Friday, 12 February 2016


From 1976: One for the weekend... the TV TIMES paperback (a brand extension before anyone had coined the phrase) adapting Thames TV's THE TOMORROW PEOPLE.

I can't say that I've read the paperback but, thanks to DVD, I've discovered the original series over the last decade or so and really enjoyed it (especially the lawyers-be-dammed commentaries by the cast which are thin on technical details - don't expect a Ken Johnson style outing full of insights - but thick with barbed comments) for its lo-fi Teddington austerity production values.  

Prior to the DVD's, I was more familiar with the early 1990s version which came and went during the dying days of the Thames ITV franchise. The recent American version initially seemed like a triumphant return but became increasingly dumb as it lurched towards cancellation at the end of its only season. It was the "V" reboot all over again. Sadly. But, to their credit, they did get their monies worth out of their subway train interior set by reusing it almost every episode. 


From June 1985: DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN reports of plans to fill the eighteen-month gap between TV seasons with SLIPBACK, a full cast (including the TV principles) radio drama serial broadcast on BBC RADIO FOUR (and subsequently released on BBC audio cassette).


From 1983: Another one from the Random Scans file... RETURN OF THE JEDI POSTER MAGAZINE ISSUE 3, published to coincide with the movie's initial release.

I picked this up recently in the CINEMA STORE's going-out-of-business sale. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016


From May 1985: DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB) issue 22.

The front page reveals more about the background to the infamous Cancellation Crisis and also ponders whether it was time for change at the top of the Union House production office. 

This is the moment where the BBC either dropped the ball or, depending on your perspective, revealed their true colours. A more commercially minded organisation would have moved to protect their international cash cow by parachuting in a new production team, preferably accompanied by an injection of cash. The BBC, perhaps lacking alternatives, decided to maintain the status quo and retain the existing team and simply cut the episode count to almost half (except no one knew that yet) with a corresponding reduction in the allocation of internal resources. 

This has proven to be a tried and tested way of cancelling high profile programmes: allow them to wither slowly on the fine and then claim that falling viewing figures show the one-time powerhouse programme is no longer popular. Witness the demise of GRANDSTAND, TOP OF THE POPS and GRANGE HILL. It really feels that BLUE PETER is living on borrowed time. 


From 1978: Warren's officially licensed CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND MAGAZINE.

The cover blurb says it all: typical of the time (and the publisher), this had black & white interiors printed on newsprint. The contents were the usual mix of pieces directly related to the film and broader pieces about movie aliens. All fairly undemanding stuff.

The cover designer clearly knew what would tickle the fancy of alien obsessed Star Warriors: a close up of an alien from the much discussed climax. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016


From April 1985. DOCTOR WHO is saved for a generation. Phew.


Maybe not.

This is actually a pretty ridiculous headline. Not only does it manipulate what BBC boss Michael Grade actually said (he only, as the piece below reveals, wanted it to run another 21 years. Easy to say, harder to be called to account over) but it also demonstrates scant grasp of how the BBC, or indeed, any big business functions. Times change. Schedules change. Competitors change. Structures and working practices change (it's unlikely anyone realised it yet but we were only a few years away from the wholesale decimation of the 'everything inhouse' BBC way of working, swept away by John Birt, Producer's Choice and internal markets), Audience tastes changes and - perhaps most importantly of all - managements change and few incumbents want to be saddled with the decisions of their predecessors. Unless, of course, its an already-in-the-pipeline hit that they can claim credit for.  

We now know that the disdain for the programme was endemic throughout the ranks of BBC management with no one (except, DWB take note, your soon-to-be arch nemesis JNT) willing to champion the show. The sands had shifted and the show was exceptionally vulnerable. 

The headline does, however, give a good insight as to how those inside TV regarded their most fervent viewers. Most people in TV love their jobs (its not, for the most part, a license to print money and the long hours and demanding deadlines take their toll) but, at the end of the (long) day, its just a job. They don't have the distance to see the charm... or the finish product. And TV types watch, and appreciate, TV differently than the hardcore fans. So they're not pondering how the Doctor felt as be stepped into the desolate alien world for the first time. They're thinking of the hardships of the quarry location, the logistics of location catering and the number of script pages that have to be shot between the intermittent showers and the fading daylight. 

This was not a generation of BBC decision makers with any great fondness for the show. Nor was it a commercially minded corporation which saw the monetary value of a hit show at home and abroad. BBC ENTERPRISES was to be kept at arms length (under the Westway, tucked away at the sprawling Woodlands campus) with its income and absorbed into the Corporation's coffers. Money making was a little sideline, not core to the business of being a Public Service broadcaster with the only competition of note being other Public Service broadcasters. 


From 1983: The saga ends here. For now. The novelization of RETURN OF THE JEDI.

It goes without saying that this was a massive thing back in 1983. And an essential purchase as soon as copies were sighted in WH SMITH prior to the film's release date. This was my first chance to find out how the saga wrapped and my first sighting (thanks to those eight pages of fabulous colour) of the Ewoks (the action figure packaging had deliberately obscured them on the card backs, presumably to preserve that sense of mystery... or possibly because the figures weren't finished on photo day). 

This was available in two flavours: a Young Readers edition (which probably resurfaces less frequently nowadays) and this, the bona fide grown up version. I, of course, opted for this one.  

Monday, 8 February 2016


From March 1985: the next in my acquired collection of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN... Issue 20.

In the space of a few months, DOCTOR WHO had gone from a venerable broadcasting institution which almost everyone (including, I'm sure, the production team) assumed would have an automatic renewal to a show that was fighting for its life. The 1985 Cancellation Crisis started as outright cancellation but was quickly spun as an extended hiatus. 

This is, I have to say, a pretty iconic cover and a stark departure from the normal DWB house style. 

As a viewer back in 1985, I was inclined to agree with the BBC assessment that the show was looking more than a little weather worn. It was more like to to make you roll your eyes (or snigger) than shock or surprise... except when it went to inexplicably dark places which failed to reflect its status or scheduling as early Saturday night viewing. Of course, in retrospect, I know that it would get a fair bit worse before, belatedly, it rediscovered itself and became (at its best) a cracking little drama. Which was, of course, the moment the Corporation finally lost interest. 

Typically, the BBC failed to comprehend that the decline was of their own making. Another organisation would ask "How did we allow this to go wrong... and how do we fix it?" whereas the BBC just somehow blames the programme itself. With better management, GRANDSTAND and TOP OF THE POPS could still be the significant programmes, brands and assets they once were. 


From 1980: Another Star Age Essential... the novelization of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Alan Dean Foster didn't return (in person... or as George Lucas) so Donald F. Glut picked up the gauntlet. 

I guess it would be hard for anyone not around during the Star Age to appreciate just now important these things were. The gap between theatrical release and TV premiere was something like three years so, unless the movie was deemed worthy of a pre-release, you had an awful long wait until you saw it again. Books, stills, comics and soundtrack albums really were the only ways to piece together the big screen experience. 

Friday, 5 February 2016


From February 1985: the next issue of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB) that I recently acquired: issue 19.

In today's multichannel and multiscreen world, any TV producer would be more than a little chuffed with nine million viewers. It must have been hard to imagine that, by the end of the season, the show would have been all but cancelled and fans fighting for its survival. Although individual episodes and stories in subsequent series were sometimes excellent, the show always felt like it was living on borrowed time for the rest of the run. 

The sub heads are a little unfortunately positioned me thinks. 

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