Sunday, October 5, 2008

The River - One to Miss

The River - 1988

I have to admit first that I quite like David Essex and his acting abilities. About 15 years before this series he was in two very good films in my opinion. They were Stardust and That'll Be the Day. On the other hand the first 15 minutes of this TV series were just awfull. Because I am being picky on what I watch it is seldom that I have something that is just too hard to watch through to the end and here I was only one twelfth into the series. I might give it another go later but it did seem a complete waste of time.

My review : (0 stars) Within the first minute of the first episode there was just terrible canned laughter. It made no sense when you were getting the background noises of life on a canal to have very clearly recorded laughter exchanged for it on the sound track. The shots of David Essex were just him posing. I just started to feel embarrassed for everyone involved in this show and turned it off. The only audience I could see this appealing to were women who were 14 years old when David Essex was in his prime as a teeny-bopper idol twenty years earlier. I wonder how old the director/producer Susan Belbin is?

Details : 1988 comedy series in 6 by 30 minute episodes for BBC One

Discs : 1

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Regan (1974)

Regan, The Sweeny Pilot - 1974

Last night I watched this pilot episode of Sweeny and it was a pleasantly surprise. I was worried it would be too dated, too seventies, but it seems not to have aged. I will now get the rest of the shows. I have to admit I watched a downloaded version and it would probably make more sense to buy a complete DVD set than pick off episodes one by one.

My review : (4 stars) The first real gritty TV cop show on British TV. Definitely a cop show and not a detective series. Lots of action and the Ford motors seem to be in the thick of many shots, something we got to see in many other cop shows right up until Life on Mars. John Thaw and Dennis Waterman put in good performances and they were well supported by the other actors. Garfield Morgan played their ambitious boss and Lee Montague the villain. Also look out for Don Henderson (Bulman) in a bit part playing a minder. Why watch Life on Mars when you can watch the real thing.

Details : 1974 pilot for The Sweeny made by Euston Films (Thames TV).

Features : Yes

Discs : 1

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lewis Series 1 & 2

Lewis - 2006-8

I guess these are too recent to be retro, but they are interesting in a couple of ways. Lewis shows that a good idea and good acting can give a successful follow up to a finished popular TV series like Morse, and that British detective shows, still following on the basics that Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie used in their novels, can compete with the more modern thrillers and US cop shows.

My review : (4 stars) With John Thaw gone and his likeable Geordie sergeant now an inspector, the success of the show was always going to be who they could pair Kevin Whately with. They could have used a heavy brutal cop to work with him but the writer was inspired to have a skinny, awkward, high-church, Cambridge graduate played by Laurence Fox. As the series progresses you can see where this character is being fine-tuned. His height and awkwardness are being highlighted by making his trousers and jacket sleeves slightly short. It's all very clever and enjoyable.

Details : 2006-2008 UK Police Detective Series. Series one 4 episodes (includes the pilot) and series two 4 episodes.

Features : No

Print quality : Very Good

Discs : Series One 4 discs and Series Two Discs
Sub-Titles: Yes, English

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Very British Coup

A Very British Coup - 1988

If you like political thrillers you will like this. In America they would call it a made for TV movie but that makes it sound cheap and nasty. Let's go with Wikipedia's "television adaption of Chris Mullin's 1982 novel" instead. Amazon has the time as 148 minutes so get comfortable before you start. It's a bit expensive on Amazon for the amount of TV you are buying but this is a case of "never mind the width, feel the quality".

My review : (5 stars) Great performances from Ray McAnally playing the working class left wing prime minister and Alec MacNaughton playing the upper class security chief determined to undermine him. I guess it is at times a working class hero fantasy, but why not enjoy it as we can't seem to get that from today's Labour Party. Look out for the very beautiful Kika Markham.

Details : 1988 political thriller made for the Channel 4 and 148 minutes long.

Features : No

Print quality : Good

Discs : 1

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Murphy's Law - A Cult Classic?

