Re-watching the 60s

James from London

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Carry On Constable (22 February 1960) v CORONATION STREET (9 - 28 December 1960)

I re-watched the three '50s Carry Ons first -- Sergeant (the most innocent and best so far), Nurse (lovely, even if it's little more than a series of sketches) and Teacher (the weakest, although the ending still makes me cry like a baby). The sauciness steadily increases each time until in Constable, we get our first glimpse of Carry On nudity; the collective buttocks of Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Leslie Phillips and Kenneth Connor. By now, the formula's pretty well-established: bungling new recruits join veritable British institution (in this case, the police force) and everything that can go wrong, does. Replacing flinty William Hartnell (Sergeant) and kindly Ted Ray (Teacher) as the long-suffering authority figure is a world-weary Sid James making his Carry On debut. He's a brilliant addition - effortlessly real as always (not for nothing has he been called the Spencer Tracy of the Carry Ons) - and his presence elevates the whole film, which again is pretty much a series of set pieces that provide a succession of comedy character actresses (Irene Handl, Joan Hickson, Esme Cannon, plus the gorgeous Shirley Eaton) with some nice cameos, and Williams and Hawtrey with an excuse for a spot of cross-dressing. (They're a kind of cut-price version of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.) It's notable that far and away the most efficient new bobby on the beat (or at least the switchboard) is a woman, Joan Sims. And it ends with Sid and lovely Hattie Jacques getting together, thereby setting them up nicely to play a married couple in Carry On Cabby.

Like all self-respecting soaps, THE STREET (as it used to be abbreviated to; none of that over-familiar CORRIE business) starts with the arrival of a newcomer to the ranch/cul-de-sac/square/mansion, through whose eyes we are then introduced to the regular characters. In this case, it's Florrie Lindley, new owner of the corner shop. Surprisingly, she disappears into the background after an episode or two, but not before saying she can't imagine ever living in a bungalow and not going upstairs to bed. Given that she'll later turn into the bungalow-dwelling Edna Cross on BROOKSIDE, this probably qualifies as the earliest recorded example of Soap Irony. Florrie reappears just before New Year when she hears a banging sound coming from the wall of the house next door, which she ignores, unaware that it's the sound of THE STREET's very first fatality, May Hardman, pounding her last before sliding to the floor with one of those Mysterious Headaches which will go on to prove the undoing of everyone in Soap Land from Gavin Taylor to Paul Galveston to Arthur Fowler to Krystle Carrington. Spookily, it also foreshadows Florrie/Edna's own end on BROOKSIDE, where we see her through a kitchen window sliding to the floor with a stroke as her husband Harold and Sandra the nurse argue obliviously outside.

The two characters who make the biggest impression in THE STREET's first seven episodes are Elsie Tanner and Ena Sharples, but the two don't appear together on screen. Aside from one trip to the Rovers, we only see Elsie inside her house, dealing with the problems of her twenty-something kids, Dennis and Linda, while spitting onto her mascara brush as she makes herself up in the mirror -- the kind of warts and all behaviour that had simply never been seen on telly before.

Just as Melissa Agretti would later make her debut on FALCON CREST played by an all but silent bit player, Miss Nugent (i.e., the future Emily Bishop) also first appears played by a mute extra.

Oh and Ken Barlow's mother Ida makes a brief appearance in Carry On Constable to report her missing pussy. "The name's Fluff," she explains. "I"m so sorry, Miss Fluff," replies PC Charles Hawtrey sympathetically.

And the Top 2 are ...

1. CORONATION STREET
2. CARRY ON CONSTABLE
 
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Mel O'Drama

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Oh my. This thread is hitting all kinds of heavenly spots already. And I didn't even know I needed it until now.
 

James from London

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CORONATION STREET (4th January - 25th December 1961, assorted episodes, ) v Carry On Regardless (7 April 1961)

Carry On Regardless is a slight departure for the series. Rather than targeting an established organisation like the police or the army, the gang are all employed by Sid James’s odd-job business, and all the usual mayhem — pratfalls, misunderstandings, general incompetence — stems from that instead. By and large, everyone sticks to their by now familiar (but still enjoyable) personas: Williams is an intellectual snob, Connor is neurotic, Hawtrey fey and oblivious, Sims sensible but accident prone etc. But without the pomposity of a hierarchal institution for them to undermine, however unintentionally, it all feels a tad aimless.

On the plus side, there’s the addition to the team of Liz Fraser as a smart and sexy blonde who ends up in her bra and pants while still retaining her cheerful innocence (a prototype Barbara Windsor, in other words). With Fenella Fielding’s cleavage also making its debut, there’s a notable increase in scantily clad females, but it doesn’t feel exploitative. OK, it does feel exploitative, but you never get the sense the film is setting out to humiliate any of its actresses. Rather it’s the male characters, specifically their boggle-eyed and often panicked reactions to being confronted with the female form, who are the butts of the joke in most of these scenes.

