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As the twenty-first century dawned, the B.B.C. decided to put out a special programme commemorating its finest achievements. Michael Parkinson hosted, and the studio was packed with celebrities. I tuned in hoping to see clips of long forgotten shows, maybe learn something of how they came to be made. What we got instead though was less of a celebration, more of a cremation.
The rot started with an odd black and white clip of a man dancing energetically outside the B.B.C. T.V. Centre. Parky failed to tell us what show it came from. It looked like Michael Bentine's 'Its A Square World' to me ( the ex-Goon was forever using the Centre as a venue for elaborate gags ). Parky's only comment was "the next time anyone mentions the golden age of television, remind them of that!". Hang on mate. You should have done your homework. That clip might have been intentionally funny. Not that the audience gave a monkey's. The director then treated us to a close up of some chinless wonder in a tuxedo braying like a donkey. Either he had imbibed too much brandy or his sense of humour was seriously underdeveloped. I presumed he must be the Commissioning Editor of B.B.C.-3's Comedy Department.
Next up was Jeremy Irons, chatting about his time as a presenter on the children's show 'Play Away!'. He was clearly embarrassed. Why, I wondered, was it here at all. 'Play Away!' was a charming show ( Tony Robinson also featured on it ) in its day, but hardly one of Auntie's masterpieces.
Ernest Maxin, ex-producer of 'The Morecambe & Wise Show', was mocked for referring to his stars' faces as 'gorgeous'. I think he meant it in the sense that they were funny, rather than 'sexy', but the audience seemed not to grasp this.
Among the classic drama series featured was 'Dr.Who'. Now I like the show, but do not think it should be compared with 'I Claudius', 'The Forsyte Saga' and 'Edge Of Darkness'. The audience laughed maniacally as the Cyber-Leader menaced a curly-headed Tom Baker. It hailed from a 1975 adventure entitled 'Revenge Of The Cybermen', not generally held in high esteem by Whovians.
It dawned on me. This was the latest in a long line of shows designed to rebuff criticism of present day B.B.C. programmes by subjecting its past output to public ridicule. Other examples of the genre include 'I Can't Believe I Watched that!' and 'I Love The '70's/'80's/'90's'. An out-of-context clip will be shown, followed by some would-be comedian making a smart aleck remark.
A few of the items were generally amusing, such as Parky reading aloud an internal B.B.C. memo predicting that 'Fawlty Towers' would flop. How wrong can you be? The exploding B.B.C. T.V. Centre from the 'Goodies' episode 'Sex And Violence' was aired, much to Bill Oddie's obvious delight.
But the nadir of the whole evening came when Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer attempted to recreate a classic Morecambe and Wise sketch. Alongside Tom Jones, they mimed ( 'yeh! yeh! yeh!' ) to 'Exactly Like You'. Now I know that Reeves and Mortimer have often been likened to Eric and Ernie ( put Vic in glasses and a hat and the resemblance to the former is uncanny ), but you would think they would have the good sense not to copy one of their most famous musical numbers. It would be as sacrilegious as them putting on bowlers and trying to be Laurel and Hardy. One person in the audience unamused by the routine was Ronnie Barker. He asked the B.B.C. to edit it out of the broadcast. They refused. Well intentioned it may have been, but as the original sketch still exists it was hard to see why they bothered.
Parky wrapped things up by stating that the B.B.C. had 'made the popular good, and the good popular'. I agree, but why devote seventy minutes on a Saturday night to making the good look ludicrous?
As an archive T.V. enthusiast, shindigs like this make me despair. Its like going into a public library and tearing up old books simply because they were produced differently to modern day editions. Why not just show the programmes and allow us to make up our own minds as to whether they were bad or not? Or is that too much to ask?
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