Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Plush and Comfortable World of As Time Goes By

It is interesting to see how well some of my articles do and how some of them are basically flops. I don’t think it is the writing (each article has the same level of incoherent thought) but more of the programs that are featured on here. It is interesting to see what people like and what is less interesting. Take for example Sherlock. I have written two articles on the program this year. Checking the analytics on this blog and my Facebook page, it is clear that a lot of people like to read about it. In fact, it has given me some of my highest numbers. There is also the surprisingly popular article for Mulberry. I did an article that covered the entire series back in 2010. I thought it was a good article but people seem to keep reading it. In fact, I am still getting comments about the article even just getting one this week. Most of the articles do well but some not quite as well. The four articles for To Play the King started out really slow with readership. It seemed not a whole lot of people were interested. I think part of the problem may have been that instead of being able to give a decent amount of background to the series, I was watching it and writing about it with no former knowledge of the series plus I had a lot of bad guesses about what was going to happen with the series.
Then there is As Time Goes By. Very few people read the article last week. Very few people even read my Facebook post about it. Apart from the fact that it is summer, there are a couple of things going against these articles. One is that I am picking these articles up with Series 4 opposed to starting from the start. I need to do this because I started from the beginning prior to me writing this blog. I could start over but that ain’t gonna happen! I thought putting the PBS spin on the article would have helped this dilemma but I guess not. Is it possible that the problem itself is As Time Goes By? Maybe it is a well-remembered series but is it one that people want to read about? It’s hard to say. There is a decent amount of traffic that comes to this blog everyday but few of them were reading the As Time Goes By article. By no means am I annoyed or upset by it, I just found it all very interesting. Big blogs or magazines would see what is popular and what is not then stop doing articles on what is not popular. I have no intention of doing that. Some of the stuff I pick is not nearly as exciting for me to watch but the point of the exercise is to watch the stuff I don’t always see and I need somewhere to write it. So, now on to As Time Goes By.

Click here to read about Part One of Series 4
Series 4 Episodes 7-10 TX: 16/04/95 – 7/05/95

The second half of the Series 4 had some big things happen for the series but also had some very enjoyable episodes. The big news is of course that Lionel and Jean got married. It was a very stylish and relatively low key affair. Neither Lionel nor Jean could figure out the best way to organize all of the details for the wedding. Lucky for them that Alistair volunteered himself to step in and take care of all the arrangements. Sometimes this guy comes across like a dweeb but more and more he actually feels like a good friend who genuinely cares for the two of them. The wedding took place at a registrar’s office, back to Jeans for hors d'oeuvres and then on to a restaurant. In my opinion, Lionel gets a little selfish and makes a plan so Jean and Lionel can get out early so they don’t need to go to dinner with everyone else. He is tired of talking to everyone. I think this is incredibly selfish. Why invite them in the first place? Lionel really couldn’t stick it out for another 4 hours or so? I don’t know why I am getting so bent out of shape as none of this is real but suffice to say, this does bother me. Lionel, I am sure a lot of those people didn’t want to come to your wedding either but were doing it to be nice. Oh, that’s right, he’s not real. I keep forgetting that.
It is clear that Alistair’s skills and kindness to make Lionel and Jean’s wedding come off has not gone unnoticed. Judy is obviously very impressed. Alistair stepped in earlier in Series 4 to make Stephen and Penny’s surprise anniversary party go off without a hitch and he did it again with the wedding. Maybe there is romance in their future? Of course there is! Just not quite yet. Judy starts dating this man who is just about Lionel’s age. Now, Jean is concerned about this and Lionel starts to become concerned when they realize how dull he is. Of course, what no one brings up is that Lionel was hitting on Judy at the beginning of the series before he knew that Jean was Judy’s mum. Scandalous!
Apart from all of the wedding and relationship stuff, Lionel’s mini-series is starting to film at Rocky’s place. It is a disaster with people in horrible clichéd British costumes and a very voluptuous woman playing a younger Jean. Keep a look out for Bob Boa who was in the Fawlty Towers episode Waldorf Salad, playing the younger Rocky for the mini-series. With the amount of disdain Lionel has towards the filming of the mini-series (beyond all the re-writes) it seems like he wishes he never got involved with it at all. Of course when he sees the size of the check he got, it did help him out a little.
The overall series is very plush and comfortable. Lionel and Jean live a very comfortable life. The scenes with them living in Jean’s house sitting on the couch or them reading in bed together with large comfy pillows and blankets makes me want to move in there. It is all so comfortable. They move at their own pace. Nothing is rushed. Lionel likes his custard tarts or he enjoys taking a walk down to the pub to have a “swift pint”. It all seems very enjoyable. I really do enjoy that pace for the series. It’s all relaxed. The comedy really does come out of the situations opposed to the characters. Sure, they all have personalities but it’s what situations the characters get into that are really funny. In Episode 7, Jean is looking for a new outfit for the wedding. She is so frantic about finding the right piece that she takes the outfit out of the store to see what the colour of the outfit looks like in sunlight. Of course what she does not realize is that she was shoplifting in the eyes of the security guard. It is all soon handled and we move onto the next part of the episode. The moment is funny and then we move on. It is not milked to excess and that is because Bob Larbey is too talented to allow that to happen.

