I Love 1976

Saturday, September 2, 2000 by

“Past tennis champions have included tough guys, posers, even homosexuals; but if the girls like Bjorn, he returns that compliment – with interest.” It’s a piece of dodgy film, voice-over by some eccentric Scandinavian reporter, showing one of icons of the ’70s jiving with some women in a seedy disco. Hooray, it’s I Love the Seventies again.

Farming each programme in this series out to different producers has made for a sometimes unnerving variation in quality from week to week. The imaginative idents that cropped up in the first couple of shows haven’t really been equaled – this time we had a rather uninspiring few shots of “1976″ spelled out in reflective tin and wooden pegs. Similarly the footage of young actors “using” archive produce – items of food (this week, lollies) and fashion (lip gloss) – has begun to get boring, serving as it does only to provide a backdrop to more spoken reminiscences from the guests.

But I Love 1976 was still an utterly involving hour’s telly. What made this week’s show particularly great was the wry editing of the production team. This has become more pronounced as this series has unfolded – the clever cutting between different footage to either make a sarcastic amusing point, or one of the speakers look foolish. This time round it made for several high points, such as the cunningly sequenced comments by Stuart Maconie and Reece Shearsmith:

SM: “People say the internet is CB radio for the ’90s, that’s a fashionable thing to say amongst really boring people.”
RS: “It was the internet of the day.”
SM: “No it’s not.”

and between Jonathan King and Peter Kay:

JK: “Eurovision is not necessarily damaging to an artist’s career.”
PK: “Kiss of death, isn’t it? Like doing a James Bond film, soon as you do one of them, that’s it, you’re finished.”

Most of the usual gang looked in – Ainsley Harriot, Kathryn Flett, Ice-T (whoever decided to include him is a genius – his contributions, despite extending merely to whether something was “cool” or not, capture a certain endearing tone), Jamie Theakston (still struggling to remember anything about the ’70s), and even a one-word cameo from Sir Jim himself (“Mega”). And while Wayne Hemingway wasn’t included, there was a great deal more of Peter Kay. His contributions, together with those of Stuart Maconie, make for a distinctly Lancastrian feel to these shows, their respective Bolton and Wigan accents helping to offset the flat Southern drawl of the rest of the cast.

They’re both mining the same seam really, but do it so well, and so engagingly (the absolute highlights of the programme being Peter’s attempts at singing I Love to Love and Stuart’s thoughts on Bjorn Borg – “That headband was way too tight … sooner or later the grip would increase so his eyes became just a mono-eye, a uni-eye …”) that there’s no real need for anyone else to appear. Others here have already said as much, but it bears repeating, especially as it has become more obvious as the series has continued: namely that most of the talking heads conspire to frustrate and distract the viewers, while only a select few serve as great entry points into nostalgia and popular culture.

Malcolm McLaren showed up to offer a few comments on punk. It was refreshing to see this tired, endlessly recycled topic treated here in a slightly different way, with the emphasis more on the fashion than the music. Punk seemed to be at root a culture of appearance and style – it was how punks looked that really shocked and scared the rest of the country, not the sound; and even if you couldn’t play a guitar you could rip up a T-shirt. It was useful to have this subject covered in ’76 as well, not left as it usually is to be lumped into 1977 when punk was already a parody and a mainstream movement. However the absence of the perennial “fucking rotter” Thames TV Today footage of Bill Grundy and the Sex Pistols, which happened in December 76, suggests that next week’s show is going for the big music punk/Jubilee treatment. Maybe then we’ll get comments from Danny Baker and Julie Burchill whose thoughts on punk you would’ve expected to see here (though Mark Perry, editor of seminal punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue, was an imaginative choice).

I’ve seen photos of myself as a baby learning to walk in 1976 and crawling over grass so parched it looked almost on fire. A long hot summer is the only thing I’ve ever associated with 1976 and it was good to see footage of a dapper Bill Giles carefully explaining to an interviewer that he was wearing a tie, not because he thought it was going to turn cold again, but “because it’s BBC Television.” But there were plenty more inspired inclusions, such as a plethora of fine shots of Zooms, Fabs and Mini-Milks, the great depiction of Abba vs. Brotherhood of Man (especially the latter ripping-off Fernando with Angelo – cue more Peter Kay crooning) and perhaps the best section of all, the rubbishing of CB radios. Here we had footage of a bewildered John Humphrys joining a mid-’70s US convoy (“This is BBC Limey One”), Dave Lee Travis on Top of the Pops dressed up in lycra as Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks singing Convoy G.B., and even Tony Blackburn (or “Jockey One” to use his original CB handle) appearing humbled by his former pastime (“The most appalling thing that I’ve ever got involved with”).

Our host this week was Kermit the Frog (or Kermit The Frog to be precise). This could’ve been really good – witty narration of the cynical knowing Muppet Show kind, plus a few in-jokes and subtle references back to that timeless programme of a Sunday evening. It wasn’t. Kermit’s voice was the main problem, it just doesn’t sound right anymore, and of course it can’t because it’s no longer Jim Henson with his hand up the frog’s arse. The clips from the original Muppet Show were all jumbled up and stupidly edited (the back of someone’s head – ?) while one shot of Miss Piggy being “Miss Piggy” was enough. It only made you pine for some proper re-runs (Gonzo and George Burns are backstage, Gonzo is playing a violin; George: “What is that?” Gonzo: “It’s my new act. Gonzo fiddles while George Burns!”)

As the series moves towards its conclusion the chances are there’ll be less surprises (in the way of unseen footage) and more subjects jostling for attention. There’s also always going to be stuff you thought should’ve been included but wasn’t, stuff you remember belonging to another year, and so on. Enough grumbling; the show’s still the best thing on Saturday nights. So altogether: “I love to love, but my baby just loves to dance, he wants to dance, he loves to dance, he gotta dance…”


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