With the gang making a spectacular balls up of their final task by accidentally demolishing the house they’re supposed to be cleaning, Carry On Regardless ends with a rallying cry of the film’s title — and there is something about the philosophy of "carrying on regardless" that is quintessentially British. It taps into the Spirit of the Blitz and all that stuff: carry on regardless of bombs dropping over London or, in the case of Charles Hawtrey and co, regardless of one’s own ineptitude. Meanwhile, CORONATION STREET in 1961 is mostly about carrying on regardless of the ups and downs of day-to-day life in a Northern backstreet. As in the Carry Ons, the characters' vicissitudes are often depicted humorously, but as a comedy of manners rather than as slapstick. (An episode from January where a faulty gas main obliges the entire street to camp out overnight in the church mission hall under the beadily disapproving eye of Ena Sharples is a great example. It’s also the first time most of the characters have been in the same room together.)

In the early weeks of THE STREET, it looked as if Elsie Tanner’s ex-jailbird son Dennis might be the series’ rebel, but he soon turns out to be more of a Billy Liar than a James Dean — a head-in-the-clouds dreamer with vague ambitions of breaking into show business. Instead, the biggest threat to the show’s cosy mundanity comes from twenty-two year-old student Ken Barlow, all brooding intensity and film noir cheekbones. First he ruffles feathers by going on a Ban the Bomb march, which leads to father Frank threatening to kick him out of the house. The same scenario would play out twenty-two years later on BROOKSIDE when Lucy Collins clashes with her dad about joining CND, but while Ken merely disobeying his father is sufficient drama for 1961, the ante must be upped in 1983 by having sixteen-year-old Lucy arrested at a political protest when she should be sitting her O levels. Whereas Lucy’s storyline leads to her being written out of the series, Ken, despite Frank's threats and his own various bids for freedom over the next sixty years, will never quite make it out of the street where he was born. The furthest he gets in ’61 is a railway platform where he almost catches a train to London after another row with his dad, but instead he gets chatting to neighbour Christine Hardman who’s just been to an Adam Faith concert on her own (she had a spare ticket but no-one else was interested; Elsie said she would have gone, only she’d just taken off her shoes), and ends up getting the bus home again. Ken also has THE STREET’s first secret romance — with a thirty-three-year-old librarian no less — but a Hollywood clinch followed by a fade to black is as racy as it gets.

There’s a birth, a death and two weddings during THE STREET’s first full year, all of which take place off screen. What’s most remarkable about each event is how non-melodramatic it is: nobody considers jilting anybody, there are no questions of paternity and no serial killers stalking the streets of Manchester. However, the episode where it gradually dawns on the viewer, long it does on the residents of the street, that the reason Ida Barlow has failed to return home is because she's been knocked down and killed by a bus is as tense and gripping an episode as any murder mystery.


The first Black face to appear in THE STREET belongs to Miles Davis on an LP cover jazz-head Ken has pinned on his bedroom wall, alongside one of Frank Sinatra. (Lucille Hewitt, the show’s token teen, favours Cliff Richard on hers.) Miles is followed by THE STREET’s first Black character, a bus driver, who has a brief and slightly self-conscious chat with a very youthful Prunella Scales playing a bus conductor with a crush on Harry Hewitt. Other recognisable faces to appear this year include Patricia Routledge as a cafe manageress and Davy Jones who, five years before getting to No 1 as lead singer of the Monkees, is Ena's eleven-year-old grandson. “Don’t mither your grandmother with that Shirley Bassey,” warns his mum.

And the Top 2 are ...

1. (1) CORONATION STREET
2. (2) CARRY ON REGARDLESS
 
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James from London

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CORONATION STREET (February 7th - December 24th 1962, assorted episodes) v CARRY ON CRUISING (April 11th 1962) v DR NO (October 5th 1962)

Watched alongside the constant mishaps of the Carry On gang and the everyday struggles of life on Coronation Street, the first thing that impresses about James Bond is the ease with which he does almost everything, whether it’s seducing a woman, tossing a trilby onto a hatstand, jetting across the world or dispatching his opponents. This sense of effortless cool is juxtaposed with moments of exquisite tension, usually when Bond’s own life is in jeopardy — the scene where he wakes up to find a deadly tarantula crawling across his bare shoulder being a classic example. The cyanide-swallowing suicide of the driver who picks Bond up at the airport in Jamaica and the fiery death of his likeable pal Quarrel are other moments of grimness amongst the glamour. The balancing act of nonchalance and urgency, the fantastic and the human, is something each Bond film, indeed each Bond, will have to negotiate. We want 007 to be suave and cool — that's his USP, after all — but for the story to matter, we also need him to be vulnerable. When he reveals to Honey Ryder, as they are about to come face to face with Dr No for the first time, that his hands are sweaty with fear, it’s a shock but also kind of refreshing.