It is also interesting to note how television has changed over the past 20 years and also the difference between US television and UK television. The wedding of Jean and Lionel is a pretty sizable event for the series. In the course of Series 4, Lionel proposes to Jean in Episode 5 and they are married and the plot moved on by Episode 8. There are 10 episodes in Series 4. If this was a US program, out of the twenty-something episodes of the season, the proposal probably would have happened very early on in the season, if not even by the first episode and then the engagement would be the main focus for the rest of the season. Even if the proposal came later in the season, it would have been probably in November for November sweeps. For the UK reader, what are Sweeps? These are periods within the year where US TV Networks try to get as many viewers to tune in because that information will be the basis of how much those networks can charge for commercial time to advertisers. The more viewers they get the more money they can charge for those programs based on how popular they are at that time. So, the marriage proposal would happen for the November sweeps, hugely advertised so people would tune in and the wedding would be a huge end of the season finale which would happen within the May sweeps period. Sweeps happen in November, February, and May. More British series are following in this direction but it is clear Bob Larbey knew what would make a good series and how he wanted his show to progress. To me, his way is more admirable.
The cast is all really good in this. I originally wasn’t so sure about Philip Bretherton’s take on Alistair. It seemed like his portrayal of Alistair was really bad and fakey. I know Alistair is fakey but it almost felt like no one was laughing at the character’s jokes. I didn’t remember him like that in the earlier episodes from Series 1 -3. Then, when Alistair was being himself and helping out Jean and Lionel, he became much more real and I enjoy the character much more. Of course you could put Geoffrey Palmer in anything I would watch it. His pedigree for British television is immense. He is a national treasure. It’s good to see he has never left our screens. Now, Judi Dench is interesting. I will be honest; I have warmed to her more now than I have in years past. I am not a huge fan of hers but that may be because she is not generally in the type of stuff I would watch but with a couple of exceptions. I will never watch A Fine Romance simply because I have no interest in it at all. I decided to give As Time Goes By a go only because Geoffrey Palmer is in it. Once I realized that Bob Larbey wrote it, that helped matters too. I really did not like her when she became M in the Bond films. She grated on me a lot until Daniel Craig became Bond. The characters of Bond and M changed significantly in Casino Royale and so did their relationships. I think Judi is the perfect M for Daniel Craig’s Bond. Of course more on that later as I will be writing a series of articles for the upcoming release of Skyfall. I find it interesting that Jean Simmons was originally approached to play Jean in the series but declined. At that point Judi Dench came in to audition for the role. I can’t imagine Judi Dench needing to audition for any role especially auditioning for a BBC sitcom. The thought of that simply amuses me.
Now that I have gone through Series 1 – 4 of As Time Goes By am I going to rush ahead to watch Series 5? I have really enjoyed the series so far but I am thinking that as much as I liked it, I think I will wait until I randomly pick it again. I just hope it’s not another 5 years.

A Tough Week:

Putting space in my articles to talk about people who recently passed away is not meant to be an ongoing feature but unfortunately over the past month it has been. This week has given us some shocking news.

It was disclosed this week that Mary Tamm has passed away at the age of 62. Mary had been known to so many of us Doctor Who fans as the original Romana. 62 is such a young age! She died from cancer and had been ill for some time. This is a shock and a very sad one at that.
Just today as I was writing this article word started to circulate that Geoffrey Hughes had passed away at the age of 68. Unfortunately, he too died of cancer. Geoffrey had been in a wide range of television from The Likely Lads, Up Pompeii, Doctor Who and The Royle Family. He was known to many as Eddie Yeats in Coronation Street and will forever be known to me as Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances. He was an actor that I would see in things and immediately like and I am truly saddened by the news of his death.

Next week: Do you like plants? Well, I know of certain types of plants that would like you. Next week we see the first of 3 articles on the 1981 BBC series The Day of the Triffids.

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive
Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

As Time Goes By...The Last Great Britcom Export?

