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Television

18.09.16

A Year in the Life of Blockbusters

Posted 18th September 2016

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The most popular thing I’ve published here on Dirty Feed this year has been this piece on the title sequence to Blockbusters, scanned from the 1989 Blockbusters annual. Never let it be said that I’ll pass up the opportunity to scan a few pages and profit from someone else’s hard work, rather than actually writing something informative myself.

With that in mind, then, here’s a couple more pieces from said annual. Firstly, here’s producer/director Jenny Dodd, on a year in the life of the show. (On the second page of that article is a wide shot featuring a brief look at the complicated projector setup used for the game board. Has anyone else got a close-up of this famed contraption?)

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13.09.16

Hi-de-Hi! Edits #1: Raiding the Funny Cupboard

Posted 13th September 2016

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Jeffrey looking confused

The first episode of Hi-de-Hi! is one of my favourite sitcom pilots of all time.1 And for at least the next four series, Hi-de-Hi! is one of my favourite sitcoms of all time. This is for so many reasons, all of which is worth an article in itself, but put simply: my favourite thing about the show is that it’s the perfect mix of everything. Every single kind of comedy I love is embedded into its soul. A show that doesn’t sneer at broad comedy, yet includes moments of amazing subtlety. It knows the magic is in the blend of the two.

Recently, BBC Two have started another repeat run of the show in their Afternoon Classics slot. I’ve long meant to do a full comparison of these broadcast versions of the show compared to my DVD copy – which fully admits on the back that “for contractual reasons certain edits have been made”. I was mainly expecting just the odd music change – but actually, the changes have ended up being rather more interesting than I ever imagined, and for the the pilot at least, actually ask rather more questions of the broadcast repeat than of the DVD.

Let’s take a look, shall we? Just to clarify, the two versions we are comparing are:

Neither of these versions, you will note, is what was actually transmitted originally on the 1st January 1980. So, which version is closest to that original edit? We can perhaps make an educated guess about that later.

All times given are for the DVD version of the episode, so even if you didn’t record the repeat broadcast version, you can skip to see exactly where the changes are. Cut dialogue in the repeat broadcast version is like this.

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  1. Along with ‘Allo ‘Allo!, You Rang, M’Lord?, Dad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, and… hang on, there’s some kind of link here that I can’t quite put my finger on. 

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06.09.16

Blade Runner Afternoons

Posted 6th September 2016

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One of my most vivid television memories as a child was the title sequence to Blockbusters.1 Every afternoon I’d lie in front of the fire, and that gorgeous neon cityscape would transport me to another world.

I often wondered how it was made… and the answer came when I ended up in hospital, and I managed to borrow a copy of the 1989 Blockbusters Annual. Contained within was a four page feature on how the titles were made. I devoured it… and then had to give the annual back at the end of my stay when I had the temerity to get better. I never managed to trace down a copy over the years, and in the end those pages became a distant memory.

Nowadays, I’m an adult, and eBay is a thing. And this morning, I finally saw that feature I hadn’t seen for over twenty years. If anything, it’s even more detailed than I remember, with many absolutely gorgeous behind-the-scenes photos… and well worth sharing with you lot.

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  1. Technically, the second title sequence – the first is nice enough, but nowhere near as good as the famous one. 

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24.08.16

Sometimes

Posted 24th August 2016

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BBC Two today at 2:45pm, before Yes, Minister:

TWO symbol

“You’re watching Afternoon Classics on Two. Now, in a tribute to Sir Antony Jay who died on Sunday, co-writer of one of BBC Two’s most witty, sharp, satirical comedies of the 80s. In the corridors of power, politics was never more popular… with Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.”

BBC Two today at 3:15pm, after Yes, Minister:

Anthony Jay obit caption

Sometimes, when somebody dies, you don’t need schedule changes. You don’t need to drop everything to run a tribute programme right now. Nor do you need endless rolling news coverage.

Sometimes, a thoughtful continuity announcement and an obit slide is enough. Enough to show that a channel is alive, that it cares about its output, and that it’s respectful of the talent which made the channel what it is.

Sometimes, that’s all you need to prove that there really are real people working on a channel, who are there to add context and do what linear television is best at… instead of doing all the work weeks ago, then buggering off and leaving the channel to just be a box running pointlessly in the corner.

Sometimes, a little thought is all that matters. No fireworks. No razzmatazz. No fawning. Just a channel calmly doing its job.

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09.08.16

Congealed Smegma

Posted 9th August 2016

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As we enter the final run-up to Red Dwarf XI‘s broadcast in September, it occurs to me that I haven’t mentioned any of the stuff I’ve done over on Ganymede & Titan recently – the Red Dwarf fansite described by someone on Tumblr as “a shining example of how NOT to do fandom”.