Dr No is a great introduction to the world of 007, of course, but feels almost small compared to the movies to come. The eponymous character is a satisfyingly evil Bond Villain and Ursula Andress gorgeous as a prototype Bond Girl, but, neither will prove the most memorable of their respective categories (a certain emergence from the sea notwithstanding).

Received wisdom has it that one of the many vicarious thrills derived by cinema goers from the early Bonds was the chance to savour the foreign locations, this being a time when overseas travel was still out of reach of most people. By this logic, the setting of Carry On Cruising — an ocean liner sailing between Spain, Italy and North Africa — must also have felt somewhat aspirational, at least compared to the mundane surroundings of the previous Carry Ons. So it’s appropriate that Cruising is the first of the series to be filmed in colour, giving it an injection of ‘60s fun and escapism. In other ways, it sticks to the series' tried and tested formula. For the third film in a row, Sid James (as the ship’s captain) is in charge of a group of bumbling new recruits, while the nautical setting ensures there’s an inbuilt hierarchy between the characters.

A ship’s crew being an exclusively male domain in 1962, there’s no room for Hattie Jacques to do her customary formidable authority figure shtick, and Charles Hawtrey and Joan Sims are also conspicuous by their absence. Lance Percival (as a seasick chef) is a lankier, saner replacement for Hawtrey, while Dilys Laye (as Liz Fraser’s husband-hunting gal pal) is a suitably warm and lovely substitute for Sims, if perhaps a touch more glamorous.

While setting the film at sea broadens the horizons of the Carry Ons in one way, it tightens them in another. Having all of the characters on one ship means they can’t escape from each other, thus obliging the writers to come up with storylines that have actual consequences, rather than a succession of unrelated sketches strung randomly together. As a result, the dialogue is a tad sharper and there’s just that bit more warmth between the characters which makes all the difference.

Diana Coupland, Sid James’s sitcom wife in the ‘70s, crops up twice in my 1962 re-watch. In Dr No, she can be heard singing ‘Under the Mango Tree’, the song Ursula Andress lip-synchs to in her opening scene on the beach. In CORONATION STREET, she makes a brief appearance as Elsie Tanner’s dress shop boss.

In the mere dozen episodes of THE STREET from '62 that I was able to find, there is a distinct increase in the kind of dramatic events that are now considered de rigeur in soaps — a suicide attempt, a cheating husband, a snatched baby, a pub brawl — as well as moments of comedy that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Carry On: Annie Walker finding sea lions in her bathtub, Harry Hewitt’s new car reversing into a lake, and a wonderful Christmas Eve episode where half the locals watch in bemusement as the other half stumble through a performance of an Oscar Wilde-style play in the church hall. It’s like Acorn Antiques twenty-five years before Acorn Antiques existed, but with an additional layer of pleasure that comes from watching characters we already know attempt to convince in roles for which they’re entirely unsuited. The highlight is a terrified Emily Nugent, awesomely miscast as a femme fatale jewel thief.

This is also the year where THE STREET gets the hang of outside broadcasting. During the previous year there had been a day trip to Blackpool where we got to see the regular cast frolicking at the seaside, but without any sound, so the whole thing played like a sequence from a silent film complete with piano music accompaniment. But now we can see and hear a group of neighbours attempting to enjoy an ill-fated bank holiday picnic in the park, Concepta Hewitt wandering frantically through nearby streets looking for her missing baby and, most memorably, Christine Hardman as she contemplates throwing herself off the roof of the raincoat factory. The factory is on the side of the street we never see, but we’re led to believe that it’s on the same site where Baldwin’s Casuals and Underworld would later stand (but the building we’re shown here is far taller than the one that exists in C21st CORRIE). Clearly, the factory scenes in have been filmed elsewhere and slotted in alongside shots of actors standing outside the set of the corner shop looking up in horror at … nothing at all. But even though a modern eye can see the join, it doesn’t detract from the impact of the drama. In fact, in a strange way, it might even add to it.

Watching the episode in isolation, the specific reasons for Christine’s suicidal state aren’t clear, but it doesn’t really matter — it’s enough that she’s an ordinary person with an ordinary job in an ordinary street who simply can’t see a way forward anymore. Ken Barlow’s the one who eventually talks her down, not through any heroics or profound speeches or because he’s especially close to Christine, but simply by identifying with her. He points out that they’ve both lost their mothers since the series began and that it was she who inadvertently dissuaded him from running away to London when they met by chance on a railway platform. It’s a really simple but oddly moving scene.

