I Love 1974

Saturday, August 19, 2000 by

When I Love the Seventies was first publicised, the BBC said that each programme would be accompanied by a complete episode of Top of the Pops from the year in question.

This idea, though, seemed to be forgotten about by the time the series began – a shame, because it would have given us the chance to see how ’70s ephemera was thought of at the time, rather than having to be reinterpreted by pundits. However, we still have the opportunity to see some genuine old television, given that early on Saturday evenings, BBC2 are showing ’70s comedy programmes.

These are rather poorly scheduled between Correspondent and The Nazis: A Warning From History, thus rather spoiling the feel-good nostalgia factor. Some of the reruns have been fairly obvious – good as Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? and The Good Life were, we’ve seen these many times since. But sometimes, they’ve unearthed a real gem from the archives – for 1972 we had a complete Dick Emery Show, and for 1974 we saw Mike Yarwood in cabaret at the Talk of the Town, London, a programme that can’t have been repeated for about 25 years.

Yet there’s something disappointing about seeing these complete programmes. For a start, the concepts and jokes rely on a knowledge of what was going on in the early ’70s. Also, they often appear to be much worse than you remember – this would probably be the case with an archive Pops, where there would undoubtedly be some absolute classics mixed in with forgotten old rubbish. And one thing that I Love the Seventies is doing is proving that for a “golden age of television”, a lot of the programming was really quite inadequate.

So this week on I Love 1974 we saw The Six Million Dollar Man battle against some laughably bad visual effects, a toe-curlingly embarrassing encounter with Mud’s Les Gray on Val Meets The VIPs (“Well, I certainly know a lot more about the pop scene …”), John Conteh singing badly on some variety show, an archive Crackerjack where contestants battled it out on a primitive version of Pong, and worst of all, a dreadful, amateurish interview with Pan’s People on Jimmy Savile’s Clunk-Click show. This was a real eye-opener, given that the programme was described as “a children’s show”, while Jim came out with a massive amount of innuendo and sniggering asides – “I shall be talking to these ladies about their attributes!” and “I asked these young ladies to come in showing a bit of leg because there are gentlemen in hospitals and places who, y’know, wanna see ‘em.” Hmmm.

The exceptions to this array of poor programming were, of course, Roobarb and Custard. Bob Godfrey’s films bubbled with creativity and wit at the time, and are equally refreshing now. With newly produced animation by Godfrey and new narration by Richard Briers, they became the first presenters of this series not to irritate or bore with their presence. There was an innocence which was perhaps missing from previous shows, and the sight of the duo in T-shirts and jeans doing the Tiger Feet dance must rank as one of the best moments on TV this year.

Aside from them, the programme followed the by now familiar mix of mini-features on the fads and fashions of the year, with plentiful vox pops from those involved and the usual suspects – “cultural commentators” like your Miranda Sawyers and Stuart Maconies. Some people were up in arms about the appearance of Jeremy Spake this week, as seemingly he’s the most hated man on television – yet his comments on Roobarb and Super Noodles were really no more irrelevant than those of Smug Roberts and Simon Donald, and besides, everyone’s an expert on nostalgia.

A quick word about Stuart Maconie – he seems to now be setting himself up as a one-man nostalgia industry, and though he didn’t feature in the first programme, he’s cropped up a lot in the subsequent editions, and at times has veered towards self-parody. Yet it’s easy to forgive him for pointless wibbles like “Why was it called Pong? Oh, yeah, cos it was a bit like Ping Pong – can we cut that bit?”, when he can come up with such amusing observations as describing the ’70s as “a very Yorkshire decade” and, this week, reminiscing that “for a child in Lancashire, [Vesta Chow Mein] made us feel like Egon Ronay! It was a party in a box waiting to happen!” This series is going to make Maconie a star – alright, so we could do what he does, but not so well. Indeed, it’s much like his comment on Les from Mud – “You could see a twinkle in his eye as if to say ‘can you believe the money I’m making doing this’, and you felt ‘Yeah … good on you, Les!’”

So we’re now halfway through the series, although there’s to be another one afterwards which will cover the ’80s. It could be that it starts getting boring, and some of the topics covered are becoming slightly over-familiar. Indeed, much of the Pan’s People feature regurgitated what was said on Lowri Turner’s Lipstick Years a few weeks back, and included the same montage (which in itself was lifted off a previous documentary). I think we’ve seen Dee Dee thrust her pelvis quite enough this summer. Nevertheless, the clever tactic of getting different producers to work on separate episodes means that each programme is distinct from each other. And besides, who could get tired of reminiscing? This episode closed with John Conteh attempting to remember the words to Remember You’re a Womble. At the same time the entire nation was no doubt doing the same. We’re fast becoming the most backwards-looking country on earth, and I for one am enjoying it immensely.


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