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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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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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:
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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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.
Opening titles from A Touch of Class
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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On the 2nd April 2005, BBC Four broadcast the BBC’s first live drama for over 20 years: a remake of The Quatermass Experiment, starring Jason Flemyng. It had a mixed reaction at the time – and indeed since – but I thought it was absolutely fabulous. Both as a programme in itself… and to finally watch a complete version of that first Quatermass story which doesn’t involve Brian Donlevy.
On the 31st October 2005, the DVD of the programme was released. Right at the beginning of the show, this caption was added:
This caption is a blatant lie.
The version of the programme on DVD is not what audiences saw live on the 2nd April. It is, in fact, an entirely different edit. If you’re familiar with the programme, perhaps you’ve heard that one scene was replaced with a version from the rehearsal due to an actor drying, or that an off-screen crash was trimmed. Both are true; however, this is far from the full story. The programme was extensively re-cut, with many changes made across the entire programme.
I think you can see where this is leading. Below is a list of all the changes made to the DVD version compared to the programme’s original broadcast. All times given are for the DVD release, so even if you haven’t got access to the original version, you can still tell at which point a change was made.
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This is a continuation from Part One of this article, about edits to the One Foot in the Grave episode “Hearts of Darkness”. Make sure you read that first – this won’t make any sense without it…
“On BBC 1 now, One Foot in the Grave. When a day in the country turns sour, and disturbing practices are brought to light, Victor Meldrew comes to the rescue.”
– Continuity announcement for the first broadcast of “Hearts of Darkness”
Finally, we have it. After many years of wondering, I’ve finally tracked down a copy of the original broadcast version of “Hearts of Darkness”. Many thanks to go Andy Walmsley for digging out his recording. I am eternally grateful.
And his effort is well rewarded. Because what we’ve found is even more interesting than we might have guessed. Because no, the DVD version isn’t the same as the original broadcast, as I suspected in my last article. But neither is it the expected edited version either.
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“Wakey, wakey, everyone! It’s quite nice out here now. I’ve just been watching two frogs having sex!” – Mr Swainey
14th February 1993, BBC1, and the first showing of the One Foot in the Grave episode “Hearts of Darkness’. The episode, dealing with abuse in an old people’s home, caused a certain amount of controversy for its scenes of violence – to the point where the episode was edited for all future broadcasts.
Here’s a quote from David Renwick on the DVD commentary for the episode:
“The version we’re seeing now has been edited, I mean was edited for repeat transmission by the BBC – not in accordance with my wishes, I have to say – and some of the kicking that Arabella Weir does in one of the scenes that’s coming up has been removed, because people complained.”
Which indicates that not only was the episode was edited for repeats, but indeed the DVD set itself contains the edited version.
Before we get into the nitty gritty about this, it’s worth pausing for a moment and talking about why this matters. True, edits to programmes have been an ongoing feature of this site. But this particular edit brings up two especially interesting points.
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TX. Presentation. Playout. Whatever you call it, they’re the people responsible for taking the programmes, promos, adverts and continuity, packaging it all up, and making sure you have something to watch on your television… with the absolute bare minimum of breakdown captions. Yet oddly enough, despite the interest in the subject on many forums, there’s really very little writing online about what it’s actually like to work in transmission.
Last year, I left Channel 5 TX, having been there for a year and a half – and I thought people might be interested in a few details. What the bloody hell do we actually do all day, apart from sit and watch telly? Here’s your answer.
A few points first, however. Don’t expect any dirt to be dished – much as I’m sure it’d be entertaining to hear me whinge on, it’s not gonna happen. Also, there are certain confidential things which I’d love to be able to talk about, but can’t because… well, they’re confidential. Sorry about that. I can guarantee, however, that none of that affects what I have to say too much. Whilst some of the stuff I’ve had to leave out is really interesting, I think the below still represents the job pretty damn well.
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough: the below is just my perspective on the job. In no way whatsoever does it represent the views of Channel 5, or any of its partner companies.
Right, let’s get started, shall we?
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April Fools’ Day tends to get a bit of a bad rap these days. Every year, my Twitter feed gets more and more filled with complaints about how lame it is. As someone involved in a few April Fools over the years, I admit I find myself getting a bit defensive about it. My argument: it’s easy to get hung up on the “prank” aspect of it, with a roll of the eyes, or a scowl. The very best April Fools take the prank aspect as a starting point… and do something interesting instead. The real joy in most good April Fools gags is them going off and doing something else entirely.
The best example of this that I’ve been involved with was pretending the script for the Red Dwarf movie had been leaked. Sure, of course we were trying to fool people into thinking it was true. But beyond that, the actual script extracts we wrote as part of it… kinda have their own interest. They certainly set my mind thinking as to how a Red Dwarf movie would work – which ends up being far more interesting than the actual prank itself.
Still, I get it. Perhaps the internet does make the day lose a bit of its lustre. These days, as soon as you wake up on April 1st and check online, you’re inundated with EVERY WEBSITE DOING A FUNNY. It can get rather wearing, especially when there’s so much crap about – and as you’re automatically on your guard, the whole thing is far less fun. In the old days, it was different. The April edition of a magazine might plop on your mat, way before April 1st… and maybe, just maybe, catch you unawares. The whole thing had a… less mechanical air.
Which leads us to this article. Some of my favourite April Fools growing up were in the pages of Acorn User and The Micro User; two Acorn computing magazines I was absolutely besotted with. I thought it’d be fun to take a look at some of the April Fools they ran over the years. It’s not a complete rundown of every single one they ever did – just a sample of some of the more interesting ones. Neither are they all gold: I’ve not cherry-picked just the really good ones just to make my point. But it’s a nice reminder of the days when April Fools gags were given just a little time to breathe.
It’s also perhaps a reminder that some of the best April Fools gags are often ones targeted at a very specific audience, rather than a general one. By their very nature, April Fools are a bit self-indulgent – and they’re one place where in-jokes can run riot to very good effect. (Another reason why I think some of the Red Dwarf ones I’ve been involved in work so well.) If you don’t have the background knowledge required for some of these, they’ll inevitably fall rather flat. I’ll give some notes as we go, but that’s very much Worth Bearing In Mind.
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One of my favourite DVD commentaries I’ve ever heard is John Cleese’s on the Fawlty Towers Remastered box set.1 Of course, I could listen to John Cleese talk about comedy forever and a day, but more than that: it’s rare to hear someone of his generation so utterly committed to the art of giving a good commentary. Having clearly rewatched the episodes in preparation, there are very few awkward pauses; the whole thing is dense with facts. Moreover, rarely has someone been so endlessly generous in talking about the talents of the cast of a show… and genuinely makes you appreciate why they are so good, rather than just gushing.
My favourite thing about the commentary, though?2 His thoughts, 30 years later, as to which parts of Fawlty Towers are his favourite, and which bits he likes the least. The former have been talked about before – Basil’s Best Bits on Gold, for example – but I find the latter especially interesting. Having read a number of ill-thought-through criticisms of Fawlty Towers over the years, it seems the only person who actually has any sensible ones is a certain J. Cleese.
Here then, are some of his least favourite things about the show, as taken from his commentary. I’ve picked what I think is his most interesting criticism of each episode. Enjoy.
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