Up until now, Elsie Tanner has been a depicted as a slightly frumpy, slightly past-it mother of two grownup children. Whatever raciness and romance existed in her past (and rumours of a ladder parked outside her bedroom window on VE Day still persist), the series seems keen to undercut any notion of her as a glamorous character. When her estranged husband shows up seeking a divorce, he’s not the hunk of burning love one might have expected, but a little man in a bowler hat and mackintosh. The one time we see her dolled up for a night on the town, she admits to having “one of our Dennis’s vests” on underneath her party frock. However, after she finds out Bill Gregory, her on-off beau, is secretly married, there’s a shift. When confronted, Bill tells Elsie he’ll leave his wife if she wants him to — all she has to do is give him the nod. But can Elsie, who knows all too well the loneliness of being middle-aged and single, subject another woman to the same fate? Things come to a head in the Rovers where Bill is sitting with his wife waiting for a sign from Elsie, who is standing at the bar, that he should take the next step. When no such sign is forthcoming, he leaves with his wife, silently walking out of Elsie’s life at the same time, seemingly for good. (He’ll return twenty-two years later as part of Pat Phoenix’s leaving story.) Even though the scenario is played out discreetly (Bill’s wife remains entirely unaware of Elsie’s existence), all the regulars in the Rovers bear solemn witness to Elsie’s sacrifice. And thus is she anointed the first of many tragic soap queens who, behind the hair lacquer, mascara and wisecracks, hide a lifetime of heartbreak, thanks to their unending capacity to fall for the wrong fella. More immediately, it brings Len Fairclough, Bill’s closest pal, into Elsie’s orbit as he becomes her confidante, so beginning the great STREET romance that never was. It also marks a watershed moment for Ena Sharples who thus far has been portrayed as an utter tyrant without a good word or an ounce of compassion for anyone, least of all La Tanner. But now she reveals a softer side as she empathises with Elsie’s pain. When she confides that the only thing she misses about the late Mr Sharples is the warmth of his feet in the small of her back, Elsie is so taken aback, she doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Talking of being taken aback, Minnie Caldwell’s casual remark about how much she likes “that chubby Cliff Richard” apparently so alarmed Real Life Cliff that he went on a diet and has remained eerily svelte ever since.

And the Top 3 are:

1 (1) CORONATION STREET
2 (-) 007
3 (2) CARRY ON ...
 
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James from London

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CORONATION STREET (20 Mar - 25 Dec 63, assorted episodes) v From Russia with Love (10 Oct 63) v Carry On Cabby (7 Nov 63) v DOCTOR WHO (23 Nov - 28 Dec 63)

Another year, another aborted suicide attempt by a young woman on CORONATION STREET. Unlike last year’s candidate, the perpetually discontented Christine Hardman, Doreen Birtles has always come across as a cheerful young thing — but that was before she suffered a humiliating rejection from an older man whom nobody seems to have a good word for. (It’s not stated directly, but one gets the impression that he may have lured Doreen into bed before dumping her.) Whereas Christine’s chosen method of ending it all — chucking herself off the factory roof — made it a public spectacle, only the viewer is aware of Doreen sitting alone in the flat above the corner shop, staring blankly into space, a bottle of pills at her side. To convey her disturbed frame of mind, the episode deploys the kind of narrative device one associates with classic Hollywood cinema rather than kitchen-sink drama: the amplified sounds of a ticking clock and Doreen’s own heartbeat. While it was bookish Ken Barlow who unexpectedly came to Christine’s rescue, Doreen’s knight in shining armour is even more unlikely — dopey Dennis Tanner, whose suspicions are aroused when he finds her front door locked — no-one locks their doors on Coronation Street! Next thing you know, he’s shinning up Len Fairclough’s ladder and smashing Doreen’s window with his bare fist. Everyone is taken aback by his gumption, most of all Dennis himself, and the story becomes as much about his heroism as Doreen’s plight.

There are only eight episodes from this year’s STREET available online (the same ones that were released as part of the 1960s box set about fifteen years back) so I cheated and had a sneaky peek on Wikipedia where I learned that Christine Hardman has by this point assembled the kind of soapy bio a present-day HOLLYOAKS character would envy. After failing to throw herself off the roof, she eloped with an old boyfriend who promptly died in a car crash and by March of ’63, she has somehow got herself engaged to Ken Barlow’s widower dad, Frank, who is twice her age and timidly besotted with her. Inevitably, mere days before their wedding, she dumps him. “I’d kill you, Frank,” she explains. “You don’t know what I’m like when I’m trapped … I run into traps — I should stand still. I run on roofs, away from men, towards men, away from meself mainly.”

