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31.3.11

EastEnders: Colin and Barry - Gays In Albert Square - And The First Gay Kiss In UK Soaps...

In 1986, EastEnders introduced Colin Russell, a gay man, into the Albert Square mob.

Neat in his ways, armed with a Filofax and one of those trendy keyrings which beeped if you whistled for them, Colin was still subjected to homophobic bigotry by other residents of the Square. That guardian of Walford morals Dot Cotton was shocked by the "goings on" at Colin's, especially when he took up with young east-end lad Barry Clark.

Back then, Barry was "under age" too - he was under 21!

Michael Cashman, himself a gay man, and Gary Hailes, were excellent as Colin and Barry.

And soon that now reformed homophobe Dot was a good pal of Colin's.

The 1980s saw several very significant steps forward in English soaps, which simply didn't "do" gays before then. Oh sure, there had (apparently) been a shock confession of homosexuality from a character in BBC radio serial The Dales in the late 1960s, and its successor Waggoners' Walk flirted with the subject a couple of times. The first story-line featured a gay character who "reformed" and got married! Waggoners' second attempt - in 1980 - was more promising, but the BBC promptly axed the show.


Afternoon TV "drama series" (note: not soap!) Together (1980-1981) introduced a gay story-line in March 1981, not long before the series ended.

My memories of that are all very hazy, and the show, tucked away in the afternoon schedules, attracted little attention, only ran to two series, and soon disappeared - as did Southern TV, which produced it. Together had quite a cosy, traditional atmosphere on the whole.

Brookside was the first major early evening UK TV soap to feature a regular gay character when young Gordon Collins (Nigel Crowley/Mark Burgess) "came out" in the mid-1980s.

But, for me, Colin and Barry were special. They made me think a bit, opened my eyes a little.

With gay characters appearing in two of the TV soap operas, and many openly gay pop stars flitting through the pop charts, it was an interesting era.

AIDS was being touted in some tabloids as a "gay plague", but work elsewhere in the media was ensuring that gays were getting a fairer deal, and making many of us question our attitudes to the gay community.

Colin and Barry were merely allowed a kiss on the forehead in 1987 - which caused outrage, but in January 1989 Colin and his next partner, Guido
Smith (Nicholas Donovan), shared the first mouth-to-mouth gay kiss in UK soap.

Steam was coming out of the ears of at least one tabloid newspaper.

The whole Colin/Barry/Guido story-line was absolutely groundbreaking. I shall always remember the 1980s EastEnders gay characters.

They contributed to the phrase "woolly-woofter" dropping out of my vocabulary - forever.

30.3.11

Power Dressing For Men...

My, what big shoulders you have, Mr Robinson. Sorry, I mean Donovan.

Shoulder pads were part of the "Power Dressing" image. The phrase was first recorded in 1980, according to the Twentieth Century Book of Words by John Ayto (Oxford, 1999). Back then, it meant a smart, efficient look for executive women. But as the 1980s continued the shoulders grew and grew. And some men (like me) got in on the act. The pads had to be large. We wanted BIG, BIG shoulders.

Us men who got the padded look thought we looked great - and our gigantic shoulders made our beer bellies (not that Jason Donovan had one!) look much smaller.

Bliss.

Men's fashion as featured in a 1987 advertisement... I loved it all... why are you laughing?!
- More absolutely gorgeous 1987 clobber!

1984: Minder - A Nice Little Earner...

Terry McCann (Dennis Waterman) tells Arfur Daley (George Cole) where to get off at The Winchester Club. Dave (Glynn Edwards) looks on. Launched towards the end of 1979, Minder was not initially a success. Given a nice new coat of humour in the early 1980s, Minder soon hit the big time.

Ah, Minder...

I could be so good for you...

The show was created by Leon Griffiths.

Launched on October 29 1979, after the infamous ITV strike, the series was not initially a success.