Here is a question posed more towards the US readers. Do you remember the good old days of watching British comedies on PBS? There was a time that I would tune in and there was so many great series to choose from. I started watching British comedies on PBS (Public television) in the mid-1980s. When I started to watch it, there would be a steady stream of programs from the 1970s along with newer series from the 1980s. Then, when we got into the 1990s, there would still be those series from the 1970s but also the 1980s and the 1990s. These were the glorious years to become British television fans.  These programs seemed important because they were treated as great programs. Now, I can only speak for the PBS station in my area, KTCA (now TPT), but things have changed quite a bit. The question is what has changed?
Back in the 1990s, a lot of great series were coming out of the UK and finding their way over here. Programs such as Mr. Bean, The Vicar of Dibley, The Piglet Files, Keeping Up Appearances, The Brittas Empire, Father Ted, Absolutely Fabulous, Men Behaving Badly, and As Time Goes By were great series that made their way over here. Of course other series from the 1980s were still being made into the 1990s, these series listed above started in that 1990s. I feel out of touch because it doesn’t feel to me that we are getting the same type of series now as we were getting on PBS in the 1990s. Why is that? I have no hard factual answers to this (who needs facts?). I do have some theories though. One series made me think about this subject and it was none other than As Time Goes By.

Series 4 Episodes 1-6 TX 5/01/95-2/04/95
Anyone who knows me well may be surprised that I am writing an article about this series or for that matter has any copies of this series in my collection. I have gone on for years telling everyone I could that I am not a very big fan of this series. In fact, it would always piss me off when I would tune in to KTCA at 10:30 to watch something very probably like Are You Being Served? (probably to tape it for my own collection) and tune in in time to watch the end of the episode of As Time Goes By running previous to it and catch that horrible theme music. I couldn’t tell you how many recordings of any Britcom I taped off-air that would have the last 5 minutes of As Time Goes By because I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t miss the opening of the series I did want to record. I also have commented (rather rudely) that all the spines of the NTSC VHS releases had pictures of Judi Dench from each year of the series showing her progressively getting older. Thus, I renamed the series ‘As Judi Dench Gets Older’.
I am true and true a fan of British television. When I had the opportunity to acquire this series, I did because I wanted to have it in my collection. It also sat on my shelf in my collection for many years doing nothing but gathering dust. I started this malarkey of randomly picking something from my collection to watch years before I started to write this blog. Back in December of 2007 I thought it would be fun to randomly pick something to watch on New Year’s Day but as a marathon. A lot of other stations such as Sci-Fi was showing marathons of shows (Sci-Fi always showed The Twilight Zone) and I thought I could pick something cool from my collection and do the same thing. Since I was randomly picking it, who knows what treasure I would choose to watch. Maybe one of the Quatermass serials or Doomwatch, it could even be Doctor Who. For my inaugural marathon I picked…..As Time Goes By. I was a little disappointed. I wasn’t a big fan of the series and wanted to pick something else but didn’t. If I kept randomly re-picking series until it’s something I loved, then what’s the point of doing this? So for that first year I watched Series 1-3 of As Time Goes By. Guess what? I really liked it. I should have known I would. It was written by Bob Larbey who wrote along with John Esmonde some of the greatest and most favourite British series of all time such as The Good Life, Please Sir, Ever Decreasing Circles, Brush Strokes, The Other One, and Mulberry. On his own he also wrote A Fine Romance (also starring Judi Dench).  For some reason I thought the series would be overly sappy. I don’t know why that is but I did. What I ended up seeing was a series that was written very smartly with a great use of play-on words. It’s actually dialogue I could see Tom Good using. Why would have expected anything else from Bob Larbey?

As Time Goes By is about Lionel Hardcastle and Jean Pargetter who were a couple in 1953 but when Lionel was sent to Korea, the two lost touch. Years later, they find each other again as Lionel needs a secretary and get one from Jean’s business. They eventually begin their relationship again. Lionel had been divorced from his wife and he is a writer. When they met again, Jean’s husband passed away and she has a daughter that works for her named Judy. By the time we get to Series 4, Lionel has moved in with Jean and Judy had been dating Lionel’s book publisher Alistair. Things go very rocky between Alistair and Judy as she finds him very pretentious.  Lionel is at work on his mini-series he is writing for Hollywood, ‘Just Two People’.
Series 4 is 10 episodes in length. It just goes to show how popular the series was with the British public (and in the US) as most comedy series are just 6 episodes per series. This article only covers the first 6 episodes.  The series starts with Sandy (an employee of Jean’s business) who gets in a fight with her boyfriend and moves in with Jean, Judy and Lionel. Lionel is a bit prickly as it is but when Sandy moves in, he is upset because the room she ended up staying in was going to become his own study.  At the end of Series 3, Jean gets Lionel’s very attractive secretary Daisy fired because Jean is jealous of her. Instead Jean finds a new secretary for him. The rather frumpy Mrs. Flack. Not only does she talk non-stop to make it hard for Lionel to get any work done, she constantly re-arranges everything in the house so no one can find anything. Neither Lionel nor Jean has the courage to sack Mrs. Flack because she is not a bad person, just rather annoying. Finally in Episode Three, Jean has an outragouse plan to get Mrs. Flack to quit but there is no need. She quits first for personal reasons.

