If you want to know about archive television, whatever you do don't ask Alison Graham. Week after week, her 'Radio Times' column is loaded with fatuous comments, particularly when discussing what she calls the 'bad old days of T.V.' which to her was between 1970-79. Not only does she believe the infamous 'Mainly For Men' was a series ( it was a scrapped 1969 pilot, only shown in 1992 as part of 'T.V. Hell' on B.B.C.-2. In Alison's alternative universe, it was the 'Top Gear' of its day ), but that 'Fawlty Towers' took a 'few episodes to get going'. Actually, it hit the ground running with 'A Touch Of Class'. She calls the era that spawned the show 'neolithic'. Well, that same 'neolithic' era also gave us 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy', 'The Naked Civil Servant', 'Play For Today', 'Law & Order', 'Elisabeth R', and 'I Claudius', not forgetting classic documentary series such as 'The World At War'. Like many critics, she is openly hostile to the notion that British television had a great past. It is far easier to rubbish the past than it is to praise it ( 'The Observer's critic recently took a pop at the landmark play 'Cathy Come Home' despite admitting never having seen it! ).
I don't know if Alison remembers 'Quick On The Draw'. I suspect she was far too busy writing essays in her school book complaining about the television of that time, and praying for the '70's to end so that she huff and puff without sounding like a reactionary twit. Devised by the late Denis Gifford, it was a daytime game show based around cartoons. No, not the Warner Bros. variety. I'm talking about the sort you see in newspapers. Two celebrities and a professional cartoonist ( usually Bill Tidy ) would sit before easels and be given a topic on which to make a lightning-fast sketch. The funniest one received the most points. The celebrities included the likes of Spike Milligan, Charlie Drake, Roy Castle, Michael Bentine, and Rolf Harris ( the latter two went on to host in later seasons ). The late Bob Monkhouse was the just the right man to front the show ( with help from the glamorous - and alas deceased - Diana Darvey ) given his love of comics.
One round I liked especially was when the trio were given a frame taken out of an old comic, say 'The Hotspur', and told to come up with an amusing, original caption. One week, it was of a youngish man reacting in horror to a ghostly figure in a shroud. Rolf Harris' caption made me howl with laughter. He said the man was Jack Barton, then producer of the much-derided soap 'Crossroads', and he was saying to the spectre: "I don't care which one of Meg Richardson's ( the Noele Gordon character ) husbands you are, you're not coming back into the show and that's final!". Charlie Drake put the following caption to a picture of a man in bed, his foot in plaster: "That's the last time I try kung fu!". The show was a kind of 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' with felt-tip pens.
Monkhouse moved on eventually, to be replaced ( as noted earlier ) by Rolf Harris, and then Michael Bentine. I have a lot of respect for the late Goon, but did not like him as host of 'Draw'. His constant laughing and honking of motor car horns got on my nerves. He was accompanied by a lady by the name of Florence de Jong, who never spoke and played the piano throughout. It came as a relief when the show finally ended. It could not possibly be made now. I.T.V. would not be able to afford the cost of the pens and paper.
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