Murphy's Law Series 1 to 5

I suspect that Murphy's Law has the makings of cult classic like Callan or The Prisoner. It didn't last as long as it should have and through the various series we see the main character's personality change. It was dropped by BBC because it wasn't competing well enough with ITV's Doc Martin which had the same time slot. Surely a wiser answer would have been to find a different time slot. My one complaint is that Murphy must have been the UK's best know undercover cop which leaves a hole in the story line as best known and undercover don't really go together;-) Something that does confuse me is how come this BBC show is published in DVD format by ITV Video? BTW keep an eye on the Amazon price for the complete five series as I have seen it down at around £20 in the past although as I write thie it is up over £30.

My review : (5 stars) James Nesbitt plays the role of Tommy Murphy very well. The character changes from the first two series to the last three quite a bit. In the beginning he has a certain lovable rogue about him, telling jokes and even singing. The later series are far more gritty and on par some of the more psychological thrillers like Wire in the Blood. How much this was to do with the stiff competition it was facing on ITV I don't know. The pilot was shown in 2001 and the series were screened from 2003 through to 2007.

From Series 2 onwards the programs have been edited from 60 to 50 minutes. I never saw the originals but this editing doesn't seem to have done any harm.

Details : 2001-2007 police drama series made for the BBC. 5 Series were made altogether.

Series 1: 4 x 90 minute episodes plus the pilot.
Series 2: 6 x 50 minute episodes.
Series 3: 6 x 50 minute episodes.
Series 4: 3 x 50 minute episodes in a serial format.
Series 4: 3 x 50 minute episodes in a serial format.

Features : No

Print quality : Very Good

Sub-titles : Yes

Discs : 9

Monday, June 30, 2008

Celebrity Stalkers

Following on from the last post it does seem at times like I'm being stalked by actors who show up in more than one program within a few days. Watching the 1992 Morse series 6 we had quite a few.

A young Sean Bean as a crook in Absolute Conviction a day after seeing him in an episode of Sharpe.

Alum Armstrong who we have been following in New Tricks showed up as another policeman in Happy Families.

The real winner though was Michael Kitchen. We are used to him as Foyle in Foyle's War but over a few days we had him as crook in the Morse episode The Death of Self, again as a crook in the very first, 1994, Pie in the Sky and in a Agatha Christie radio play.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Young Faces

I enjoy seeing known faces pop up in programs before they really found fame. Two recently were Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) in a 1992 Morse episode called Happy Families. Now I begin to see the resemblance between him and Boris Johnson - in fact I wondering if he is playing that role as well.

The second was even more unlikely. Peter Sallis is in the 1971 4th episode of Budgie series 1. He is even wearing the same clothes as he did later in Last of the Summer Wine, and he is playing a Northerner. (In fact according to Wikipedia he is a Londoner.)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

If it seems too good to be true then...

Like many I use Amazon's "save for later" button in the shopping cart. It means if I'm in a hurry I can go through about 15 programs I keep there and pull a couple out, put them back into the cart and check out. Here in Thailand I know there is a good chance the customs will tax them if the value goes over £30 or so.

I have some DVD sets that are above this magic number so I will leave them until I know someone is coming out from the UK. Amazon tells you when you log into your shopping cart if anything has changed in price so it was a pleasant surprise to see the 15 DVD collection of Sharpe drop from £35 to under £18. I checked out with this last night, pleased with myself.

This morning I had an email from Amazon saying it was a mistake and as per their policy the order was now cancelled. Ah well, that's life, but I would have thought it would do their customer relationship no harm at all if they let these go through. I would have been a fan for sure. Below is their email.

Dear Customer,

We are writing to inform you that the price for 'Sharpe - The Complete Series (15 Disc Box Set)'(ASIN B000A2U5GW) was displayed incorrectly at the time you placed the above referenced order.

Despite our best efforts, with the millions of items available on our website, pricing errors can occasionally occur. In our Pricing and Availability Policy (see, we state that where an item's correct price is higher than our stated price, we will cancel the order and notify you of that cancellation.

