So, the other day, whilst waiting to watch a new daytime TV nostalgia show, The TV That Made Me, (BBC1), I got to thinking about a train journey I once took, in the mid-80s, with Paul Merton, from London to Aberdeen and back. This was before mobile phones and the internet, a time when comedians with eight and a half hours to fill, had to make their own fun. And so we did..
..shortly after our journey begins, we get into a conversation about TV from our pasts, and soon discover that we’ve both grown up consuming massive amounts of telly. Our enthusiastic powers of recall soon takes a turn for the competitive. We have a pad and pen, and keep scores..
Some fairly easy stuff to begin with, – Who or what, links Skippy The Bush Kangaroo, to Alvin Stardust? (easy – Liza Goddard), now veering into the slightly more challenging, – Name the child actor who played ‘Jai’ in Tarzan. ( Two second pause. Well, Manuel Padilla Jnr, obviously. Duh!) Getting harder now. Okay, this one will get you. Who starred in the sit-com, The Happy Apple? (smug smile) Why, Leslie Ash of course. This goes on until we alight at Aberdeen.
But it’s during the return leg, the following day, when, after a boozy night and little sleep, we continue where we’d left off, digging deep and feverishly dredging up ever more obscure actors and presenters, names and shows, until a kind of TV trivia-psychosis sets in. But I do eventually get him..with the question about Moon Movies..
Of course, in the intervening years since that train journey, TV nostalgia has boomed, via a steady supply of Top 100 lists shows, complete with the requisite parade of snarky comedians; panel games, quiz shows, and Before They Were Famous type clips shows. We also now have instant access to any amount of old adverts and theme tunes, and full episodes of whatever, on YouTube, any time we like.
So when I saw the trailer for the latest in this genre, the BBC’s, The TV That Made Me, ( where various celebrities, such as Sandi Toksvig, Natalie Cassidy and Eamonn Holmes, talk us through some of their favourite TV progs of old ) I wasn’t exactly salivating at the prospect. Funny as it was originally, there is a limit to how many, ‘Del Boy falling through the bar, whilst a guest and presenter guffaw like they’ve not seen it since the 80s’, one can take, and I reached mine a Christmas or two back. Nevertheless, die-hard telly-sentimentalist that I am, I tuned in anyway. And then something rather lovely happened..
Hosted by all round entertainer, Brian Conley, The TV That Made Me, is essentially a chat show. And a refreshingly good one, at that. The handful of vintage TV clips per show, which aren’t too creaky or obvious, as it turns out, serve as a springboard for the guest’s reminiscences on the times, events, places and people evoked by them. It might be Johnny Morris doing a gorilla voice, the breaking newscast of the Kennedy assassination, or even the old Anglia TV ident, that leads to a surprisingly intimate and uncynical heart to heart, about the guests’ early years and family lives; hopes, aspirations, inspirations, and what they used to have for tea.
It’s unapologetically misty-eyed, without becoming a staged mawk-fest. You see, when folk are invited to comment on their own long-gone childhoods, hopes and dreams, and significant others, some quietly powerful emotions are apt to get stirred up. It’s a reminder that you don’t have to be on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, talking about drugs problems and divorces, through streaming mascara, to tug a heart-string.The gently poignant reveal of Gok Wan’s ‘coming out to his dad’ story, was testament to that. I got a bit of dust in my eye during that one..
All credit to host Brian Conley, who helms the proceedings in a consistently charming and disarming fashion, that clearly puts his guests at ease. Neither gratuitously flirty with the women, nor indulgently ladsy with the guys. It’s just his engaging, keen interest in what his celebrity charges actually have to say, that steers the show. Conley coaxes and cajoles where necessary, but also knows when to sit back and let a moment hang. In fact, he may be the Jeremy Corbyn of chat-shows, employing old-fashioned good grace in place of loud, self-referential gloss. The result is some, all too rare, unforced, affectionate, life affirming telly, and the 45 minutes fly by.
Although there is a format, with ’rounds’ such as ‘Biggest Influence and ‘Guilty Pleasures’, along with some content generated factoids, the odd prop or a (thankfully, not too wacky) parlour game thrown in, still, each show has a different feel and the focus remains firmly on the guests recollections. Some share memories we can all easily identify with, such as Helen Skelton recalling Sunday evening viewing, (in her case, Bullseye) after your bath, having your tea, but the enjoyment tinged by that sinking feeling of knowing it’s back to school the next day. And the crab-paste sandwiches and weak lemon drink that her best friend’s nan would make them before they went off to Brownies are re-produced in all their pongy glory, and proffered as accompaniment to her next clip..
Others recall more entirely and uniquely individual moments, like Sandi Toksvig, over some footage of an Apollo space mission, speaking lovingly of her father, a Danish TV correspondant, who’d covered the moon landings. She describes holding hands with Neil Armstrong’s secretary, at very the moment that Armstrong himself stepped onto the moon..
There have been a couple of times where I’d have liked to have seen the conversation go a little deeper, such as when Conley confesses to Linford Christie, his uncomfortability, as a white man, at watching a clip of Love Thy Neighbour. Yet Christie, who chose it, and fondly recalls watching and laughing at the sit-com with his dad, would happily watch it all again if it was broadcast today. It would have been interesting to see how that conversation might have panned out.
There’s 10 more shows over the next two weeks, and upcoming guests include, Stephen K. Amos, Vanessa Feltz, Anil Ray and Duncan Bannatyne. But for my money, like one of the old shows already featured, This Is Your Life, TTVTMM seems to work whoever the guest is. Kudos again to Conley for that, and to the production team behind it.
More than one visitor to the TTVTMM sofa has mentioned how the old family TV set they grew up with used to take a while to warm up before they could watch it. It strikes me that our though our tellies might warm up more quickly these days, we could do with more shows that leave a warmth behind them, too. One that lingers, long after the set has cooled. One that you might even carry with you for years..
Oh, and if they ever bring back Moon Movies, Sandi Toksvig would be a perfect host..
…Yes! I finally stump Merton, not that far from our journey’s end. Finally, a TV show he doesn’t remember. I repeat my question, Who presented Moon Movies? Moon Movies,you made that up, surely?, quizzical eyebrows straining aloft. No, seriously, it was like a sort of Desert Island Discs, but for films that you’d take to take to watch on an intergalactic space mission. He is not convinced, and genuinely thinks I might have dreamed it. He eventually gives up. The train pulls into London. Our 17 hours, over two days, of manic quizzing is done. It was Hughie Green, I reveal. He presented Moon Movies. Merton still looks convinced. Unbound by the locomotive constraints, we exit the station, free at last.
Then we go to a pub and carry on asking each other questions about television.
The TV That Made Me: BBC 1 – Mon-Fri 3.45pm, or catch-up on BBC iplayer,