Christine isn’t the only woman on THE STREET with a fear of being trapped by domesticity. Len Fairclough and Elsie Tanner’s long-running “will they, won’t they?” story is now underway and by August, it seems as if Len has got as far as proposing marriage. While the men are away on a darts trip/piss up, the women congregate at the Rover’s for a girly stay-behind. As the Street wives compare notes on married life, the camera concentrates on Elsie’s silent reaction as she listens. “Everything sort of quietens down, doesn’t it?” observes Valerie Barlow, Ken’s relatively new wife played by a baby-faced Anne Reid. “When you’re courting, one minute you’re up in the air, the next you’re sobbing your heart on your pillow. When you’re married, you just — go on.” Suffice to say, Len and Elsie don’t get married.

The mundanities of a working-class marriage are also at the centre of Carry On Cabby. Not for nothing has Cabby been called “the kitchen sink Carry On”. Earthy and domestic, it feels closer in tone to CORONATION STREET than to the earlier films in the series. The not so happy couple is played by Sid James and Hattie Jacques. While Sid, playing the boss of his own cab firm, is as reliably Sid as ever, Hattie sheds her usual bossy harridan persona to play soft and vulnerable as his neglected wife. It’s a lovely performance which gives the film its heart. Other Carry On regulars get to show different sides to themselves as well. Esma Cannon, ordinarily a giddy eccentric, is a tough old bird from the East End, while Kenneth Connor, instead of playing a lovestruck neurotic overcome by his feelings for Dora Bryan/Joan Sims/Dilys Laye, is already in an ongoing relationship with Liz Fraser when the film begins. There’s no room for Kenneth Williams this time around as there’s only one hapless new recruit in Cabby — Charles Hawtrey, who compensates by being even more accident-prone than usual. He spends the film dressed like Joe Orton while ogling all the women — an interestingly incongruous combination. And now that she’s been run over by a bus on CORONATION STREET, Ida Barlow is free to return to the series and deliver Jim Dale’s baby in the back of Sid James’s cab.

Like the wives Elsie listens to at the Rover’s, Hattie Jacques is in a marital rut, fed up with playing second fiddle to her husband’s business. To get her own back, she uses his money to secretly start her own business — a rival, all-female cab firm — which shrewdly exploits men’s weakness for pretty girls in short skirts to turn a tidy profit. In other words, it’s exactly what Sue Ellen Ewing will do with Valentine Lingerie in twenty-three years time. Glam Cabs even has a heart as its logo, just as Valentine’s will. Hattie may not actually deliver Sue Ellen’s line, “I’m a woman — I know my audience,” but she’s certainly thinking it as she unveils her fleet of sexy drivers in revealing uniforms. If there is an equivalent of Mandy Winger’s Valentine Girl among the Glam Cab ladies then it’s Amanda Barrie, who doesn’t have an awful lot to do in terms of plot, but steals every scene she totters into by being devastatingly pretty and ending every huskily delivered line with the word “darling.” (At the risk of stretching the Glam Cabs/Valentine Lingerie comparison to breaking point, just as JR and Sue Ellen were finally reconciled as a result of the BD Calhoun hostage situation, it takes Sid and his trusted band of drivers riding to Hattie’s rescue after her cab is hi-jacked by a couple of bank robbers to provide Cabby with its happy ending.)

Ena Sharples may have mellowed a bit since CORONATION STREET first began, but in The One Where Jerry and Myrna Booth Tie the Knot, she has managed to piss off everyone off to the extent that almost the entire street has sent her to Coventry. (Ken is the pious exception.) The episode concludes with what might possibly be the first whodunnit in soap history (or British soap history at any rate): Ena returning from the wedding to find her bedsit has been completely trashed — but by whom? The most likely candidate (which means he couldn’t possibly have done it) is Len, last seen drunkenly abusing her at the reception.

This whodunnit is followed by a Christmas Day who-is-it as THE STREET goes meta by staging its own version of THIS IS YOUR LIFE, with Dennis Tanner channelling Eamon Andrews as host. Just as it will forty-odd years later when EASTENDERS has the same idea, the “victim” turns out to be the incumbent pub landlady, in this case, Annie Walker. There’s no real drama about the episode as such, just a couple of guest appearances from the Walkers’ recurring children, but in its own modest way, it’s really charming and funny.