After all the years of Jean and Lionel having known each other and having a lost connection, Lionel proposes to Jean on one knee. Of course that knee locks up. Lionel and Jean disagree about whether they are engaged or not. Jean believes engagement is for young people, Lionel sees it as the time before a couple gets married is simply an engagement. There are some great eccentric characters in this series. Jean’s sister-in-law Penny plans on staying with Jean and Lionel for a while. Remember Sandy is already staying there too. Penny is upset because her husband Stephen is having an affair with his nurse Miss Breeze. Stephen is not having an affair with Miss Breeze. Miss Breeze is helping him arrange a surprise anniversary part for Penny and him. It is easier for him to keep the surprise if Penny continues to believe he is having an affair. It makes an odd sort of sense…..I guess. Even stranger than those two are Lionel’s father Rocky and his wife Madge. Both of them are older yet very free spirits and very well off. In fact, in Episode Five, Rocky tells Lionel his intention on giving his house to him. This prompts Lionel to feel more secure with his own life as he now has something offer to Jean which is why he proposed to her.
One area that isn’t going to well for Lionel is his mini-series. The mini-series is about how Jean and he met and their relationship.  Hollywood did not like the scene where Jean and Lionel first made love. Lionel, who is not the most romantic person in the world, had a lot of trouble re-writing it. First he was trying to do so while Mrs. Flack was still in his employment and she helped him in no way with the exception of telling him to make sure his socks stays on him.  Then when Daisy re-joins him after Mrs. Flack left, he finds it hard to write such a personal scene while such a young beautiful person is in the room. Finally, he turns to the only person who would be able to help him write that scene, Jean. After all, she was there. Mike Barbosa, one of the producers, flies in from Hollywood to look at Rocky’s house as it seems like a suitable place to film part of the story. There Mike also explains some of the things he wants added to the script such as scenes of when Lionel was a boy. Lionel is absolutely not amused.
I will tackle Episodes 7-10 next week and with that I will write a little bit more of my thoughts on the series. I wanted to touch on the question I posed earlier: are we out of getting new heavy hitting Britcoms for PBS? Now this isn’t some academic research I am doing or a scientific study. This is a question I have been thinking about and it is all entirely my own opinion.

Back when I was really watching these programs in KTCA, it was a ritual. After a long day at school or eventually work, the one thing I could look forward to was sitting down starting at 10pm and watch some British television. It really was like travelling through a portal. Everything about it was special. It made an informative impact on my youth. When I was in Catholic grade school, I felt I was being rebellious by watching Bless Me Father. I remember loving the décor of the Parkinson’s house in Butterflies. I also remember being intimidated by Yes Minister because I thought the humour was too adult for me as a child. These programs formed my own sense of humour with biting sarcastic wit of Black Adder & Basil Fawlty and the wonderful play on words satirical humour of ‘Allo ‘Allo! Has this all changed? Is the BBC making programs like this now?
The question is, how much does this have to do with changes in my own life? In November I am planning a nice-size article on my interest in tape trading. That is basically swapping recordings of programs for other ones I need to finish a collection. I was an avid video recorder and it was a serious art to me. Taping from the TV station itself is called an ‘off-air’ recording. That is the best quality you could get at one time other than breaking into the TV station and getting copies directly from the master tape or getting the commercial release.   Unfortunately, back in the mid to late 1980s there weren’t always commercial releases of these wonderful programs so for me to get the programs I wanted, I needed to record these programs off the air on VHS at SP speed. That meant the best possible quality I could get.
As the time went by (see what I did there?), I ended up recording all the stuff I wanted. In fact, by the mid-1990s, I had enough friends around the country and in the UK and Australia who would send me stuff, that I would still watch British television at 10pm every night but not KTCA. It would be the stuff I would get from my friends which would not be seen on the air on a PBS station (in my location) such as Only Fools and Horses, Till Death Us Do Part, Men Behaving Badly, Steptoe and Son plus non-comedies such as the Quatermass Serials and Doomwatch among many other things. To be honest, when I would check in to see what was being shown on KTCA, it honestly seemed like an endless loop of Are You Being Served?, The Vicar of Dibley and my good friend, As Time Goes By.  Some programs such as ‘Allo ‘Allo! was incomplete on the PBS run. BBC Worldwide Americas never got the rest of series beyond Series 5 for years. Only within the last 10 to 12 years, they got the rest of the series with the exception of Series 6 which is still not available. Of their list of episodes they offer to PBS stations, they say this about Series 6:
*Program note: Due to extraordinarily high residual costs, this series is not sold in syndication. Our screenings indicate that these episodes may be skipped by viewers without disruption to their viewing of the series overall. In the event that these may be re-negotiated sometime in the future, the program numbers that would have occupied in our library (episodes #55-62) have been left set aside.”
I wonder what that is about especially as Series 6 is now out on DVD. Nevertheless, without the whole series available, back in the 1990s, I would skip it and watch my PAL copies of the series from UK Gold a friend in the UK sent me.  What about other people? Some of these series were very difficult to watch unless your PBS station ran them but then a little shiny disc came out called DVD….

