Regular visitors to the Transdiffusion sites will be aware of the admiration and affection in which vintage television is held, in particular ABC Television. In my mind, it adds up to three things: the ambience of ABC presentation, the quality of its programmes, and the feeling of a good night out, even though you were at home watching.
You know, I probably spent loads of time in front of the telly as a child, as some of you did too. As a sickly child (asthma), I relied upon the TV set to provide undemanding entertainment, yet I only watched Granada when the “Pruitts of Southampton” or “The Beverley Hillbillies” were shown. Granada depressed me as a child. I know now what it was I felt: the Granada output, firmly rooted in the North of dark satanic mills, while extremely solid and gutsy, sometimes lacked a little of that showbiz glitter. On the other hand, ABC came across as a friendly, relaxed company with sparkle, and my recollections of ABC are, as such, more lucid and coherent, even though I was only seven when the company took its final bow.
So what memories do I have? Imagine that you’re just about at school age, and the only thing to do on Saturday mornings is to listen to the Light Programme, as my family often did, to “Junior Choice” and then “Saturday Club”. I loved those shows, and the atmosphere they created was magical.
I used to wish ABC was on immediately afterwards (12 noon) but it never was: it used to start with adult education programmes until “World of Sport”. But when teatime came, there were a succession of excellent things to enjoy, like “Just Jimmy” and “Batman”. Of the former, I really believed, as a child, that Jimmy Clitheroe was about 10 or 11 – it was a shock to hear that he was 51 when he died in 1973. “Batman” caused more accidents in my home than you could wag a stick at. After each week’s amazing story, my older brothers used to pretend that they were Batman and Robin, or I was Robin (it varied) and Mum’s best tea towels ended up as superhero capes. My eldest brother always wanted to be the supervillain, so he may have used Mum’s coat to be the Penguin, or Dad’s jacket to be the Riddler or the Joker. Leaping three stairs in a single bound, inevitably one – or all of us – ended up with some degree of minor injury, crying as Mum applied Witch Hazel for the umpteenth time to a cranial lump the size of a dinosaur egg. All this pain, despite David Hamilton warning us not to try to fly like Batman! Kids! Ha!
Recently, I found a copy of a Tommy Cooper video in my local megastore. I saw that the copyright was given to ABC. Hmm, I thought. I wonder if this was what I watched as a five-year old? And it was “Cooperama”, which I thought was absolutely the funniest thing I’d seen, which still, as a video, retained something of the original sparkle I referred to earlier. All these years later, Tommy Cooper still makes me laugh.
I always remember the “Blackpool Show”, because we used to watch it on Sunday evenings before school holidays. According to all accounts, Tony Hancock was the MC, but I only recall Bruce Forsyth for some reason. These shows were class, no more, no less. Admittedly, looking at the TV Times listings, they were, in retrospect, very middle-of-the-road fare, but it’s easy to forget that the inclusion of more up-to-date music or comedy was sparse across all TV output. Mind you, entertainment was entertainment in those days.
My parents sometimes let me stay up late when I was unwell, and I was able to see “The Magic Box” with Kenneth Robinson. What I remember of it is this: titles similar to “Picture Box”, a signature tune that sticks in the mind, and a succession of guests, all placing their favourite object or moment in the magic box. The antithesis of this would be “Room 101”!
“Time to Remember” was one of a number of series dedicated to history, and it always seemed to be on at odd times and days. The ticking of the grandfather clock always seemed to soothe me, and made me attentive for the whole of the half-hour. A lot of famous actors narrated those films, like Sir Ralph Richardson.
After enjoying all of these ABC moments and more, the final weekend rolled around. David Hamilton reminded us to make sure that we got the correct TV Times for our area, some shows ended up shoe-horned into the schedule (“Sgt Cork” on Sunday afternoon) and the final programme, “Goodbye From ABC” was trailed as being on at 11.55pm. Unfortunately for me, I had to go to bed, so I never saw that programme. I heard it though, from the comfort of my pillow, with tears in my eyes.
To this day, I can recall those weekends with warmth and affection, where television, although becoming increasingly sophisticated and constantly developing, retained something of its magic.