All affected orders have now been cancelled. If you still wish to purchase this item, please place a new order online which will be charged at the correct price, when we dispatch it to you. Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused by this error, and rest assured that we will continue to make every effort to maintain the accuracy of all prices on our site.

We look forward to serving you again in the future.
Warmest regards,
Customer Service Department

Please note: This e-mail was sent from a notification-only address that cannot accept incoming e-mail. Please do not reply to this message.

Through the Ages

I am buying and watching UK TV programs from the early seventies to the present day and at times when I look at the Amazon catalogue I worry that a program will be too dated. So far I have got away with it. I did worry that the latest one, Hazell, would show its age and not be enjoyable but that wasn't the case.

What does show is the further back you go the lower the budget. Some of them like the Sandbaggers and Strangers are almost stage plays with the sets they use. Another problem can be the print quality which can get pretty grainy. Today even a cheap show's budget allows good outside film location work. Once you accept these constraints on the earlier programs you can just sit back and enjoy the acting and story. I'm happy so far although showing off Nicholas Ball's backside in Hazell was a very seventies 'Get Carter' copy;-)

Mind you, I haven't built up enough confidence to go back to some of the sixties black and white material yet. I do remember 'Public Eye' and 'Callan' with fondness.

Bird of Prey

Bird of Prey Series 1 & 2

There were two series of this political thriller serial, the first in 1982 and the second in 1984. Although primarily a vehicle to show of the acting skills of Richard Griffiths (History Boys) it has a very strong supporting cast. You should not expect fantastic location shots as it wasn't big budget so it's mainly on set scenes.

My review : (3 stars) It does show its age and budget, but the acting is good especially in the first series. Richard Griffiths is one of those men who can carry his fatness very well and at times does look light on his feet. The story lines are pretty good but being at the very early days of personal computers it does again seem dated. Having said that I wasn't about to not to watch the whole thing pretty well through at one episode a night.

Details : 1982 & 1984 political thriller serial made for the BBC. A total of eight 50 minute episodes.

Episodes : 1-4 1982 Bird of Prey 1 and 5-8 1984 Bird of Prey 2

Features : No
Print quality : Fair
Sub-titles : Yes
Discs : 2

Saturday, May 31, 2008

New Tricks Series 2

New Tricks series 2 brings back the main cast members from series 1, the three retired policemen, their boss and the wife of the Alun Armstrong character although James Bolam's wife in real life. I must admit I have already seen series 3 and looking forward to 4.

My review : (4 stars) Again 4 stars. It's as good as the first series with James Bolam, Amanda Redman, Alun Armstrong, Dennis Waterman and Susan Jameson returning. I suspect why it is so popular is a sense in the viewers that the cast are enjoying themselves making it. Again Alun Armstrong seems to steal every scene he is in.

Details : 2005 TV police drama series 2.

Episodes : Eight episodes of about 60 minutes each made by the BBC.

Features : No

Print quality : Good

Sub-titles : Yes

Discs : 3

Last of the Summer Wine Series 3 & 4

Catching up with this post and the next, (the one above), as I watched this a few months ago. I found the half hour format very relaxing after finishing work. Very laid back and very British. Now I'm ready to order series 5-6 Amazon is out of stock. Should I wait and see if it becomes available or should I try something new like EBay. On Amazon the independent dealers can't send to us in Thailand.

My review : (4 stars) It is such a pleasant surprise that I like Last of the Summer Wine so much. I did see one of the early ones during a visit home in the mid-seventies, but it's really a very recent addiction. I was a little worried it would be a bit too much Yorkshire, too much Geoff Boycott, but it isn't. It is just a relaxing way of watching TV and waiting for the little verbal gems from Peter Sallis. In these series 3-4 we have Brian Wilde playing the straight man against the Bill Owen and Peter Sallis characters, replacing Michael Bates. I think this was regarded as the strongest cast. Brian Wilde who died in March also played the nice prison officer in Porridge.