The first episode of DOCTOR WHO, which aired a month earlier, is genuinely eerie. It starts as a conventional, modern-day drama set in a regular comprehensive school where two nice middle-class teachers, Ian and Barbara, puzzle over the behaviour of one of their pupils, Susan Foreman, who seems to know everything there is to know on the subjects of history and science, but next to nothing about everyday matters such as monetary currency. Confused about her given address, they decide to follow her home (perfectly acceptable behaviour in 1963 it would seem), only to see her disappearing into a junkyard where a police call box is has been incongruously housed — a police call box that vibrates. “It’s alive!” Ian exclaims upon touching it. A crotchety old man, purportedly Susan’s grandfather, appears but refuses to answer any of their questions. Hearing Susan’s voice from inside the police box, they become concerned that the old git is holding her prisoner (not such acceptable behaviour, even in 1963) and, ignoring his protests, barge into the police box … to find themselves on a large futuristic set which Susan calmly insists is a TARDIS, a machine her grandfather, aka the Doctor, stole when they left their home planet and which they use to travel in time and space. Ian and Barbara logically assume they’re completely mental — but that doesn’t explain why the police box is bigger on the inside than out. Rather than let Ian and Barbara leave and blab to the authorities, the Doctor essentially kidnaps them — and after flipping a few switches, they find themselves transported back in the Stone Age where they are immediately thrown into their first adventure.

Unfortunately for us, prehistoric cavemen turn out to be quite boring. All they do is moan about whose job it is to invent fire whilst declaiming their dialogue in the sort of cod-Shakespearean way actors are wont to do in not very good historical dramas. That aside, the atmosphere of this first WHO story is fascinatingly grim. No one so much as smiles for at least three episodes. We’re a very long way from Billie Piper and Catherine Tate beaming with delight and excitement at the prospect of experiencing all the universe has to offer. “I hate this too, you know,” Ian assures Barbara during a brief respite between life-threatening situations.

At one point, the TARDIS gang are being chased through a forest by an angry caveman and his missus who are intent on killing them, when the caveman is attacked by an (offscreen) animal and left badly injured. Ian and Barbara’s first instinct is to stop and tend to his wounds. The cavewoman is incredulous: all she understands is survival; the concept of compassion is totally new to her. What’s really interesting is that it’s new to the Doctor as well. Like Stone Age man, his only concern is saving his own skin (and, at a pinch, his granddaughter’s). In fact, Ian has to prevent him from bashing the injured caveman’s head in with a rock. Clearly, he has a lot to learn before he becomes the hero we regard him/her as today, and his new companions are just the people to teach him.

Barbara and Ian are really, really likeable. They remind me of two old school BLUE PETER presenters whose default setting is friendly and helpful, but who have been plunged into a surreal nightmare where they must fend off one bizarre peril after another whist having to rely on an untrustworthy old weirdo if they are ever to return home again. I’m less thrilled about Susan. As the “unearthly child” of the first story’s title, she manages to sustain her aura of mystery until about ten minutes into the second episode whereupon she starts screaming hysterically and never really stops.

One of the cool things about early WHO is that, in true Saturday Morning Picture style, one adventure leads straight into the next which means no sooner has the TARDIS escaped from the dark and drab Stone Age than it rematerialises on a futuristic planet that soon turns out to be Skaro, the homeworld of the Daleks. Nowadays, of course, these glorified pepper pots are hugely familiar and maybe even seem a bit silly, but it’s not hard to imagine how utterly strange they must have appeared in December '63. Without anything remotely human, or even animalistic, about their appearance to latch onto, there would simply have been no frame of reference for them. The same can be said for the series’ original opening titles (a succession of monochromatic psychedelic images before psychedelia even existed) and the theme that accompanies them (alien-sounding electronic music before electronic music even existed). Running counter to all this weirdness are the stories themselves. Despite the difference in their settings, most of the action in the first two adventures boils down to characters getting captured and imprisoned and then trying to figure out a way to escape and return to (relative) safety. Both contain perilous journeys through forests or jungles (all created within the confines of a BBC studio of course) that recall Little Red Riding Hood and other Grimms’ fairytales — ideal for triggering children’s playground imaginations.

“Why do people never hit me for what I do to them?” Christine Hardman asks herself after breaking Frank Barlow’s heart on CORONATION STREET. “They should hit me more.” James Bond hits his girlfriend in From Russia With Love when he suspects her of betraying him. The way it’s presented, it doesn’t seem that shocking. In fact, it’s almost casual — she’s a KGB agent on a secret mission (more secret than she even realises) so it feels like it kind of goes with the territory.

From Russia With Love makes a lasting contribution to pop culture by introducing the image of an evil mastermind sitting behind a desk stroking a cat. It also initiates another Bond tradition: the evil mastermind’s weird sidekick — and they don’t come any weirder or kickier than Rosa Klebb, hunched and humourless with a dagger secreted in the toe of her shoe. Just as memorable is Robert Shaw’s blond assassin, an escapee from Dartmoor Prison recruited and turned into a killing machine by SPECTRE. After Klebb assigns him the task of eliminating Bond, he spends most of the movie lurking menacingly in the shadows before finally approaching Bond on the Orient Express where he assumes the identity of a posh British agent to get close to him. However, he gives himself away over dinner by ordering red wine with fish. Today, this would be regarded as a (public) schoolboy error, but wine drinking was a much more rarefied experience back in ’63 (as evidenced by the episode of CORONATION STREET where, in order to serve wine to their guests at a fancy dinner party, Harry and Concepta Hewitt must request a bottle in advance from Jack Walker at the Rover’s, who then has to have it specially delivered.) That Shaw’s bit of rough’s attempt at playing posh should be rumbled by Connery’s Bond, who is, in reality, a bit of rough playing posh himself, is pleasingly ironic. The subsequent brawl between them — a brutal fight to the death in a cramped train compartment — is the highlight of the film.

