Posts Tagged ‘television’

A couple more ‘odds and sods’ about tv today, provoked by a couple of things… And no, neither are about the latest covid news/cabinet meeting/potential lockdown. Anything I wrote would be out of date five minutes after I hit ‘post’, so I’ll save any thoughts on those for another day.

Years ago, I tweeted something like “I’ve just discovered CSI! Why did no one tell me how good it is? Oh, you all told me… and I ignored you? Ah, ok then…

Well, it’s not quite that bad but I’ve rediscovered two shows that recently ended and I’m on a rewatch of them both, having watched a few episodes live when they were on and not – at the time – enjoying them that much. So I stopped.

Now, usually, when I stop watching something, I’m unlikely to go back to it, and on the rare occasions I do… I tend to find my original judgment was right: it’s not for me.

(Game of Thrones is the obvious example here. Didn’t enjoy it first time around; gave up after about six episodes. Was persuaded to try it again. Didn’t enjoy it second time around, lasted to the end of the first season. Was persuaded a few years later to try it one more time. Made it to half way through season two in a week… took a break, and never went back.)

Two points to make here:

First: me saying I’m not enjoying something is not the same as me saying I actively disliked it. I recorded Memories: The Origins of Alien the other night to watch last night. I’d heard good things about the documentary and have always liked both the movie and the stories about making it.

Hmm. I switched off after 20 minutes and deleted the recording; no, it didn’t ruin my memories of the movie, nor make me actively dislike anything in it. It… bored me. The makers of the documentary had taken what should have been a fascinating tale of where Cameron had gleaned so many nascent ideas and how he pulled them together, taking a bit from here, a bit from there, into a superbly scary, very clever, story. Instead, the story was pedestrian, the clips chosen were boring, the narration was monotonous and the basic premise was… lacking. I was… bored. I’m sure some people got something out of it, but it wasn’t for me.

The other point is quicker to make: I’ll just point you to Budgie’s Law of Popular Television: y = x + 2 and leave it there.

So, the first of the two shows: Elementary.

I’m not sure why I didn’t enjoy it first time around. I didn’t have any actual problems with it, other than not liking any of the characters. I’m not a Holmes purist at all, and it’s possible, I guess, that with Sherlock (which I thoroughly enjoyed) on at the same time, I just made a ‘pick one’ choice and chose the BBC. I hope not, but hey ho, it’s possible.

But anyway, I was channel flipping, and noticed they were showing the final season of Elementary on telly. I tuned in out of mere curiosity: would the show – which had undoubtedly changed since the first episodes, because tv shows do – interest me?

I wasn’t worried about the show’s continuity; I was pretty sure I’d pick up on most of it from the context presented and, indeed, I did. It wasn’t that difficult; US shows tend to explain stuff fairly regularly for newer viewers, without boring existing watchers. In fact, US drama often seems to apply Stan Lee’s comment about keeping readers informed as to a comic’s continuity (‘every comic book in a series is someone’s first’) to tv. It’s a good practice, if done with skill and respect.

And… what do you know? I thoroughly enjoyed the episode I watched. And the next one. And the one after that. So I watched the whole of the final season, very much liking what I saw…

…and then clicked on Amazon Prime after the run had ended, discovered the first six seasons were available and proceeded to watch it from the start.

There were still the things I hadn’t overly enjoyed but time had passed, I didn’t now have anything contemporary to compare it to… and I gave it a chance. And before the end of the first episode, I knew I wanted to see more of it. I wanted to know more about all three of the main characters, and wasn’t sure I liked any of them, but I still wanted to know more.

As I continued to watch through the first season, something happened: I started to like the (now four) main characters, and started to spot the things the writers wanted me to see, and yet still be surprised on occasion, at least once every couple of episodes, by… something. Then of course they introduced Moriarty and I was torn between ‘huh?’ and ‘oh, you clever bastards’.

So I watched the entire run… right up until the end of the sixth season. I’ll go back and rewatch the seventh in a while, when I’ve forgotten enough from it, and when I know I’ll enjoy the return of characters I shouldn’t have seen in years but in fact saw a couple of months ago.

So, yeah, that’s one.

Criminal Minds

This is a weird one, because I remember watching the first three seasons before ducking out but watching it again now, I genuinely have no memory of watching any of it at all. There are no scenes I remember, no baddies I recall. I’d even forgotten that Penelope Garcia (the wonderful Kirsten Vangness) only appeared briefly in each episode in the first season.