TV critic Hilary Kingsley wrote in 1989:

The first [series] went out straight after the ITV strike and should perhaps have been called "Mindless" - it couldn't make up its mind what it was. Audiences were still confused by Dennis Waterman looking and sounding like the tough cop in 'The Sweeney' but playing the thick thug Terry here. Should they laugh? and where was John Thaw?

Brian Cowgill, managing director of Thames Television, was in there rooting for the show to continue.

And so it did.

The non-successful series of October 1979 to January 1980 soon evolved into one of the "must see" shows for millions of viewers throughout the 1980s as the violence decreased and the humour increased.

And what a beautifully written show it became.

Dennis Waterman took I Could Be So Good For You, the Minder theme tune, into the pop charts in November 1980, and the show itself first appeared in the monthly Top Twenty TV ratings (at No 20) in December 1980.

Arthur Daley, sorry, Arfur Daley, and "Minder" Terry McCann (usually wondering just what his boss was up to) became much-loved regulars on the 1980s TV scene.

As did Arfur's "Mrs" - 'Er Indoors - although we never saw her. She did, however, become the subject of a 1983 Christmas novelty record - What Are We Gonna Get For 'Er Indoors? by Arfur and Terry - AKA George Cole and Dennis Waterman, of course.

A vexing question for Christmas 1983...

George Cole had played spivs long before his debut as Arthur Daley - ever seen him as "Flash Harry", in the 1950s film The Belles Of St Trinian's? As Minder continued and the comedy element was upped (indeed, a mid-1980s TV Times I recently acquired suggests that the comedy element was still on the rise), George Cole was clearly a man in his element.

People loved Minder.

People adored Minder.

People copied Minder.

"People COPIED Minder?!" you cry.

Oh, yes, I reply...

From the Daily Mirror, October 1, 1984:

Conmen are doing a roaring trade with a ruse they pinched from the TV series Minder.

They are posing as council workmen authorised to tow away vehicles which are illegally parked or apparently abandoned.

And that's exactly what happened in an episode of Minder two weeks ago.

A car mechanic posed as a council official to steal a parked car. Terry - alias actor Dennis Waterman - was his unwitting accomplice and the racket was financed by Arthur Daley, played by George Cole.

As usual, Arfur's idea of a nice little earner didn't come off. But the thieves who have copied it are making a small fortune in the Collier Row area of Romford, Essex.

They have used the ruse each time in a spate of thefts. Police have now warned residents to keep tabs on each others cars and to watch out for the conmen.

Meanwhile, Thames Television, who make Minder, are insisting: "Don't blame Arfur."

A spokeswoman said yesterday: "Arfur and Terry can't really be held responsible for what's happened in Romford.

"Every Minder story could be carbon-copied, but they are totally fictitious stories.

"Life can sometimes be stranger than fiction."

Would you Adam and Eve it? Better not try it nowadays though. The 1980s, home to Arthur and Terry, were a different planet. Nowadays, with CCTV cameras and DNA Databases sprouting everywhere, you could end up right up the creek without a paddle.

Mind you, I've got a few dozen original 1980s deelyboppers if you're interested...

Only one careful owner.

Bound to sell.

Guaranteed to go "boing boing" when you pop them on your bonce.

Well... at least till you get them home...


19.3.11

The Beiderbecke Trilogy - Jill Swinburne And Trevor Chaplin - Where Are They Now?

Trevor (James Bolam), Jill (Barbara Flynn) and First Born (Thomas McGlingly) - 1980s TV heaven!

Thomas has written:


I adored the 1980s TV series The Beiderbecke Trilogy and was saddened to hear of the death of the writer, Alan Plater. I connected with Jill, Trevor, Big Al, Little Norm, and the series was sheer brilliance. The 1980s setting was very important, because the show was very topical in its own distinctive way, but did Alan Plater write any more about Jill and Trevor? Have we any idea what happened to them next? This is keeping me awake nights!

I know what you mean, I think, Thomas!

I grew very fond of Jill, Trevor and company and I missed them - and their unique outlook on life - when the final series ended. Over the years since, I have often wondered how they are coping.

It would be so good to phone them up or drop them a line!