1963 was the year the Beatles took off and their influence can be felt in both CORONATION STREET, where Liverpudlian would-be pop sensation Brett Falcon lodges with the Tanners, and at the very beginning of DOCTOR WHO where Susan shows off her teen credentials by nodding along to Merseybeat combo John Smith and the Common Men on her transistor radio. But neither Brett Falcon nor John Smith is quite as groovy as they appear: While Brett Falcon is really a gormless window cleaner called Walter Potts, Susan is informed by her down-with-the-kids teacher Ian that John Smith is actually the stage name of the Honorable Aubrey Waites and he’s the son of a peer.

The year ends with the Beatles at Number 1 with 'I Want to Hold Your Hand', and the Doctor, Barbara and Ian not only the prisoners of the Daleks on Skaro but critically ill with radiation poisoning to boot. Their only hope is for Susan to stop screaming long enough to return from the TARDIS with a possible cure, unaware that the Daleks plan to steal it for themselves!

And the Top 4 are …

1 (3) CARRY ON CABBY
2 (1) CORONATION STREET
3 (2) 007
4 (-) DOCTOR WHO
 
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Mel O'Drama

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Another year, another aborted suicide attempt by a young woman on CORONATION STREET. Unlike last year’s candidate, the perpetually discontented Christine Hardman, Doreen Birtles has always come across as a cheerful young thing — but that was before she suffered a humiliating rejection from an older man whom nobody seems to have a good word for. (It’s not stated directly, but one gets the impression that he may have lured Doreen into bed before dumping her.) Whereas Christine’s chosen method of ending it all — chucking herself off the factory roof — made it a public spectacle, only the viewer is aware of Doreen sitting alone in the flat above the corner shop, staring blankly into space, a bottle of pills at her side. To convey her disturbed frame of mind, the episode deploys the kind of narrative device one associates with classic Hollywood cinema rather than kitchen-sink drama: the amplified sounds of a ticking clock and Doreen’s own heartbeat.

Although it aired before I was born, I've been fascinated by this storyline since I first read about it at some point in the Eighties. Or more specifically, the story behind the storyline, with this being an early example of a hyperbolic newspaper spoiler having an impact on the way the story aired.

As I understand it, the original plan was for Sheila to commit suicide by overdose and gas, but once the press leaked it there was a public outcry over its imitability and it had to be hastily rewritten.

It's years since I last watched it, but from what I remember the finished episode feels even more off-kilter because it's not clear what's going on. There are still a couple of lines with characters commenting that they can smell something. I can imagine if the viewer was aware that Sheila was gassing herself at that moment it would have added suspense, with the fake-out that Sheila might be discovered, before it turns out the character is speaking about a new perfume or whatever.

A few years ago, there was a documentary that showed a clip or two from unearthed footage of the version as originally shot, and an interview with Eileen Mayers who seemed genuinely disappointed that her best work on the show had never been shown.



Christine Hardman has by this point assembled the kind of soapy bio a present-day HOLLYOAKS character would envy. After failing to throw herself off the roof, she eloped with an old boyfriend who promptly died in a car crash and by March of ’63, she has somehow got herself engaged to Ken Barlow’s widower dad, Frank, who is twice her age and timidly besotted with her. Inevitably, mere days before their wedding, she dumps him.

Christine was a standout to me last time I worked through the DVDs. She seems to have been somewhat forgotten in the annals of Corrie history but she was the first of her kind and I'd say became something of a template for the tragic young drama queens that followed, from Irma Ogden and Suzie Birchall to the late teens and twentysomethings in more recent years.



And now that she’s been run over by a bus on CORONATION STREET, Ida Barlow is free to return to the series and deliver Jim Dale’s baby in the back of Sid James’s cab.

Ha ha. I hadn't made that connection, but then I've never done a Sixties rewatch as thorough as this.



