards recent ITV big hitters. It featured two teams of ordinary everyday members of the public paired up with vaguely television-affiliated celebrities of some description, but normally this description could be summed up as 'couldn't really care that much one way or the other about anything that they're being asked questions on', leading to a memorable for all the wrong reasons incident in which a post went-to-Thames-at-the-end Ernie Wise was asked "In The A-Team, what does B.A. stand for?", and spluttered "Big 'Ead" in response. Above all, it was presented by Gloria Hunniford, who would surely have been more at home posing questions about films that are for your eyes.


We Love TV wasn't quite the worst of the surprisingly large volume of eighties entertainment/nostalgia-based quiz shows, but it came close. So, what was the worst? Well, here's a clue courtesy of a certain all-too-familiar public figure, based on a round in Ben Baker's new TV Quiz Book Remotely Interesting (which you can get from here, and which has a foreword and a bonus quiz round by me, if that helps persuade you). Answer at the end of this article...


Surprisingly, but not exactly sadly, there seems to be very little of We Love TV out there on the Internet, although the few rogue clips that have escaped feature such taxing posers as "Do you know what show J.R. was in before Dallas? And what was the surname of The Flintstones' neighbours?". Even on the basis of this fractional amount of evidence, it isn't difficult to see why nobody can really remember anything about it beyond the last couple of bars of the theme song. There is no real interaction or even sometimes correlation between the clips and the actual questions, the uneasy combination of traditional contestant who just wants to be on any game show and celebrity who just wants a couple of quid for not really having to do much results in them not really engaging with the questions or the clips, and although Gloria is a likeable and competent host, her factual summations of the question-inspiring programmes have that distinct aura of someone else's words being read off a card despite not having been written with actually being spoken in mind. More to the point, there's no real form or identity to any of the rounds. Telly Addicts on the other hand carefully selected teams of people who at least showed some competence and aspiration towards wanting to be on there, based questions directly on the fragments of archive footage, relied on quips from Noel Edmonds - both pre-prepared and spontaneous - to enliven the historical detail, and above all else took the actual quiz element entirely seriously whilst not actually taking itself seriously in any way whatsoever. The difference could not have been more marked. There was no doubt about it - we could do without it. We didn't love We Love TV.


Once a regular sight in every bargain bin in every now defunct newsagents chain, the semi-official tie-in quiz book Gloria Hunniford's TV Quiz Challenge, published in 1988 and inviting you to "take on Gloria in a 100-quiz contest of TV-viewing knowledge", was a densely-packed eye-hurting collision of all too obvious questions and weird newsprinty iconographic renderings of the likes of Paul Shane, 'Lofty' from EastEnders and the legs from the end credits of The Bill. Hilariously, you needed to score between 1700 and 2000 to 'outpoint' Gloria, though in all honesty, while probably nobody has ever actually made it all the way through it, this might not be as difficult as all that. For example, there's a round on shows with four main characters that asks you to name all of The A-Team. Well, that's easy - Hannibal, Murdoch, Face and Big Ad.


The answer to the presidential poser was A Question Of Entertainment, a deservedly forgotten BBC1 one-series wonder from 1988 in which a group of severely mismatched celebrities sat on a semi-circular couch and steadfastly refused to acknowledge anything that host Tom O'Connor said to them. If you're looking for a better kind of television quiz, here's that link for Remotely Interesting again...

Autumn View(ing)


Originally invented by Americans as a way of flogging even more cars than usual, the idea of the 'Autumn Season' is deeply embedded in television scheduling culture. Although the BBC never actually had anything to 'sell' (well, unless you count things like the output of their record label), they nonetheless saw it as a good way of drawing viewers in with a largely manufactured sense of new programmes carefully tailored to suit cosy winter-draws-on evenings gathered around the telly. Needless to say, and indeed as you can see from this Dougal-meets-The-Machine-Stops cover, Radio Times was right behind this, although their attempts to construct a 'New... For Autumn!' narrative and fill the requisite amount of pages at the same time often led to desperate flanneling, bewildering leaps of logic and inappropriate levels of excitement about programmes that most viewers could probably take or leave really. And as you can see from these extracts from the Autumn Preview in the Radio Times dated 2nd October 1965, not everything that showed up in the run-up to Christmas was quite as thrilling as Rubber Soul...