A few articles I’ve written which may interest you, then:

It strikes me how most of the above aren’t really pieces purely about Red Dwarf. Whether it’s about the impact of ad breaks on TV shows, how productions and channels should be thinking about spoilers, how the web has changed since 2004, or how science-fiction style concepts are done in non-science fiction shows, there might be stuff that interests you above even if you aren’t a hardcore Red Dwarf fan.

For people who are hardcore Red Dwarf fans though, we have some fun stuff coming up over the next few weeks. Our DwarfCasts have really kicked into gear this year, with our commentaries on the episodes Queeg and Demons & Angels being some of my favourite ones we’ve done recently.1 In the lead-up to Red Dwarf XI, however, we’re going to be publishing new commentaries on Red Dwarf X every weekend – and the one for the first episode Trojan is already up.

I sometimes find writing and participating on Ganymede & Titan to be a weird experience these days, considering my extremely mixed opinions on any Red Dwarf made since 1993. And it can lead to some interesting moments. Our next Red Dwarf X commentary due this weekend is on the episode Fathers and Suns, and features the slightly bizarre sound of me – usually the person slagging off the show – defending an aspect of the episode to Ian, who is usually far more positive about the series than me. That tension will hopefully make for some good listening.

Or, y’know, just really fucking annoy everyone.


  1. There’s also this interview with Mac McDonald, which I had precisely nothing to do with, but is bloody great. 

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19.07.16

# I had a dream on a backlot… #

Posted 19th July 2016

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Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the first episode of Big Brother in the UK. And the Elstree Studios Twitter account saw fit to celebrate the occasion:

The tweet irritated me. Not in a “oh shit, what has 2016 got to offer us now” kind of way. Just a mild irritance, like an ingrown pube, or an itchy bumhole, or Steve Brookstein. It took me a little while to work out exactly why, though.

First, let’s eliminate some possibilities. Anyone thinking this is going to be a rant about how awful Big Brother is should probably go and read another site instead. If you think the show is a sign television has “dumbed down”1, perhaps consider that the beauty of Big Brother at its best is hours upon hours of investment in people… where suddenly, a single look shot across the room means everything. The greatest moments can be the most subtle, and take the most effort to truly get – it demands attention and commitment from the audience. The very opposite of dumbed-down television.

But I digress. A more valid point about the tweet is querying why Elstree Studios made it, when the first two series of Big Brother weren’t shot at Elstree at all, but in Bow, near the 3 Mills Studios.2 Still, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they know that full well, and thought that it was still worth linking to regardless. Fine.

The problems come, however, when you actually take a look at the linked-to video of the first episode. This isn’t an official upload, either by Channel 4 or Endemol. This is an unofficial upload by a fan, taken from a VHS off-air recording made back in 2000. Dodgy hiss throughout and all. And immediately, alarm bells start to ring.

Now, I have no moral problem with that video being uploaded – it’s not like the episode has had a commercial release. It’s perhaps slightly weird that Elstree would associate itself with an illegal upload of a show that they’re currently hosting at the studios – or, indeed, would associate itself with any illegal uploads at all. For a major studio to give out a slightly confused message about piracy is pretty strange in itself.

But that’s not what really bugs me about this. Ultimately my problem with the tweet: it makes the world-renowned Elstree Studios feel… small.

When I think of Elstree, I think of professional kit. As we’re talking about television I’ll skip over trying to romanticise 35mm or something, and instead try to romanticise broadcast quality signals being fibred over to BT Tower. (It gets me hard, anyway.) The image I have of Elstree is one of absolute professionalism – of trained crews working together to provide the highest quality final result it’s possible to offer.

What don’t I think of? Someone recording something off-air onto a manky VHS tape, and then years later sticking it on YouTube with a shitty hiss all over it. I just don’t think that’s something Elstree should be associated with.

If Elstree is linking to any televison programme it has even the slightest connection to, it should be an official, top-quality version of it. Yes, it was only a silly, throwaway tweet for an anniversary… but even silly tweets mean something. There really wouldn’t be any harm in Elstree’s Twitter account just being that bit more professional.

Because without professionalism, and a commitment to a quality end result, we can all just upload shit to YouTube that we recorded on our phones… and there’s no reason for Elstree to exist at all.


  1. I do actually have plenty of sympathy with the idea that too much television considers its audience less intelligent than it used to be, but unfortunately many people who use the phrase “dumbed down” don’t seem to say much interesting themselves – just repeatedly spout cliches. 

  2. Incidentally, see the section on 3 Mills on the brilliant History of Television Studios in London site for the full story behind those studios. 

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01.07.16

Hark at Barker

Posted 1st July 2016

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Yesterday there was a bit of consternation about a late schedule change forcing coverage of Wimbledon onto BBC Four and postponing Top of the Pops for an hour. For various reasons I can’t really talk much about that, although expect a THRILLING article about schedule changes generally on here at some point.

