The recent surge in new DVD releases of old television programmes has left Farhana Gani feeling nostalgic for the 1980s. She counts down the 10 TV shows giving her a blast from the past.
Feeling Nostalgic for the 80s...
Not for the race riots, the Falklands War, the miners’ strike, the yuppies and upwardly mobile barrow boys of the ‘loadsamoney’ free market, but days when families still sat together to enjoy appointment TV. As Channel 4 joined the fray to offer alternative programming and groundbreaking independent films, the UK’s three mainstream broadcasters upped their game in must-watch drama. It was also a time when the BBC and ITV drama departments were commissioning proper writers to make era-defining series that left our heads spinning – and many of them are now available on DVD. They might not pull the entire family around the box together given the present-day enticements of individual handsets, laptops and tablets, but at least you can feast your eyes and enjoy some decent telly once more.
The History Man (1981)
This seminal satire was the making of Anthony Sher, who plays a womanising and trouble-seeking sociology lecturer at a seaside campus university. Set in the early 70s (but adapted from the Malcolm Bradbury novel by Christopher Hamptonolm) as the Thatcher era moved into full swing, the production has some eye-popping observations about radicalism and individual freedoms.
A Sense of Guilt (1990)
Trevor Eve stars in this acclaimed Andrea Newman-scripted drama about serial cheating and messed-up marriages. The action revolves around flailing writer Felix Cramer's (Eve) seedy affair with his best friend’s teenage stepdaughter Sally (Rudi Davies) and its cascading and inevitable repercussions. A youthful Jim Carter makes a pre-pre-Downton appearance as Sally’s step-dad.
Vanity Fair (1987)
A lavish 16-part adaptation of the nation’s favourite novel starring Eve Matheson as William Makepeace Thackeray’s despicably entertaining heroine Becky Sharp. The inveterate social climber briefly attains the wealth and status she desires – but with catastrophic consequences.
Nice Work (1989)
Industrial and personal relations are edgily intertwined in David Lodge’s odd-couple romance between a fiercely bright (and posh) university lecturer Robyn Penrose (Haydn Gwynne) and factory boss Vic Wilcox (Warren Clark). A provocative satire of personal and political morals, and a love letter to the urban wastelands and wistful aspirations of a thinly veiled Birmingham.
George Cole and Dennis Waterman were the first lovable TV rogues of the Thatcher years. The series kicked off in October 1979 and ran throughout the 80s (with a sprinkling of best-forgotten post-Waterman and Cole revivals in the 90s and 00s). Devised as a vehicle for Waterman after his success in The Sweeney, his honest and likeable bodyguard Terry McCann ultimately plays second-fiddle to Cole’s unscrupulous wheeler-dealer Arthur Daley.
Only Fools and Horses (1981–2003)
Del-Boy and Rodney Trotter of Trotters Independent Trading made their first screen appearance in the early 80s and have never really gone away. Not strictly a drama, but the most popular and successful British sitcom of all time made inextinguishable stars of David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst and a superb supporting cast. Should you ever tire of rewinding through their familiar escapades, you could always seek out a 100% cushty Cypriot overdub or Slovenian remake imbued with the spirit of the original.
John Nettles stars as maverick ex-alcoholic Detective Sergeant Jim Bergerac of Jersey’s (fictional) Bureau des Étrangers. Picture-postcard locations are the backdrop for bold dramas on often controversial themes such as the unveiling of an ageing Nazi war criminal or dabblings in the supernatural. Watch the DVDs then take a trip to the nine-by-five-mile island and you will stumble into filming locations at almost every turn.
Brideshead Revisited (1981)
What was the teddy bear’s name again?* John Mortimer’s impeccable adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh novel (with revisions by the producer and director) made stars of Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews as Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte who go up to Oxford and on to war riddled with doubts of faith, love and fidelity. Their youthful exuberance is kept in check by noteworthy performances by John Geilgud and Lawrence Olivier as the boys’ fathers, while Diana Quick sets hearts fluttering as Julia Flyte.
Juliet Bravo (1980–85)
A ladies’ police procedural from The Sweeney creator Ian Kennedy Martin, demonstrating that the fairer sex also have an aptitude for laying down the law – though they must face down the innate prejudices of male colleagues along the way. The title refers to a radio call sign rather than a lead character. Stephanie Turner starred as Inspector Jean Darblay for the first three series, giving way to Anna Carteret’s Inspector Kate Longton for series four to six. Move over Cagney & Lacey…
Boys from the Black Stuff (1982)
Alan Bleasdale’s pitch-dark comedy started out as a one-off Play for Today about a group of Liverpudlian tarmac layers on a job on Teesside. Filmed in 1978 but only screened in January 1980, a full-length series commission soon followed, and became the most memorable riposte to the Thatcher years of corroding working-class jobs and culture. Bernard Hill’s Yosser Hughes and Julie Walters’ Angie (wife of Michael Angelis’ Chrissie) are among the stand-out characters.
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (1990)
Filmed in 1989 and released in 1990, Jeanette Winterson’s adaptation of her own novel is a complex, semi-autobiographical drama about the transition from child to adult, same-sex relationships and religious brainwashing. Cathryn Bradshaw, Emily Aston, Charlotte Coleman and Geraldine McEwan star in the BAFTA-winning production, directed by Beeban Kidron.
Across four series and four historical epochs from medieval England to the trenches of World War I, Rowan Atkinson’s contemptuous and contemptible anti-hero Edmund Blackadder and his dim stooge Baldrick (Tony Robinson) and their descendants changed the face of British comedy forever – and playfully spiked our ideas of historical truth. After a patchy, expensively shot first series, the programme hit its stride with the cunning, punning pairing of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton as writers and Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and Miranda Richardson joining cast regulars Rik Mayall, Miriam Margolyes and Tim McInnerny.
* Aloysius. The model for which in Waugh’s novel was Archibald Ormsby-Gore (a.k.a. Archie), the beloved teddy bear and lifelong companion of John Betjeman.
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