There were just three television channels in Britain in 1972 - B.B.C.-1, B.B.C.-2, and I.T.V. Multi-channel television was a thing of the future. Writers Ken Hoare and Mike Sharland decided to give us a taste of things to come with their one-season sitcom 'Turnbull's Finest Half-Hour'. Pentagon Television is the newest and smallest addition to the I.T.V. network. Ratings are poor, the critics loathe its output, and the station looks doomed. Chairman 'Sir Zachary Stein' ( the late Raymond Huntley ) meets a man at a party who claims he can turn things around. He is 'Major Clifford Turnbull ( Retired )' ( Michael Bates ).
The pompous Turnbull tries to run it like a military operation - slashing budgets, sacking staff, stealing credit for other people's ideas and devising inane ones of his own. For example, he puts on a film festival comprised of cartoons, Chaplin one-reels, and home movies. But the latter owes more to Andy Warhol than Donald Duck and scandalizes the nation. A fawning tribute to a recently deceased celebrity proves problematic to make as everyone in showbusiness hated him. Turnbull tries his hand at being a quizmaster - in a show aimed at senior citizens - but the result is a disaster, with the jackpot question being 'who's working a fiddle?'. An irate viewer called 'Fred Pomeroy' ( the late Jack Haig ) decides he has had enough of Pentagon's mostly bad programmes and tries to blow up the studio.
The title sequence was a parody of the famous R.K.O. ident with a little radio mast emitting waves atop a revolving world. Only here an electrical fault causes it to topple over. As well as Bates and Huntley, the cast included Liz Fraser, Jonathan Lynn, Blake Butler, and Roddy Maude-Roxby. It was more satirical than was the norm for I.T.V. sitcoms of the period, which probably explains why it was not networked ( Yorkshire Television buried it in a Sunday afternoon time slot ) nor well publicised. It developed a cult following though; reputedly Alan Bennett was a fan.
The premise would later be revisited in Eric Idle's 'Rutland Weekend Television' and 'K.Y.T.V.' staring Angus Deayton. All six episodes of 'Turnbull' still exist, and It would be fascinating to see it again after all this time, just to see how much of its prophecies have come to pass.
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