I can guess why I stepped away back then, though. While I like police procedurals, I don’t like horror, as a genre. And I suspect that, at the time, I felt that Criminal Minds was an attempt to do a horror procedural. And not the fun type like Supernatural or others of that ilk, but a darker, genuinely scary, procedural, where everyone’s damaged in one way or another. Both those committing bad deeds, and those attempting to find them.

I’ve always kind of regretted dropping out of the show, though, because I like the actors (both Mandy Patinkin and Joe Mantegna are cleverly intense actors) and the plots are anything but workaday. Moreover, the show clearly, and cleverly, demonstrates the cost of doing the job, in mental and physical health. It’s not… a small cost.

Also, I quite like that these are colleagues, not friends; they’re people who work together who probably wouldn’t associate with each other if it wasn’t for work. (At the start, anyway)

So I gave the show another try when I discovered that, like Elementary, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

I’m less convinced by it than I was by Elementary; I’m not yet convinced I’ll stick with the show for the full run before taking a break; I mean, there are fifteen seasons and over 300 episodes. But I’m heading towards the end of the first season… and I’m enjoying one or two episodes a night. I’m actually enjoying watching a show I didn’t enjoy that much before. Fancy that.

So for everyone who told me to watch both Elementary and Criminal Minds… to give them another try: I’m tryin’, ok? I’m tryin’…


See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 now rapidly approaching.

I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

One of the inevitabilities of being stuck in the flat during lockdowns this year and last has been that I’ve been watching some ‘old’ telly. ITV4 and Drama and a couple of other channels have bought the rights to, and have been showing, tv shows from – hog, gods, I can’t believe I’m actually writing these words – fifty or more years ago. I mean, yeah. 1971 was sixty years ago.

I mean, it’s tough enough watching Top Of The Pops from back then, but there are a lot of shows that I watched in part to see how well they’d aged, and in some cases to see how poorly.

So, the usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing, or in this case ten things I’ve been watching.

1. The Saint
If there’s ever a show that typifies the period, and the period in television, it’s surely The Saint. I was a huge fan of the books, both the collections of short stories and the novels. But I’m pretty sure I encountered Simon Templar for the first time on telly. The plots weren’t exactly labyrinthine, and usually involved Templar, played of course by Roger Moore in a role he was made for, saving some young woman from one bad fate or another. They were fun shows, and occasionally showed the Templar of the books, but only occasionally.

(As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to have less patience with adaptations that don’t, y’know, actually adapt the books nor even the characters. It’s just a character with the same name and not a lot else.)

The Saint is fun though, and it’s a pleasant way of passing an hour. But not much more.

(I have fond memories of Ian Ogilvy’s stint in Return of the Saint, but I suspect it’s aged very, very badly)

There was an attempt to revamp the character fairly recently. I quite liked the promo for it, but I’ve no idea what happened to the show.

2. Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
I genuinely expected this show to have aged far, far more than it has. You could remake it now with exactly the same scripts, exactly the same wardrobe, and better production values and it would work as a period drama.

Most of that is down to the partnership between Mike Pratt as Jeff Randall, a private investigator in London, and Kenneth Cope as Marty Hopkirk, his deceased former partner who comes back as a ghost to… help him. At first it’s merely to solve his own murder, but then he’s stuck on the ‘mortal plain’. Oh, and mustn’t forget Annette Andre as Hopkirk’s widow, and all the fun that goes along with her slowly recovering from the loss of her great love (which is greeted by Hopkirk with sorrow then mild annoyance that she’s moving on with her life.)

It’s a fun show; the effects for the time are great and the puzzlment of both Randall and Hopkirk as they discover both their new relationship and what ‘the rules’ are for Hopkirk moving forward.

The scripts are cracking, the dialogue is fun and watching their relationship evolve is huge fun.

(There was a reboot with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer in 2000, played for comedy; the less said about that, the better, although it might have worked had Reeves played Randall and Mortimer played Hopkirk, instead of the other way around, and upped the drama and lowered the comedy. If they’d have remade the show in other words instead of fucking around with it.)

This is from the pilot of the original, when Randall discovers Hopkirk is still around…

3. Star Trek
Yeah, I’m about to be heretical. I realised I hadn’t actually seen the original series for years, so when they reran it, I watched most of them.