For many people, the British series shown on PBS were almost the only way people got to see programs made by the BBC (yes, I know cable networks like A&E made a substantial chomp into that) but suddenly programs that never made it over here on TV before were showing up on DVD. Studios were releasing stuff that some people may have only heard about. Programs such as Survivors, Timeslip, or Sapphire and Steel which never was seen by many people in the US before were readily available for purchase on DVD. Series that had way too many episodes for a realistic release on VHS (apart from Doctor Who) became available and took up little space such as Lovejoy or All Creatures Great & Small. More and more people were creating their own libraries and yet KTCA seemed to be always showing the same stuff.
Now, there is nothing wrong with showing the classics over and over again. Not everyone who watched Britcoms on KTCA wants to own them. These people know that they will see As Time Goes By once a year or perhaps every other year. Are there any new comedies exported for PBS? The studio bound situation comedy on the BBC seems to be disappearing more and more. There have been some like Reginald Perrin. It seems like a lot more of the series tends to be comedy but have foregone the studio audience or laugh track. Programs like Beautiful People seem to be a good example of it. It has been said to me before that BBC Worldwide Americas will basically offer any program to PBS stations that they want. If the program the PBS station wants is not on the list of offered programs, they would need to pay for dubbing, converting and shipping of masters to the US. That is real expensive. I can’t imagine a station calling up to make a request to run Hancock’s Half Hour and pay for everything that is required to make it happen. Here is a list of 21st century Britcoms available from BBC Worldwide Americas for distribution:
After You’ve Gone 2007-2008

As Time Goes By 1992 - 2005

Black Books 2000-2004
Coupling 2000-2004
Last of the Summer Wine 1973-2010

Lead Balloon 2006-2011
My Hero 2000-2006

The Old Guys 2009 – 2010
One Foot in the Grave 1990-2000

Outnumbered 2007-2011
People Like Us 1999-2001

Red Dwarf 1987 – 2012
Rev 2010 – 2011

There are a lot of series listed above who have stars in them that were bigger stars in other classic PBS imported series. Such as The Old Guys have Clive Swift from Keeping Up Appearances and Roger Lloyd Pack from The Vicar of Dibley. I have seen an episode of The Old Guys, I hope I caught it on an off episode. As I write this article, KTCA is showing Ballykissangel on weeknights. Is the broadcasting of Britcoms finished on PBS stations?
Something really interesting has happened this year in Washington DC. WETA has devoted an entire channel to British television called WETA UK. It is what so many of us hoped BBC America was going to be yet was so disappointed with it as the years have gone on. My guess as to why a PBS could devote a whole channel to British television goes like this: when stations changed over to HD, they had extra bandwidth to use to accommodate the size of the HD signal. Channels could use that signal to make their own channels higher quality or they could split their signal and have up to 4 other channels. A lot of channels do that. TPT (formerly KTCA) has 4 other TPT channels. If you are in the Twin Cities, this is why KSTP also has KSTC. So for WETA, they have 4 stations. WETA, WETA HD, WETA Kids, and WETA UK. British television is not cheap. I hope they can keep this up. I want to move there so I can watch it and support it. Now, of course I can support WETA UK if I wanted as I could any other Public Television Station but even I think it is a little much to pay for a station that I have no way of watching plus owns most of the programs they are showing on DVD/Blu Ray.
What shows are they airing? It’s interesting as basically all the shows that BBC Worldwide Americas offer to PBS stations are on this station. There are some things that they don’t offer which is on here such as Foyle’s War, Prime Suspect, and Sherlock Holmes. I would assume that the Sherlock Holmes referenced would be the Granada Jeremy Brett version? To stay on the original topic of the article, not many of the shows are from the 21st century and most are classics with some series being a cross-over from the 20th to 21st century. Stuff from the 21st century consists of Born and Bred, My Hero, Outnumbered, Last of the Summer Wine, Doctor Who, Antiques Roadshow, Monarch of the Glen, Lark Rise to Candleford, Prime Suspect, Foyle’s War, Primeval, Waking the Dead, MI-5, Life on Mars, Hustle, New Tricks, Coupling, Black Books, and Red Dwarf.

WETA UK must have got a deal from BBC Worldwide Americas to get all of this programming and launch its own channel. If this was the heyday of British comedies of PBS back in the 1980s, the cost would have been impossible for such a station ever to exist. I applaud WETA and I hope this lives on for a very long time. TPT will never do a station like this. It’s a shame but not unexpected. At least I have hours and hours of programming I can watch for myself. To get a sample of what WETA UK is showing, please find below the schedule for its July programming. Long Live WETA UK!

It seems almost like someone passed away. According to The Guardian in the UK, BBC Television Centre has been sold for £200 million. It has been bought by Stanhope plc. Television Centre was opened in 1960. The Guardian says the 14 acre site will be empty by 2015. Parts of the site was given a Grade II status by English Heritage in 2009. The Guardian posted some reactions by people on Twitter such as this nice one: "The BBC without BBC Television Centre is like the Royal Family without Buckingham Palace. Sad times," said @CameronYardeJnr.”.

