FEATURE TV HEAVEN
t’s an appealing concept.
Somewhere up there, well above
the altitude of the Astra satellite is
a celestial transmitter,
broadcasting cathode-ray classics
24 hours a day. TV Heaven is where programmes go when they’ve been good, a channel devoted to 50 years of small-screen treasures. On a given evening you might find Albert Steptoe, Richard Beckinsale or Ena Sharples, but you’re guaranteed not to encounter Michael Barrymore, Esther Rantzen or Anneka Rice, who languish far below in TV Hell, constantly prodded by the white-hot tridents of hobgoblin-like TV critics.
With Channel 4 chief Michael Grade a good mate of the Divine Being, we earthbound mortals are to be given a brief chance to glimpse TV Heaven. Over the next thirteen weeks it’ll fill every Saturday night, presented by that Archangel Gabriel of the 625-line system, Frank Muir. Channel 4 has hunted high and low for clips, commercials and full programmes, sOmewhat hindered by the BBC’s reluctance to play ball.
‘The BBC won’t sell complete programmes,’ explains Muir, miffed but resigned, ‘and nor can you blame them, I suppose. They’re sitting on a goldmine in their archives. No doubt they are planning their own retrospective series for the near future. They’ve got into the habit of copying other people’s ideas.’
Inter-channel bitchiness aside, nostalgia is definitely in vogue, with broadcasters beginning to realise the sheer wealth of j material filed away (and, in the BBC’s case, Lto rue the vast amounts criminally erased).
8 The List 31 January — 13 February 1992
Davtd Frost in 1967
Fed up being out on a limb when the conversation turns to classic TV shows of a bygone age? Channel 4 have just the thing for you, as Tom Lappin hears from FRANK MUIR. But what exactly is this TV Heaven?
‘There does seem to be quite a movement towards these sorts of programmes,’ says Muir. ‘I think there’s quite a few waiting in the wings to come on. The difference with TVHeaven is that it’s critical, in the sense of having something to say about the programmes. Michael Aspel’s ITV thing the other night was a typical LWT job, stuff the audience with celebs and show a few clips. We’re showing whole programmes, three or four complete shows or films to take up a whole Saturday night.’
Channel 4’s gift for this sort of thing is in its eye for the right accessories. The programmes are surrounded with the paraphernalia of their times, newsreel footage of contemporary events, title sequences from classic serials and commercials for cooking lard, soap-suds and similar bygone commodities. Muir occupies centre stage, providing titbits of information about the programmes and definitely never sneering at a simpler age. ‘My job is to get the viewer in the right frame of mind to enjoy the programme,’ he says, ‘which I do by means of odd anecdotes about the piece or the actors.’
Of course , every given group of viewers contains a hard core of dullards, who immediately scream ‘seen that’ at the slightest mention of repeats. lmpervious to the argument that many of these programmes could be viewed a hundred times and still be infinitely superior to ’Allo, ’Allo, they cynically say that showing a lot of old black and white stuff from the 605 is a money-saving device padding out prime-time space where new shows could be.
‘It isn’t substantially cheaper,’ Muir counters. ‘The amounts they charge to reproduce programmes are enormous, even if you get permission. David Jason refused to allow us to show a clip from an old comedy sketch show he made with Ronnie Barker in the 60s. He had the central role in this particular sketch and it was extremely funny, but he said we were trying to trade on his name. Ho hum. So he said we could have the clip for £20,000, which tended to rule it out ofthe running.’
John Thaw was nnother actor less than enamoured to see his early work back on the screen. The cultured actor now best known as the aesthete Inspector Morse can be seen in full yobbish 70$ mode. all sideburns, ﬂares and a nasty temper as Regan in a pilot programme for what eventually became The Sweeney. Reportedly, he was not keen on renewing acquaintance with the character. ‘I’m not surprised actually,’ says Muir. ‘He is very good in it, but two things strike you when you see these old programmes. One is that everyone smokes, they’re always lighting up, which is really quite a shock. The second thing is how violent these programmes were. TV violence certainly isn’t a modern phenomenon. There’s two types of violence. The Tom and Jerry sort of violence where nobody gets marked. You get that in the Avengers sort of programmes. Regan featured realistic violence. Very realistic.’ At the time, it gained notoriety as a show that was breaking new ground by breaking a few noses.
Muir is keen to impart just how strong most ofthe material is. That’s not to say it’s all powerful plays and incisive documentaries. That isn’t what television is all about. ‘It’s always been popular entertainment, and still is. But it’s a branch of popular entertainment that has something unique about it. The delight in good bad shows for instance. Some of those 605 adventure series with the likes of Roger