OK, so the remastered effects work fine, and the scripts are fine. And the plots, for the most part, when they’re not being crassly ‘contemporary’ and ‘relevant’ are also fine. Some of them are flat out amazing. But… the acting. The acting often… isn’t fine. Nimoy is wonderful, always. Kelley is great, almost always. And Nicholls is rarely anything but fantastic. But… Shatner? Sorry, but I found myself watching the show despite Shatner, and the same applies to Doohan.

You can’t help but pay respect to the show for what it spawned but of the more than sixty episodes, there are maybe a dozen and a half I actually enjoyed watching. Which saddens me, immensely.

And since you’ve all probably seen every clip that exists about Star Trek, here’s an evolution of Warp Speed in Star Trek.

4. The Persuaders
Now, if you’re looking for a show that’s aged, very, very badly… you can’t do better than this show. I loved it when I watched it at the time; both Roger Moore and Tony Curtis seemed, to me, to be having loads of fun. Learning later that they didn’t much like each other, and indeed each regarded the other as lazy may have tarnished my enjoyment.

But what topped it off was discovering there were basically three plots the entire time, and most of them involved either one of them being mistaken for someone else, or getting involved with some affair or another against their wishes, but what the hell, we’re here now so we may as well...

The original idea, only kept for a handful of episodes after the pilot (which is good, and remains good) was that they were highly resourceful, very intelligent men who were successes at what they chose to do but they were rich and bored and… wastrels. So they get blackmailed by Laurence Naismith’s retired judge into going after people who ‘got away with it’. Could have been a great show. The first couple of episodes looked like it was going to be a great show.

And then they threw away any sense of seriousness and went for the comedy, and slapstick comedy at times. A decent idea, with decent actors.… thrown away.

Oh, and the plots, dialogue, attitudes and costumes have aged horrendously. (I’m not sure how a show made a decade after The Saint has aged far more than that show did, but bloody hell it did…)

Two saving graces: one episode in which there’s a double of Moore’s character wandering around, which had a first class mystery and resolution, and one episode where Curtis’ character meets up with a childhood friend… who turns out to be a contract killer. And Moore and Curtis fall out over it. Genuine drama, genuine conflict. Very well portrayed.

Oh, and the opening titles which are clever as hell.

(And while this would never happen, I kind of liked this ‘update’ of them…)

5. Blake’s 7
I mentioned above that I watched Star Trek for every reason other than the acting of the main character. I can’t say the same about Blake’s 7. The ”main’ character – Blake (Gareth Thomas) when the show starts, then Avon (Paul Darrow) – was never less than screen grabbing, for entirely different reasons, but the acting of all the Marion protagonists and antagonists were fantastic, throwing themselves completely into the ‘seriousness’ of the show’s premise.

The scripts were great, the plots were… on-and-off great. The production values were less than great most of the time, although the props were great, the Liberator‘s hand guns looked fantastic and I wanted one when I was a kid. Hell, I want one now.

The show was dark as hell more than half the time and the ‘goodies’ lose as many times as they won. And while the goodies were the goodies, the people you were supposed to root for, sometimes they didn’t make it easy.

It’s a show that’s ripe for a reboot, and I’d love to see one.

6. The Protectors
This show should not work. I repeat; it should not work. Three impossibly smart, glamorous (for the time) private investigators working around the world, being hired for [half hour] missions, for a tv show whose prime thing seems to be showing how many different places around that world they can show.

And yet it does. I wouldn’t put it all down to the opening and closing titles, but I’m not not putting it down to the opening and closing titles.

7. The Champions
The Champions is utter rubbish from start to finish, with plot holes in every episodes you could drive a truck though, wooden acting (when the baddies aren’t chewing the furniture) and for secret agents with super powers – gained when they crash their plane in the Himalayas – they’re not very, erm, secret.

I love it. Every episode is silliness and deftness and utterly stupid. And bad enough to enjoyable fun.

8. The Fugitive
I don’t think I’d ever seen the show until it started being shown over lockdown. I mean, sure I’d probably seen the odd clip here and there and I knew the story of course. But my main familiarity with it was through the movie.

So I watched it. It’s surprisingly good, given its very basic plot structures and how often some basic plots are repeated; I can definitely see where Kung Fu and The Incredible Hulk got most of their ideas from. David Jansen is superb; no surprise there, he usually was in anything, and the Javert-like Inspector Gerrard (played by Barry Morse) was superb in the role he was handed.