The good news is that the site will still be used for broadcast/production services and also will still have a BBC presence.  BBC Studios and Post Production will still operate in there including the famous Studio 1. This could have been a whole lot worse.
In May there was a great program about the place called Tales of Television Centre. It is a nostalgic and wonderful program with many who worked there coming to terms that a significant chapter to British television is about to close. Check out the program if you have a chance and check out my article I wrote about the program Tales of Television Centre.

Next week: We continue on with the last four episodes of Series 4 of As Time Goes By. We look at the episodes and a little more background information on this wonderfully classic series.
Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive
Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sherlock Series 2 Soundtrack......Amazing!

The following article was written at the time I wrote IOU AFall: The Reichenbach Fall. I often write additional articles at the time I view a program that somehow tie into that program I am watching. Whether it is a DVD extra, soundtrack or even a whole other program these articles are kept back get published when I do not have time to write a new article or if I want to take a week off. Enjoy!
Even though this is an article about the soundtrack to Series 2 of Sherlock, please note that some plot points may be given away. Please read at your own risk.

One of the things I love about the BBC series Sherlock is how good everything is about the production. I love the way the series is shot, I love the casting, and I love the stories. Not surprisingly, I love the music. The music for any series or film needs to match the balance of the production. Cheesy synthesized music doesn’t work for a series that is trying to be more than television. I guess where I am coming from is thinking of television shows in the 1980s that were let down by the quality of the music. Money needs to be spent in the budget on music. Yet I don’t mean musicians; I mean talented composers. For Sherlock we are lucky with who have working on this series.
Composing the music on Sherlock is David Arnold and Michael Price. I have to admit, I am not as familiar with Michael Price. He has done the scores for Crooked House, The Mountain Within and First Men in the Moon (which the production itself is rather nice!). David Arnold is one of my favourite composers. He has been doing the music for the Bond films since Tomorrow Never Dies. Though, sadly he will not be back for Skyfall. His score for Casino Royale is one of my favourites of all time. I have seen him get a lot of flak on Bond forums for his scores or people moaning that he has been on the films for too long. I just don’t agree with it; he is very welcome in my book. People say that a lot of his soundtracks sound the same. They do not sound the same; it’s called his style. Composers have it and that includes John Barry who did most of the Bond soundtracks from the 1960s-1980s. On a separate note, I also see Murray Gold get a good deal of flak from the Doctor Who forums about his music too. In my humble little opinion, his music is the best in the series ever. Wait? Even better than the great Dudley Simpson? Yes, much better! But we are not here to discuss Doctor Who, are we?

Not available on the Series 2 soundtrack is the theme to Sherlock. It is on the Series 1 soundtrack but I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be included again. It’s a hugely identifiable part of the show. Shockingly, this is also true for the Doctor Who Series 6 soundtrack. A Doctor Who soundtrack without the Doctor Who theme on it seems odd to me but whatever.  It’s funny because when I was listening to the soundtrack of Sherlock on the bus on my way to work, I added the theme music to the playlist so I guess it isn’t that big of a deal after all. I love the theme music but is it me or when the drums for the theme starts up, it sounds like we are actually getting the theme to Absolutely Fabulous? The drums begin to crescendo upwards but then I expect to hear Adrian Edmondson sing, “Wheels on fire…..” etc. Though, the drums are a nice sting transitioning us from the opening of the episode into the title sequence.
Speaking of themes, one thing I love about a good soundtrack is when the main theme can be effortless inserted back into the incidental music. Maybe it’s an echo of itself or an inverted interpretation but it ties back to the series really nicely. The theme music is part of the “Brand” to the series. Why not use it? Arnold does this exceedingly well in Sherlock and also his Bond scores. In fact, not only does it give hints to the Bond theme in his scores he also inserts the theme from that movie as well. See Casino Royale for an amazing example of this.  I think, perhaps, this is what some of his critics don’t like….whatever.

I think some of the best music on the soundtrack coincides with the best episode, A Scandal in Belgravia. The music is beautiful from the violin of “Irene’s Theme” to the heart breaking conclusion in “SHERlocked”. It’s emotional and does not compete with what is happening on the screen. I did not care nearly as much for the episode, The Hounds of Baskerville (it was alright) but the music has some great moments. I really like the techno sound to “Deeper Into Baskerville” and also the whole track “To Dartmoor”, it starts off with a simple guitar like start to the Sherlock theme (the guitar sounds very familiar almost Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in a way) and descends in to what feels to me an old-world Eastern European feel. Clearly, music styles is not my strong point so I am giving my opinion on what I am hearing although how I am explaining it may be completely off. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that I really like it.
The tracks for The Reichenbach Fall do not stand out nearly as much as the others. Particularly with the final 3 tracks. They are very good but they are not competing with what is happening on screen. The end of The Reichenbach Fall is the biggest thing that ever happened in Sherlock. If you want to read my take on the episode, please go here. The music is subdued and complimentary to what is happening on screen. The balance is perfect.