Details : 1976-1978 TV sitcom series 3 & 4. 15 episodes of about 30 minutes each made by the BBC.

Episodes : 13 - The Man from Oswestry, Mending Stuart's Leg, The Great Boarding-House Bathroom Caper, Cheering Up Gordon, The Kink in Foggy's Niblick, Going to Gordon's Wedding, Isometrics and After, Ferret Come Home, Getting on Sidney's Wire, Jubilee, Flower Power Cut, Who Made a Bit of a Splash in Wales Then, Greenfingers, A Merry Heatwave (Xmas Special) and the Bandit from Stoke-on-Trent.

Features : No

Print quality : Good

Sub-titles : Yes

Discs : 3

One from the past!

Had a surprise when the credits came up after the third episode of "Bird of Prey", a political thriller serial from 1982 starring Richard Griffiths. There was an actress playing a journalist who I thought I should know but couldn't put a name to the face. The surprise was it was Mandy Rice-Davis. If you are too young to remember that name, here's the Wikipedia note on her.

Funny thing was that there was another actress playing a sort of high class madam character which was a trade Mandy would probably know more about I suspect.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

State of Play Review

Going a bit out of the order I wanted to do the reviews but we finished this on Friday by watching the last two episodes of State of Play (2003) one after the other. It is what TV, and especially UK TV can do so well, a serial. This time it's a six part (6 x 60 minute) political thriller. It could probably have been tighter in the storyline, but if Wikipedia is correct in saying the writer, Paul Abbott, made up the plot as he went along, that would be the explanation. Even so it is so much better than the pap we get used to being shown today. Again if Wikipedia is correct, a movie adaptation is due out this year. This time it would be set in the US. I won't overly worry if I don't get to see this.

My Review : (4 stars) A great cast. The serial starts with a killing in London and involves newspaper journalists and politicians. The newspaper they work for, The Herald, seems to be based on Murdoch's Sun with the owner having an Australian accent. Although in the serial the paper is a broadsheet rather than a tabloid, historically this would be correct as the Sun was a continuation of the old Daily Herald. The government is very much New Labour with all the corruption we have grown to expect from the opportunistic MPs that Tony Blair and his friends saddled Labour with. I won't get into the story as that would spoil it and there are a few red herrings to make you think. The cast do deserve a mention as it is so well acted. I enjoyed Bill Nighy as the newspaper editor. Look out for John Simm and Philip Glenister together before they did the Life on Mars series.

Details : 2003 Six episode serial of about an hour each made for the BBC. Total run time is 340 minutes.
Features : First and last episodes with voice-overs from writer, director, editor and producer.
Print quality : Very good
Sub-titles : I think so
Discs : 2
Trivia: Bill Nighy was playing his part in the movie, Love Actually, on the set next door while also making this.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Titles

Not a review today, just a quick list of what came in over the last couple of weeks. The post from Amazon UK has been slower than usual but still within their estimated delivery times. We were getting the packages here in about 4 days before, but the last few have been closer to 10 days. I keep the total value of the shipments below £30 as above this seems to be where the customs step in with duty.

The last three shipments bought us Lewis Series 2, Murphy's Law Series 1-5, Coast (BBC documentary) Series 1 and State of Play, a 6 part BBC serial. The last one has two of the Life on Mars stars in it and having watched the first two episodes I suspect I will be giving it a 4 or 5 star review.

Friday, May 2, 2008

New Tricks Series 1

Well New Tricks was to blame for me watching TV again. My mother sent out the set of DVDs more than a year ago. I hadn't really been watching the box. Perhaps some football or to catch up on the news, but the rest was just background noise. Out here in Bangkok we have ready access to all the latest movies which are pirated within a few months of release plus a cable TV network. My problem was I couldn't find much in recent Hollywood releases that I could sit through. The British movies hardly ever make it out here so I gave up. Back then the TV channels were just more Hollywood garbage. I always had the feeling that the program makers were dumbing down for the audience. Then in the post was New Tricks Series 1...