It was everyone else in the show; I struggled to give the slightest toss about any supporting characters, and in the end, I just gave up the struggle. This was probably my biggest disappointment. I wanted to like this show, but in the end… I didn’t.

9. Perry Mason
Now this was a show I was actively looking forward to when they announced it was being run. And, sadly, though not on the same level as The Fugitive, there was that same ‘I genuinely don’t care about the case of the week, nor the fate of the characters who appear’.

I liked Della Street, and Paul Drake (more than I’d expected to) and very much liked the resident District Attorney Hamilton Burger, but to my astonishment, I really didn’t like Perry Mason much at all. A superb lawyer, sure, but not someone I’d want to spend much, if any, time in the company of.

(I find it genuinely odd how much my views were influenced, and not in a good way, by the TV movies. That Perry Mason was someone I’d like to have known, as I would that Della Street.)

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Everything a british spy tv should be. Everything the Gary Oldman movie got wrong, this got right and Alex Guinness was probably the best George Smiley there will ever be (though it continues to amuse me that Guinness at first didn’t think he was suitable for the role and suggested Arthur Lowe for the job).

Add in the cast from heaven and you have a show I could watch once a month for the rest of my life and still find something new every time.

One thing that’s rarely spoken on, even by those who rightly praise the adaptation to the skies: how cleverly the ‘last episode…’ opening to every episode after the first is. They re-show the final scene of the previous episodes… but shot from a different angle. I’ve never seen it done elsewhere and my gods it off-balances you every bloody time.

Superbly done.


OK, one more bonus bit of whimsy from the past. The ‘directors commentary’ on a classic kids’ tv show from when I was growing up: Mary, Mungo and Midge. There is no reason for me to include this other than pure silliness. But that is, of course, among the best reasons for doing anything.

If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others, less ‘about me’ ones which are probably more pleasant to read…

See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.

I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Preface: OK, this was fairly inevitable, wasn’t it? As I was preparing last week’s final ‘tv themes’ post, I knew I’d need a new Ten Things post for this week, and I received quite a few ‘but how could you miss out…?’ Comments after I did my first Columbo Ten Things.

As I said last time, though, there are so many good, so many bloody good, episodes to choose from, that throwing ten darts at a list of the almost 70 Columbo episodes produced? You’re gonna hit 8 or 9 good ones and 3 or four that would make most people’s lists.

As with last time, I’m going to limit it to two of each in the entirely arbitrary categories I’ve chosen to use. So, two [more] clever murders, two [more]wonderful baddies, two [more] lovely relationship pieces, two [more] ‘lightbulb moments’ and two [more] reveals.

Again, as before, however, I’m going to inevitably neglect some wonderful episodes, maybe your favourite. Sorry.

I’ll stick the previous entry’s pics in italics under the category title, just in case you’re reading this post first and wondering why the hell I missed out the obvious – to you – episode.

WARNING: Many, many, MANY spoilers below. If you don’t want to see them, best look away now.

And the usual Ten Things reminder… they’re not the objectively considered best, nor necessarily personal favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)

OK, preface over, blog begins.


[Earlier post: Publish Or Perish and Short Fuse]

How To Dial A Murder (1978)
When the question comes up, as it often does, who would you cast as a baddie in Columbo, I’m not entirely sure what whoever-suggested-Nicol-Williamson was drinking, but it was a mark of genius. Williamson excels in the role, while seemingly effortlessly not actually taking it too seriously. I’m sure he did, by the way, but he’s not exactly perfectly suited for the show. What he is perfectly suited for, however, is the type of murder that his character – Eric Mason – commits: murder at a distance, while Mason remains entirely secure and safe elsewhere.

The sheer… satisfaction as he hears the murder being committed is odd to watch, to be honest.; he’s trained his dogs to attack on hearing a word that Mason manipulates his victim into saying. But again, it fits the character perfectly.

What’s ‘nice’ about this episode, apart from the murder and the reveal (although I’m not as big a fan of it as others seem to be, and the ‘eureka moment’ is a bit too coincidental for me) is how much Columbo and Mason just plain dislike each other as people. Columbo’s faux ‘just trying to find out what happened’ attitude rankles Mason more than usual and once Columbo realises that, he seems, very subtly, to increase the edginess of it.


Double Exposure (1973)
I go back and forth on how much this episode has dated. Honestly. One day I’ll think it’s too obvious, given what we now know about subliminal triggers, and yet another I’ll be convinced it could still work as a murder mystery if the trigger was more cleverly hidden, more up to date. I dunno.