I have listened to this soundtrack about 3 times before I wrote this article. I don’t normally do that. This is one of those soundtracks that gets into your head and your mind tells you that you need to listen to it again. Listening to the tracks conjures up memories of the episodes which in turn makes me want to watch these episodes again. I guess this soundtrack is really doing its job!
The only complaint I have has nothing to do with the soundtrack at all. It is to do with a quote from Mark Gatiss I read on about this soundtrack. “If David Arnold and Michael Price did not exist, it would be necessary for man to invent them. Their contribution to Sherlock is immeasurable. Thrilling, cheeky, sinister, playful and simply world-class…the music's not bad either!” Is it possible to have a quote from Gatiss or Moffat for that matter that is not trying so hard to be “clever”? I must be a bore, these types of quotes simply annoy me and it is all about hype. I know these two guys did not invent it nor are the only ones who do it but it is still very tiresome to me. I say it’s always good to end a positive article with a rant!

Now, here’s a track list:
1. Irene's Theme,
2. Potential Clients,
3. Status Symbols,
4. The Woman,
5. Dark Times,
6. Smoke Alarm,
7. SHERlocked,
8. Pursued by a Hound,
9. The Village,
10. Double Room,
11. Deeper into Baskerville,
12. To Dartmoor,
13. The Lab,
14. Mind Palace and Solution,
15. Grimm Fairy Tales,
16. Deduction and Deception,
17. Prepared to do Anything,
18. Blood on the Pavement,
19. One More Miracle.

 Here is an excerpt from “To Dartmoor”:

Just as an aside note. About a month ago, I sat down with a friend and we decided to watch A Scandal in Belgravia. That was around 8pm and my friend had not seen any of Series 2 at that point. He enjoyed it and I enjoyed it (again) so much that we ended up watching all of Series 2 in one go which took us very late into the night or should that be early in the morning?
Next week: Even though I had a light week for writing, I still have been watching. I am not sure exactly what it will be but I have picked from my randomness Series 4 of As Time Goes By. It is not a series that I seek out but I do enjoy. It does beg the question, from a US perspective, whether show from the same era of As Time Goes By is the last of the big exportable BBC sitcoms exported to the US? That is a theme I will try to expand upon next week.

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Trial of Travis

For a series that I was not a huge fan of, Blake’s 7 has popped up 3 separate times in my articles this year alone. This just goes to show that the articles I write really are randomly picked. If I picked the programs I watched every week myself instead of being random, there is a really good chance that Blake’s 7 would not be in the top tier of programs that I would pick. Did you notice that my favourite show, Doctor Who, is hardly ever featured on here? I think that’s what makes it fun. More than often, when I pick a series that I am not very interested it turns out that by the time the episode is over, I have found a new appreciation for that series.

At the risk of going over old ground again, I never really took to Blake’s 7. I talk about that here. It is a series by all accounts I should have liked. It takes place in space and it has cool spaceship designs. What usually lets it down for me is the acting usually by the main characters. So far this year, I watched Orac which was alright but I found a ton of flaws to it. Then in May, I took a look at Blake. It was a massive improvement to what I had seen before. Though I know that the episode is of a very high standard because it was the final episode, I started to see what everyone else was seeing. Would finally I start to see why the fans of this series love it so much?

Trial TX: 13/02/79

Just as when I viewed Orac, some major stuff was happening in the previous episode of Trial, Pressure Point. Blake is feeling guilty and responsible for the death of Gan. To deal with Gan’s death Blake decides to go off to a planet to think about his future and whether or not he wants to continue to lead the group. Of course Avon doesn’t help the situation at all. He continually reminds Blake (and everyone else) that because of Blake, Gan was killed. Blake leaves for this unknown planet.

The much more interesting part of the story revolves around Travis with the Federation. He is on trial (thus the name of the episode) for killing thousands of civilians years ago. What makes this interesting is that these charges are brought up against Travis prior to anyone having the chance to go after Servalan for the mishandling of eliminating Blake. Blake and his band of renegades are causing a lot of problems for the Federation. Servalan wants to make sure that Travis does not have a chance to testify against her. The trial itself is not very interesting but what is kind of cool is a glimpse into the inside of the Federation. Secretary Rontane (who was previously seen in Seek-Locate-Destroy from Series 1) gives a lot of exposition into what is happening at the trial and that event, though Servalan is not at the trial, not only does she know exactly what is going on all the time, she is basically controlling it. Rontane is helpful to us the viewer to get an inside look of what is going on without us explicitly seeing Servalan doing it. This is where a character like Servalan is so golden. She is one or two steps of head of everyone, even people who are her own allies. She is basically the puppet master. She controls the strings and manipulates every one she can. She is a true villain and she is wonderful. I love watching her.
Meanwhile on the planet, Blake has set up a way for himself to get back to the Liberator if the rest of the crew wants him back. He has met an alien called Zil. Zil is friendly enough and she actually thinks that Blake is one of her children. She has eggs all over the place. The problem is the planet is alive as a creature and will open itself up and swallow things. Sadly, soon enough Zil is one of the things that is swallowed. Luckily, just in time Blake is transported back to the Liberator.

