Thursday, June 07, 2012

On being addicted to ITV3

A few months ago my television's integral DVD player failed, so I sent the set away to be repaired. When it came back with an unexpected bonus: I could now receive ITV3.

This station is largely devoted to repeats of old situation comedies (On the Buses, Terry and June) and, in particular, old detective series. It has become something of an addiction of mine.

There are the prestige dramas like Lewis, Inspector Morse and Vera. And the more workaday series like Wycliffe and Heartbeat. Though the prestige dramas are great in theory, I often find myself losing motivation halfway through, so it is the shorter dramas that I have studied more closely.

Wycliffe, despite being set in the tourist county of Cornwall, is a notably downbeat series, thanks both to the writing and the central performance by Jack Shepherd. But I suspect it offers a more honest picture of Cornish life than we are often given.

And a recent episode displayed one of the pleasures of these old dramas: spotting famous faces before or after they were famous. Two of Wycliffe's junior police officers were played by Philip Glenister and Marc Warren, and the villain was played by former EastEnder Leslie Grantham.

But then I recently watched a Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes in which the lad made to impersonate a dead noblewoman turned out to be Jude Law.

My greatest affection, however, is reserved for Heartbeat. Of course, it has numerous faults: Bill Maynard is a son of Market Harborough, but his comic turn as Claude Greengrass soon palls. While to call Nick Berry's acting 'wooden' would be a kindness. He could have portrayed a whole timber yard.

Still the cast changed from year to year, and there are many pleasures. Derek Fowlds is a reassuring presence: I remember him as Basil Brush's Mr Derek from the 1960s; he was the only man who could keep Basil in order. Fowlds' replacement all allowed Basil to run rings around them and never managed to finish the story. There is a lesson about parenting there somewhere.

And William Simons who played Alf Ventress turns out, improbably, to have been a child star in the 1950s. He played Anthony Steel and Dinah Sheridan's son in Where No Vultures Fly and West of Zanzibar.

Best of all there is the music. When Heartbeat was launched, making the 1960s the subject of nostalgia seemed almost daring. This was in the John Major years when that decade was being blamed for all our troubles. Today it seems pure escapism and the literal mind of the producers meant that the Spencer Davis Group's Keep on Running features more often than most songs.

What I particularly like is the contrast between the cosiness of the Yorkshire setting - Hearbeat's Aidensfield is the real-life Goathland, which also has connections with Malcolm Saville - and the wildness of the music.

Take a recent episode which ended with a shoot out at Goathland Station involving the villains and Leslie Grantham (this time playing a mysterious Special Branch officer), all played out to the trippy sounds of Dear Mr Fantasy by Traffic.

It's what the sixties should have been like, even if they weren't.

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