My Review : (4 stars) It feels like you are watching some friends at work. It couldn't get much more comfortable, even down to Dennis Waterman singing the theme song. Superb casting of the four detectives in this half comedy half police series. Again they get the Life on Mars effect of turning back the clock by bringing three retired cops back to work under a modern female boss played by Amanda Redman.

The four main cast members, Redman, Waterman, Alun Armstrong and James Bolam are well supported by the rest of the cast which includes Bolam's wife Susan Jameson and Chiké Okonkwo who plays a young computer savvy black constable. My surprise is how Alun Armstrong steals every scene he is in. I had thought it would have been Bolam doing that or maybe Waterman doing his Minder bit.

Details : 2003-4 Pilot and the fist series of six episodes of about an hour each made for the BBC. Total run time is 351 minutes.

Features : No

Print quality : Very good

Sub-titles : Yes

Discs : 3

Friday, April 18, 2008

Last of the Summer Wine Series 1 & 2

My review : (4 stars) According to Wikipedia Last of the Summer Wine is the longest running comedy program in Britain and the longest running sitcom in the world. I can understand that. It something that at times our program makers can get so right. It's so laid back that you really don't have to be totally awake to enjoy, in fact a little delay while you pick up one of Peter Sallis's throw away one-liners makes it even better. The half-hour show gets you through a dinner in front of the box. At times we have watched two shows one after the other, no matter how much I hate the double-headers on the BBC Entertainment Channel, (see my earlier post here).

So this DVD set is the first two series. Good as it is, you know it's going to get better. It could have been bad so easily. If they had overdone the Yorkshire bit and had them all talking with Geoff Boycott or Freddie Truman accents three-quarters of Britain would have been turned off. This year should see the 29th. series. The first one kicked off in 1973. Another great picture from inside the box below.

I think the secret of the show is the Peter Sallis and Bill Owen characters are very Peter Pan like; acting like schoolboys in spite of their advanced years. The third character, who is played by Michael Bates in these two series, is so full of self-importance that the other two can play off against his straight man role. I won't say two much as having also watched series 3 and 4 I suspect I will watch the next 25 also.

Details : 1973-4 TV sitcom series 1 & 2. 13 episodes of about 30 minutes each made by the BBC.

Episodes : 13 - Short Back & Palais Guide, Inventor of the Forty Foot Ferret, Paté & Chips, Spring Fever, The New Mobile Trio, Hail Smiling Morn or Thereabouts, Forked Lightning, Who's That Dancing With Nora Batty, The Changing Face of Rural Blamire, Some Enchanted Evening, A Quick Drink, Ballad for Wind Instruments & Canoe, and Northern Flying Circus.

Features : Don't think so

Print quality : Very good

Sub-titles : I'll check

Discs : 4

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Out by Trevor Preston

This is my first program review. I finished watching this serial two nights ago so it is a good place to start. From here I will work backwards and forwards on those already viewed and those yet to be. If I can I will set up a format for the reviews I can stick with.

My review : (5 stars) "Who Grassed Frank Ross". I put the writer's name, Trevor Preston, in the heading as he was probably the most important person in getting this story told. He's a Clapham boy and lets you know it. It's written from the heart. In the special features you can hear the writer, the director Jim Goddard and the producer Barry Hanson speaking over the first and last episodes. I advise you to do this after you have watched them normally. This really is great and having just started watching Fox, also with the Trevor Preston and Jim Goddard combination, I can't understand why there hasn't been one of their series on every year since 1978. Maybe the ITV program makers have become too politically correct. If so, it's a great shame as that would probably be better than Life on Mars or its spin-offs.