You'd have to have had your ears filled in with cavity insulation foam whilst on your way to return your MBE in 'protest' at Ringo Starr having recieved one to have been unaware of the increased prominence, importance and relevance of the ever-amorphous concept of 'The Arts' in the mid-sixties. As this peculiar illustrative mish-mash featuring binoculars, a violin and a Bridget Riley painting calling to mind The Clown off Camberwick Green getting 'cultured' suggests, the BBC were only too aware of and indeed only too keen to reflect this, and Autumn 1965 saw the launch of four new arts programmes - Sunday Night on BBC1 and New Release, Intimations and the proto-aaaaaaaaahhhhh archfest Line-Up Review on BBC2 - which were to all intents and purposes the exact same programme only with a different producer and a marginally different chair.


It was a bumper autumn for Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, with a brand new series of their unprecedented hit Steptoe And Son - seriously, several of the earliest episodes were in the list of top ten most-watched UK television programmes for over a decade - and 'selected' repeats of Hancock's Half Hour at its 1959-to-1960 peak, which Radio Times are careful to emphasise featured Sid James alongside The Lad Himself. There is a bittersweet air to this repeat season and its conspicuous prominence, sat somewhere between celebration of what was even then already evidently a high watermark of the small screen, and a determined distancing from the shambolic mess that followed it. Since their acrimonious split in October 1961, the two hapless writers had systematically trounced the genius comic - well, maybe not with Citizen James, but you can't win them all - on both commercial and artistic terms, and in September 1965 Tony Hancock was hard at work on being 'between projects' while they continued to ride high. Elsewhere there are big-ups for the not exactly unexpected likes of Sykes, Harry Worth, The Benny Hill Show, The Dick Emery Show and Meet The Wife, but only right at the very end do they throw in a mention of Not Only... But Also.... And the series with John Lennon doing his guest-rhyming bit at that. You could probably just about argue that this was possibly intended as the setup for a convoluted 'not only but also' gag that they forgot to actually put in, but either way, small wonder that they wiped them all the second that Peter Cook's back was turned. Meanwhile, the less said about what may or may not be them driving a car at the head of that horse-scoffs-astrakhan-collar 'comedy' procession, the better.


Apparently the BBC were still pushing The Voord from Doctor Who And The Keys Of Marinus as late as 1965, this time as a popular beat combo. Who - sadly - did not get their own series, though fans of pop music could continue to enjoy Top Of The Pops and Juke Box Jury, along with Stramash!, an 'explosive new show' from Scotland with a name that apparently essentially translates as 'riot'. Somehow you can't help but suspect that it may not have lived up to its billing. Folk who like folk get a bit of a cursory brush-off with a vague suggestion that if they like that sort of thing then they might as well try Show Of The Week where they might potentially find the not particularly folky likes of Nina And Frederik, while jazz enthusiasts are casually told that there's so much jazz about that the BBC might as well not bother showing any of it; followed by a throwaway mention of upcoming performances by Thelonius Monk, Oscar Peterson and Jimmy Smith. The reason for this glib disinterest in those pesky styles of music that are popular enough to require deliniation is that anything more serious apparently comes under the simple banner of 'Music', be they 'public concerns or one-act operas specially mounted for BBC-tv at Glyndebourne', the Tortelier Master Class with 'this most televisual of maestros', or a headlining series for the unfortunately appropriately named baritone Tito Gobbi. Yes, well, we'll see how many people are still listening to Catch The Wind and Look Through Any Window half a century later, 'Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra'.


Despite the illustration showing what appears to be absolutely nothing being filmed on a blank white set, this was something of a boom time for standalone television drama, with new Dennis Potter, David Turner and N.F. Simpson works in the offing, not to mention The Wednesday Play, Theatre 625 and Thirty-Minute Theatre continuing apace. So much so, in fact, that it's nigh on impossible to come up with any pithy or perceptive observations about any of it. 1965 was slap bang in the middle of a time when everyone involved at every level treated television drama with the utmost seriousness and many believed it would come to be the benchmark by which all other artforms would be judged. Until television was invented by HBO in 1990, that is.