I've often been saddened by the ending of an enjoyable TV series and bemoaned the loss of weekly visits to favourite fictional characters via the little screen, but none more so than Jill and Trevor.

I watch the Trilogy every few years, never tire of it, always delighting in old acquaintance and fresh observations. But I always put off watching the final episode because I find the characters leaving my life again very upsetting - this is true every time - and I must have watched the series about ten times since the 1980s!

"Look Not Upon The Blondes When They Are Platinum..."

I have scouted around the web, and found a 2003 interview with Alan Plater, in which he reveals that he was keeping up-to-date with our old friends in the moonstruck outer limits of Leeds at that time:


For the record, I know exactly what's going on in Beiderbecke-land. Jill is the recently appointed head of San Quentin High, which has just finished bottom of every league table in the land. Trevor has retired and spends his days playing dominoes in the bowls pavilion with Big Al and Little Norm. Hobson has made a sideways career move out of the police force and is now a highly paid consultant in some byway of the New Labour Project. The heart of the matter is subversion. If the Scorsese gospel says we all have the capacity for violence, the Beiderbecke equivalent says we all have the capacity for deadpan daftness when confronted by men wearing suits.

Read the full interview here.

I too was sorry to read of Alan Plater's death - and, of course, we are now cut off from Beiderbecke land forever.

In the 2003 Guardian article, Alan Plater, pondering on the hold the series continued to have on its audience eighteen years after the original Beiderbecke Affair series began in 1985, wrote:

The last words belong to Jill, Trevor and great-uncle Bix.

In the Tapes, Jill says:

"Beiderbecke? The first great white jazz musician. Drank himself to death. His playing sounded like bullets shot from a bell."

"How do you know that?" says Trevor.

"You gave me a two-hour lecture about it in bed one night. In lieu of the cigarette."

"I didn't know you listened when I talked."

Maybe that's the answer. I didn't realise people were listening when I wrote.

We were, Mr Plater, oh we were!

Read our original tribute to the Beiderbecke Trilogy here.

Graduate policeman Detective Sergeant Hobson: "It is my view that the major challenge to the police force in the 1980s lies not with so-called major crime, but in the behaviour of people who, while outwardly respectable, show signs of social abnormality."


12.3.11

Listen To Sheila Tracy And A May 1981 Truckers' Hour...

The Sun, March 17, 1981 - Sheila Tracy was riding high on the early 1980s CB radio craze.

Many thanks to Andy Walmsley, who e-mailed me recently with an internet link to an instalment of the legendary Sheila Tracy's Truckers' Hour. This was actually the first nightly edition, broadcast in May 1981, on BBC Radio 2.

Thank you so much, Andy! The memories came flooding back. It was so nice to hear this after all those years... and yet it doesn't really seem that long ago!

Sheila's report from Jarrell's Truck Plaza, USA, makes fascinating listening.

And were you one of the UK truckers keeping a wary eye out for Smokey in May 1981? Did you ever get a mention on the Truckers' Hour?

The news bulletin after the Truckers' Hour, and the brief blast of Abba's 1980 hit Super Trouper heightens the nostalgic element.

Listen to it below and then relive more '80s CB memories via our main CB radio article here.


10.3.11

The Tandy Realistic TRC-1001

Graham has written:

Hope I'm hitting you tree-top tall, good buddy!

I love your article on the CB radio craze, and note it includes a newspaper ad for the Tandy Realistic TRC-1001.

Do you have any idea when this became available, as I have one stashed away in the back of my wardrobe and it's got me feeling nostalgic for the '80s citizens' band days, and curious to date it!

I can help you, Graham! The newspaper ad above, from the Daily Mirror, Nov 5, 1981, records that the Tandy Realistic was going on sale from November 26th, but orders were being taken NOW.

What a shame we can't pop back to those days...

My main CB radio article, which includes lots about the wonderful Sheila Tracy and her BBC radio show the Truckers' Hour, is here.

And to return to CB radio lingo - I'm down and I'm gone!