Boys from the Blackstuff – 80s drama about the dole

At the time, this drama series from the BBC caused a major stir revealing the bleak horror of life on the dole for the long-term unemployed of Liverpool. Yozzer Hughes was the character who stood out as a man driven mad by his inability to find a job. Here’s a trailer from the Beeb at the time.


How punk rescued Top of the Pops in 1976

BBC Four (or BBC Fortysomething as I call it) ran an excellent series of programmes back to back on Friday night about Top of the Pops in 1976 – the year, which I’m sure you’ll recall, it really sank to all time lows.   The 1960s TOTP focused on music and giving youth a voice had continued healthily in to the early 1970s with the amazingness of glam – particularly Marc Bolan – but then it all ran out of steam.

What I thought the programme showed brilliantly – and Paul Morley is a god for saying it – was how crap the crop of DJs on Radio 1/TOTP looked by the mid-70s.   These Radio Luxembourg leftovers used every excuse on the programme to explain now whey they didn’t play punk then – mainly pointing to record sales.  But is DLT seriously saying that he didn’t plug his horrible “Convoy GB” on his show over and above what kids really wanted to hear?  His on air resignation in 1993 made me laugh – how on earth had he lasted that long on Radio 1???

Tony Blackburn rocked up on the BBC4 prog to say that he didn’t still hated punk.  And that’s really why it didn’t get the airplay (ditto 2Tone of course in the early 80s – hence the Selecter’s vitriolic ‘On My Radio’).  But then Blackburn was a man who I remember pronouncing Duran Duran as ‘durren durren’ – no ‘doo’ but ‘duh’.   It was like listening to your Dad presenting a pop show at the time.

The BBC carried on turning TOTP in to a variety show for all the family until the knocking of punk at the front door became so loud they had to be let in.  I mean, to give you an idea how awful 1976 was on TOTP – just think about Disco Duck, Brotherhood of Man and Showaddywaddy and consider that while that was being played at TV Centre to people still in flares, the Sex Pistols were gigging but a few miles away in central London.

As Toyah said on the programme, and I never thought I’d quote her, punk injected new life in to TOTP.  Far from overthrowing it, they gave the format a whole new lease of life.  Seeing Siouxsie Sioux playing Hong Kong Garden on the show is as electric now as it was when she appeared.  And yet, there was David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton on the BBC4 programme still saying that punk was horrible.

Tiswas versus Multicoloured Swap Shop

I know, was there really any competition in it.   By the time Tiswas had done a few programmes, I think most of us were ashamed to admit we’d ever watched that staid old programme on BBC1.  Noel Edmonds could stick his Multicoloured Swap Shop because we’d all defected to Tiswas.

Not that there was anything intellectually engaging about Tiswas – unless you think seeing custard being thrown at people in cages is high art.  Well, some Tate prize winners might think so.  But as Noel burbled on the phones, The Specials were getting a dousing on ITV.  As did the Stray Cats and, of all people, the Nolans.

The team on Tiswas were not completely unfamiliar.  Sally James had been on the telly for a while and was the heartthrob of many teenage boys – well, I think she made other organs throb but let’s not wander down that road.  Can’t say I’m a huge Chris Tarrant fan now but he was the architect of this anarchic nonsense and all credit to him for making Noel Edmonds look very old fashioned for a while.

It’s strange to read reviews of Tiswas now that refer to ‘black comedian’ Lenny Henry – because of course black people still struggled to get on TV as anything other than bit parts in dramas and backing singers.  Lenny had created a character called Algernon and it was better to see him taking the rise out of the Rasta scene than the horrible Jim Davidson and his racist ‘Chalky White’ character.  And I don’t care if he’s apologising for that ‘comedy’ now because he is going to rot in PC hell for all time.

Bob Carollgees had Spit the Dog was a weekly fave as well as were the Phantom Flan Flingers.

ITV had made the BBC look a bit fuddy-duddy in the mid-1970s with Magpie – it’s rival programme to Blue Peter.  At the time, it felt like Magpie was more edgy that Blue Peter though when you look at the programmes on YouTube now, Magpie is still very middle class and safe.  But Tiswas was unsettling and it’s amazing that politicians and establishment figures queued up to condemn it – which of course did a wonder for its ratings.