In other words, it’s exactly what Sue Ellen Ewing will do with Valentine Lingerie in twenty-three years time. Glam Cabs even has a heart as its logo, just as Valentine’s will. Hattie may not actually deliver Sue Ellen’s line, “I’m a woman — I know my audience,” but she’s certainly thinking it as she unveils her fleet of sexy drivers in revealing uniforms. If there is an equivalent of Mandy Winger’s Valentine Girl among the Glam Cab ladies then it’s Amanda Barrie, who doesn’t have an awful lot to do in terms of plot, but steals every scene she totters into by being devastatingly pretty and ending every huskily delivered line with the word “darling.” (At the risk of stretching the Glam Cabs/Valentine Lingerie comparison to breaking point, just as JR and Sue Ellen were finally reconciled as a result of the BD Calhoun hostage situation, it takes Sid and his trusted band of drivers riding to Hattie’s rescue after her cab is hi-jacked by a couple of bank robbers to provide Cabby with its happy ending.)

Oh wow! Another parallel I hadn't spotted. I like it.



I’m less thrilled about Susan. As the “unearthly child” of the first story’s title, she manages to sustain her aura of mystery until about ten minutes into the second episode whereupon she starts screaming hysterically and never really stops.

Oh dear.

I think I've only watched the first episode in isolation when it was shown on some significant anniversary. My main memory is of Susan (at least I think it was Susan) doing that weird, head-wobbling, vibrating Sixties dancing by herself which all added to the unearthliness for me.



James Bond hits his girlfriend in From Russia With Love when he suspects her of betraying him. The way it’s presented, it doesn’t seem that shocking. In fact, it’s almost casual

It's all in a day's work for Mr C.

 

James from London

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As I understand it, the original plan was for Sheila to commit suicide by overdose and gas, but once the press leaked it there was a public outcry over its imitability and it had to be hastily rewritten.
Fascinating. I had no idea the press were into spoiling the audience's fun that early on, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised.
It's years since I last watched it, but from what I remember the finished episode feels even more off-kilter because it's not clear what's going on. There are still a couple of lines with characters commenting that they can smell something.
Hmm, I don't recall any reference to smells, or maybe I didn't pick up on them.
A few years ago, there was a documentary that showed a clip or two from unearthed footage of the version as originally shot, and an interview with Eileen Mayers who seemed genuinely disappointed that her best work on the show had never been shown.
Oh wow. I'm kind of curious about the early actors' recollections of working on the series, but I'm reluctant to google them in case they all turn out to be dead.
Christine was a standout to me last time I worked through the DVDs. She seems to have been somewhat forgotten in the annals of Corrie history but she was the first of her kind and I'd say became something of a template for the tragic young drama queens that followed, from Irma Ogden and Suzie Birchall to the late teens and twentysomethings in more recent years.
Very much so. She's got that self-destructive, animal-in-a-trap-gnawing-on-their-own-arm-thing going on, which is very compelling and feels very contemporary.

Have you watched all the CORRIE-by-decade box sets?
My main memory is of Susan (at least I think it was Susan) doing that weird, head-wobbling, vibrating Sixties dancing by herself which all added to the unearthliness for me.
Yes, that all too brief fusion of cool '60s chick and mysterious alien girl might be her finest moment.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Fascinating. I had no idea the press were into spoiling the audience's fun that early on, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

They're certainly consistent.



"To stop a star committing suicide in front of millions of viewers". They make it sound like a snuff episode.

I've also realised it means Corrie wasn't live at this point. The text in the Mirror article pictured above suggests it was recorded just five days in advance of screening. I'm not clear on how early they started recording it in advance (or if I know I've forgotten).

Here are a few articles regarding the deleted scenes coming back into the light of day, with some still pictures in the two Mirror ones.




I'm quite shocked to see that one article is over a decade old now as it only feels like a year or two ago.



Hmm, I don't recall any reference to smells, or maybe I didn't pick up on them.

It's a long time since I last watched but I have a feeling it was a conversation between Lucille and Florrie, either in the shop or in the hallway between the shop and the flat at the back.

I probably only noticed because I remembered reading the story of the hastily rewritten scenes.



Oh wow. I'm kind of curious about the early actors' recollections of working on the series, but I'm reluctant to google them in case they all turn out to be dead.

It would be great to get some insight into those early days from people who were there. I'm sure there must be some stuff out there. Although equally, I'm sure a number of them are indeed quite dead.



Very much so. She's got that self-destructive, animal-in-a-trap-gnawing-on-their-own-arm-thing going on, which is very compelling and feels very contemporary.

Oh yes. Very true.



Have you watched all the CORRIE-by-decade box sets?

I have indeed. I've watched the Sixties to Eighties several times, and the Nineties and Noughties once each. And I've loved every one.

It would be nice to get a set for the Tens now that decade is completed.



Yes, that all too brief fusion of cool '60s chick and mysterious alien girl might be her finest moment.

That's kind of reassuring. At least I know I haven't missed much by not watching the rest of her episodes.
 
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