The cast is great - Tom Bell plays Frank Ross, the South London crook, to perfection. The police and other crooks are fine. I'm not sure that Trevor Preston writes women's roles that well but it doesn't hurt in this story. Great filming, this is what TV can do so well. If you take a movie like the Michael Caine version of Get Carter but have 6 hours to show the story instead of just 90 minutes then you would get something like Out. Characters can develop and scenes fleshed out. A personal admission, I went to school in Clapham near the Common although I came by train from Plumstead in South East London.

Look out for : The late John Junkin who plays a London heavy so well and also the taxi driver at the very beginning, Brian Hall - Terry the cook in Fawlty Towers, who died in 1997.

Details : 1978 TV Serial in 6 episodes of about 50 minutes each made by Thames TV and Euston Films.

Episodes : 6 - It Must be the Suit, Not Just Pennies, Maybe He'll Bring Back a Geisha, A Little Heart to Heart with Miss Bangor, The Moment He Opened His Envelope..., I Wouldn't Take Your Hand If I Was Drowning.

Features : Two episodes, the first and last, available with talk-over by the writer, director and producer.

Print quality : Very good

Sub-titles : No

Discs : 2

Monday, April 14, 2008

BBC Entertainment Channel

Although most of this blog will about the DVDs I watch, we also have a cable TV service. We upgraded it last year which gave us the BBC Entertainment Channel. This made a change from the usual American fare from the other channels.

Hallmark at times runs a British series. At the moment they have "Midsummer Murders" and "Wire in the Blood". Last year they had "Doc Martin" which I enjoyed. But back to the BBC Entertainment. At times you think it's run by two men and their dog, but this is the Beeb so there must be a cast of thousands. They have the strangest schedule I have ever come across with double-headers common. Programs are repeated many time during the week and seem to come back again in the 6-9 month region. They get mixed up themselves on what's on as I've seen them advertising "New Street Law" was about to come on when in fact it was "New Tricks".

Let me give you a taste with tomorrow morning's schedule.

00:00 Afterlife
00:50 The Weakest Link
01:35 New Street Law
02:30 Spine Chillers
03:00 Murder Most Horrid
03:30 Murder Most Horrid
04:00 Goodness Gracious Me
04:30 As Time Goes By
05:00 The Weakest Link
05:45 Big Strong Boys
06:15 Big Strong Boys
06:45 Rick Stein's Seafood Lover's Guide
07:15 Murder Most Horrid
07:45 Murder Most Horrid
08:15 Goodness Gracious Me
08:45 The Weakest Link
09:30 Afterlife
10:25 Afterlife
11:15 Waking the Dead
12:10 Murder Most Horrid
12:40 Murder Most Horrid

Of this I will probably watch Rick Stein while I pedal my exercise bike and dream of cooking some of his recipes. I do wish they would come up with something other than those double-headers though. I quite like Dawn French but two shows on the trot are too much.

Of course the problem is not just the Beeb's or even the Cable TV's in general, it's me. I got used to not watching the box. Now I feel guilty about watching programs that are not worth it. I'm reading less which is a shame. Also with the DVDs I'm getting, mainly from Amazon UK, I can watch better than average programs at a time of my choosing. I suspect in a few years watching a cable channel will seem ancient technology as we will have 'on demand programs' over the internet. I already get my radio that way.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Why my sudden interest in old UK TV show?

As a 21 year old I left England and went to work looking for oil in the seismic industry. Apart from one year in the late seventies I never went back home for more than a short holiday. In my late teens I thought I had better things to do than watch TV. On my travels I hardly saw any UK TV programs. I knew very little of what was being produced in Britain through the 1970s, 80s and 90s; in fact right up to today.

What changed first was my mother sending me a DVD of "New Tricks Series 1" about eighteen months ago. This was followed by mother coming to stay with us in Thailand last year. Now we subscribe to the cable BBC Entertainment channel and have DVDs sent from Amazon UK. After years of having very little interest in TV I now usually watch at least one TV show a night.

Why the blog? Well what's the fun in not being able to tell everyone what I think of them;-) Almost all the programs I watch or DVDs I buy are because I want to so I'm afraid it's no good looking or many negative reviews here.