There's something oddly melancholy about seeing the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme proudly announcing their brand new autumnal wares, blissful in their lack of awareness of the fact that they wouldn't really exist for very much longer. Nonetheless, there were some clues that all was not well across the pre-Flowers In The Rain wavelengths, not least the Home Service announcement that longstanding Current Affairs cornerstone The World At One was being replaced by the essentially identical This Time Of Day, accompanied by small print-esque statements about their most popular shows being shunted around the schedules. Things seemed a bit brighter - well, obviously - over on the Light Programme, with the launch of the Andrew Sachs co-penned Dear Girls, a fascinating-sounding daily soap set in the 'happening' world of fashion models and photographers. Over on the Third Programme, heavyweight epic The Thirties In Britain looks at the anxieties and intellectual climate that led up to what they tactfully refer to as 'strife', and considers whether there are any parallels with events in Britain in the early to mid-sixties. There is absolutely no reason to dig this series out of the Sound Archive and give it another airing now, obviously. Meanwhile, while there's no doubt that companion series The Negro In America was well-intentioned... well, it was a different time. Anyway, on a lighter matter, get a load of those illustrations. Radio Times was absolutely full of this sort of throwaway Pop Art/Post-Advertising icon-heavy visual collision, which probably went mostly unnoticed by people looking to see when Hardluck Hall was on, but is the sort of thing that really ought to be collected into one of those big lavish hardback books now.


Following the blockbusting news that the BBC will keep showing Westerns on Saturdays and 'A Film' on Tuesdays, there's more or less the same bafflingly-fanfared lack of innovation on display in sporting coverage, though admittedly the fact that there had never been a fully televised rugby season prior to 1965 does come as something of a surprise. Nature and Science lovers get to look forward to a similarly welcome but hardly thrillingly new line-up boasting the return of Horizon, Tomorrow's World and Look, while Variety boasts the all-new up-and-coming eight millionth series apiece of Billy Cotton's Music Hall, The Good Old Days and the sodding Black And White Minstrel Show. There's also yet another plug for Nina And Frederik on Show Of The Week. Someone must have REALLY been a fan.


Under the bafflingly mismatched Sam-Tyler-Meets-Captain-Zep heading of 'Spies... Cops... Spacemen', and in amongst a head-walloping array of clashing fonts, we get to possibly the most fascinating corner of this Autumn Preview. Alongside the expected likes of Dixon Of Dock Green and Z-Cars, there are three new series that speak volumes about where the UK - and the BBC - had its head 'at' circa 1965; imported procedural drama Arrest And Trial getting yanked over to the main channel after a well-recieved showing on BBC2, Dinsdale Landen fighting the Cold War undercover in the ficititious Soviet state Amalia in The Mask Of Janus, and full-blown paranoia as an electrical engineer gets falsely accused of spying in Moscow in An Enemy Of The State, with only the launch of BBC2 sci-fi anthology series Out Of The Unknown on hand to justify the 'Spacemen' tag. And it didn't even have that many spacemen in. 'The Past' promises a standard array of historical documentaries alongside BBC2 clip show Plunder, which intends to raid the BBC Archive for 'recordings of pre-1955 television programmes'. It's astonishing, frankly, that they'd survived long enough to be trawled for clip shows, and deeply ironic in turn that the clip shows in question have long since been wiped. 'Series' concentrates its efforts on promoting two new, erm, series - Jimmy Hill technically-advised weekly chronicle of the trials and tribulations of a second division football team United!, and city-types-go-rural gritty social issue hard-hitter The Newcomers, both of which ran to hundreds of editions yet only five of the latter now survive, along with absolutely nothing of the former. Unless anyone and their 'lockup' knows different. Finally, as well as a roster of returning Children's Programmes that includes - ha! - Doctor Who, younger viewers can also look forward to 'quirky' American cartoon that wasn't Hector Heathcote, unappealingly titled folk song showcase Dance And Skylark, and the first of approximately eighty four billion Radio Times billings for The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe. They're also the only ones not to get an illustration, which seems a tad unfair given that the 'Series' one is almost as big as the boxout itself.

Anyway, that's Autumn on the BBC, and hopefully you'll have found loads of things that you want to watch. And Nina and Frederik. Incidentally, yes, I did know that the cover at the top of this article dates from 1966. It just looked a bit more eyecatching and in tune with the mood and tone than the genuine article. And if misleading viewers about contents isn't the true spirit of Autumn, then I don't know what is.




If you've enjoyed this article, you can find lots about sixties television in Not On Your Telly, which is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.