One of the things Blake was worried about was that the Federation might think Blake’s group and their cause would be forever hindered by the events in Pressure Point. Little does Blake know about the trial going on with Travis. Avon has created a way to make the Liberator basically a stealth machine and Blake decides to send the message to the Federation that he is still around. He gives orders to attack Servalan’s command ship.

Travis is found guilty of the crimes against him and is ordered to be dishonorably discharged from the Federation and then executed. Just then, the Liberator comes out of nowhere and attacks the command ship. Before escaping, Travis pays a visit to Servalan and forces her to get a ship for Travis to escape. Based on what happened to Blake and his crew in the previous episode, this attack on Servalan’s ship is payback.
This episode is sort of a Blake’s 7-lite of the series. The storyline gives us very little of Blake as he is mostly on the planet and even less of everyone else. The focus is on Travis and Servalan even the two characters do not share a scene until the end of the episode. As I mentioned earlier it gave us a little insight into the politics of the Federation and how Servalan needs to watch her back as she is feeling the pressure from the people within her government about what she is doing.

One of the greatest eye-opening moments for me in regards to Blake’s 7 is when, about 22 years ago, a friend explained to me the general idea to how Blake’s 7 could be considered a anti-Star Trek series. It’s almost as if Star Trek and Blake’s 7 as series are in fact history books. Star Trek as it looks at the Federation from the winning side and Blake’s 7 from the losing side. Star Trek has a very optimistic view of the future. Even more so if you look at Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even in First Contact, we are told there is no money. Everything is Utopian and all the Federation wants to do is help out new civilizations and create goodwill. Obviously, that is a very generic and quick overview but Blake’s 7 Federation is power hungry. They allow slaves and they do whatever it takes to keep themselves as the major power of the galaxy. It two sides of the same coin as far as the “prime directive” is concerned. Now, I am talking as if it was a foregone conclusion that Blake’s 7 is a spin off of Star Trek. It is not but it really is an interesting concept. For Blake’s 7, even the Starfleet Insignia is flopped to its side. It’s actually pretty cool.
You can tell the episode was in the good hands of someone with experience such as director Derek Martinus . I love his work and it shows off here. Shots of the crew on the bridge of Liberator are from above and the camera pans down to their level. Same with the shots of the trial. All handled expertly and a series such as Blake’s 7 really needs this. Just like Doctor Who, you need a director to embellish the good things going for the series and mask some of the more dubious designs and creations. After watching this episode, I came to the realization that I love this title sequence. This is still the same sequence used from Series 1. It is commanding and confident. The sequence for Series 4 has some good things going for it but it is dull. This sequence is great. With the theme music added to the visuals, it gives it all a vast and enormous feel of space to it all. It’s impressive and in some ways is on the same scale as Star Wars.

As for the actors in the episode, once again Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan has to be the best thing in the series. It could be so easy to play it up and be camp yet she does so with an impressive turn of almost being sweet and non-emotional unless she has to be. It is all taken seriously and she dominates every scene she is in. We also get some decent guest stars with Peter Miles and John Savident who both put in solid performances. I also enjoyed Brian Croucher as Travis. I prefer Stephen Grief but Brian does a really good job of it this episode. Of course by this point Travis’ days are numbered.
As far as how this episode fares in my overall interest in Blake’s 7? I am starting to get more and more into this series. I am curious to see more of the episodes that I have only heard about. I know how the series progresses so that is not an issue; it’s not just sitting down and watching this series. It is now something I look forward to doing soon. My DVD sets are just sitting on the shelf waiting…..

 Some Farewells….
This week we found out that Eric Sykes passed away at the age of 89. If you ever get a chance to see the early episodes of Sykes And A …. from the 1960s then please do so. It is funny and unique. In this series he also partners with Hattie Jacques who I adore.

We also say farewell this week to James Grout. To me, James will always be the overly indulgent vet Granville in All Creatures Great & Small whose character is married to Zoe played by the beautiful Pamela Salem. James appeared in such series as Inspector Morse, Rumpole of the Bailey, Yes, Minister, Z Cars, A Very Peculiar Practice and so much more. James Grout was 84.

Next week: I need a break and am going to rest. I am tired and I think it is showing in my writing.  I will post one of my unpublished articles that I have handy to go when I want to take a week off. Next week I move away from television and listen to the soundtrack for Series 2 of Sherlock.

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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