I would, however, like to point out something about how Sue Barker ended the show. Over a beauty shot from the grounds:

“Now, coming up next on BBC Four it is Top of the Pops 1982, and it’s a good year for music. A vintage year for tennis as well; Jimmy Connors beat John McEnroe here, and also Martina Navratilova beat Chris Evert. So, that is next here on BBC Four, but I hope you enjoyed our coverage at Wimbledon – we’ll be back with more tomorrow at 11:30. Clare Balding will be here with Today at Wimbledon, that’s at 9:30 on BBC Two. But for now, from Wimbledon, goodbye.”

It’s simply one of the most skilful bits of presenting I’ve ever heard.

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02.06.16

Who Framed Michael Eisner

Posted 2nd June 2016

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When it comes to rumours and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you all know the drill. Eddie Valiant and Jessica chase Judge Doom out of Toontown, they crash spectacularly, sail through the air, Jessica’s dress hitches up, and you may or may not be able to see her hairy minge. The whole thing has been investigated in great detail, although frankly not quite enough detail for my taste.

Still, that’s not what this piece is about. No, my query is about another rumour associated with the film – and specifically, about this scene in Toontown with Eddie:

allyson

We’ll let the previously linked to Snopes article give us the basics (emphasis mine):

“In another scene, Bob Hoskins steps into a Toon Town men’s room. Graffiti on the wall reads “For a good time, call Allyson Wonderland”, with the phrase “The Best Is Yet to Be” appearing underneath it. Allegedly, Disney chairman Michael Eisner’s phone number replaces the latter phrase for one frame. Although the “Allyson Wonderland” graffiti is clearly visible on laserdisc, Eisner’s phone number is not. If the phone number was in the film originally (as rumor has it was), it was removed before the home versions of the movie were made available.”

The removal of this phone number seems to apply to every single home version of the film I – or seemingly anyone – has ever come across. LaserDisc, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, the lot. If Eisner’s phone number was ever there in the film’s theatrical release, it’s gone from the retail versions. If is was ever there, of course. Because without evidence, this really starts to take on the feeling of an urban legend. Notably, Snopes has no actual evidence to offer, and the article goes out its way to label the phone number story as a rumour.

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20.03.16

Fawlty Towers: A Touch of Class

Posted 20th March 2016

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Fawlty Towers sign from pilot episode

19th September 1975, 9pm, BBC2, and the first programme of a little series called Fawlty Towers is broadcast. And whilst most of that first series of Fawlty Towers was shot in the summer of 1975, the very first episode – A Touch of Class – was recorded eight months earlier, in December 1974. The reason for this is simple: that first programme was a pilot. Unlike some programmes, which are re-recorded entirely for their first episode1, most of that pilot made it to air more or less in its original form. For instance, the opening sign is a different design in the pilot episode compared to every single other programme in the first series, and the theme music is also a different recording. Indeed, you wonder why, when it came to broadcast, they didn’t at least change the opening titles to be consistent with the other episodes, but I digress.

Fawlty Towers - opening titles from A Touch of Class

Opening titles from A Touch of Class

Fawlty Towers - opening titles from The Builders

Opening titles from The Builders

One detail, however, was changed between the initial pilot recording, and its broadcast. Polly was originally meant to be a philosophy student – and that’s what she was in that pilot episode. For the series, they decided to change her to being an art student – and so they reshot parts of the pilot to incorporate the change. To quote John Cleese, in an interview on the 2001 DVD release:

CLEESE: She in the pilot episode was a philosophy student, and we didn’t feel that worked as well as art student, so we re-recorded just a little – maybe four or five minutes – and cut that into the first episode before it was transmitted to the general public.

The obvious question to ask, then – at least, if you’re me – is: which parts of the transmitted episode were reshot? And was it really four or five minutes of material? But whilst you could easily guess about one section which was reshot, for years that was all the information we really had about the change.

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  1. Citizen Smith is a good example of a show which had a pilot, and then was completely reshot for its first episode broadcast six months later – both are on the DVD, and it’s fascinating to compare them. 

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04.02.16

Men Behaving Badly: Stag Night

Posted 4th February 2016

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Men Behaving Badly - title sequence

Last time I talked about the BBC Writersroom on this site, I wasn’t exactly complimentary. But it’s not like there aren’t positive things which have come out of the initiative – and one of those things is the Script Library: a collection of BBC TV, Radio and Film scripts.

Of course, the scripts that garner the most attention are things like Steven Moffat’s four solo-written scripts for Doctor Who Series 9. But if you dig deeper into the archive, there are all kinds of other gems. And one of those gems is the script for Series 6, Episode 1 of Men Behaving Badly: Stag Night. And if you pay attention, you’ll notice there are there’s all kinds of little changes compared to the final broadcast version of the episode which are Really Rather Interesting.

Let’s take a look, shall we? Cut or changed material is marked like this. Note that I haven’t listed every single slight difference in the dialogue; in general, the actors seem to have been at liberty to reword things as they saw fit. Let’s concentrate on the interesting changes.

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