What I do know is that Robert Culp excels – as he always did – in the roles of baddie. There’s an inherent arrogance in all of Culp’s baddies in the show that fairly invites Columbo to puncture it. Never pompous in the way that Shatner’s were, never quietly confident as others were. It’s sheer, unfettered, arrogance. He knows he’s smarter than Columbo; hell, he knows he’s probably the smartest person in any room into which he walks. And that definitely applies here to Dr Bart Keppel, a master of motivational research.

The very idea that he could be outsmarted doesn’t even occur to Keppel.

I’m not sure how novel the ‘I’ll step out of the way of the projector so you can enjoy the pictures [and I’ll switch to a tape so no one knows I’m off murdering someone]” was at the time, but I’ve seen it done any number of times since. But how it’s done is clever. As is the murder itself, which is equal parts simplicity and elegance; brutally simple, elegantly executed. While helming a presentation, Culp’s character shows a video into which is cut subliminal shots of cool drinks aimed at his victim, and shots telling the shortly-to-be-victim how thirsty he is. This after he’s fed him salty caviar. At the same time, the room is warmed.

The victim steps out (in the dark so no one’s sure he’s left at first) to get a drink… and is shot by Culp, who everyone else there will swear blind was narrating the video presentation at the time. Nicely done, Dr Keppel.


[Earlier post: Dr Ray Flemming – Prescription: Murder and Wade Anders – Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health]

Note that I’m saving the ‘wonderful baddies because they’re fun to watch with Columbo’ for a moment’s time. These two are just out and out wonderfully evil.

I tried to resist doing what I’m about to do, but couldn’t… as I kept coming back to these two characters. Again and again.

The Great Santini – Now You See Him (1976)
Someone once described Santini as “the nazi you’ll enjoy watching’ and I kind of get what they mean. Yeah, he’s a nazi SS guard who escaped after the war, got to America and set himself up as a stage magician… who becomes very very famous. the owner of the club knows it and blackmails Santini who greets a demand for more money with delight, as you can imagine. In fairly quick order, he uses a few magic tricks (including one that utterly fascinated me as a kid when I saw it) to kill the club opener while everyone in the audience is convinced that Santini is suspended inside a locked glass tank filled with water, trying to, y’know, escape from said locked glass tank filled with water.

Santini commits the murder, then ‘escapes’ and is on stage at the moment the body is discovered.

Santini takes an obvious dislike to Columbo, apparently semi-convinced that the cop is just there to steal secrets… and Santini values secrets. Any and all secrets… alibi? Well, obviously I was on stage. “But it’s a trick.” “Of course.” “How’s it done?” “Not telling!”

When Columbo does the reveal, there’s a moment, just the faintest moment, though, when Santini loses his arrogance. He’s stunned by the step by step that Columbo has done, topped off by a bit of magic of his own. But you know, you just know, that the moment Santini leaves the room, his arrogance and assured confidence will return.

(I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up running the prison he’s put into, given his talent with locks and magic and experience, shall we say, with blackmail.)

Ken Franklin – Murder By The Book (1971)
The first of the Columbo episodes proper, broadcast almost exactly 50 years ago, in September 1971. After two pilots, this was the one the producers decided would be the episode to demonstrate to the viewing audience what the show was all about. And they nailed it.

From the opening scene, one hell of an establishing shot by a young director named, what was it? Oh yeah, Steven Spielberg.

And what a baddie. Ken Franklin. A womanising, smart, clever, utterly amoral, wholly selfish writer who kills his ‘Mrs Melville’ writing partner who wants to dissolve the partnership so he can publish his own work; understandable, really, since the partner does pretty much all of the writing anyway. From the moment he kills the partner, things start to go sideways as a) Columbo starts to nose around, and is pretty sure from the first moment that Franklin’s involved and b) Franklin himself has to do more and more to cover up and explains mistakes he made.

Another murder follows, and I really like how Franklin reacts to the reveal. His sureness punctured, his plans in a mess, everything’s gone wrong and it’s only at that point that you sympathise at all with him, when he almost but not quite boasts that the first murder was tghe only decent idea for a murder he ever had.

It’s a stunning reversal and unlike Santini, you wonder whether he’ll ever be sure of his own rightness ever again.


[Earlier post: Adrian Carsini – Any Old Port in a Storm and ]

Tommy Brown – Swan Song (1974)
I’ve seen this episode any number of times and I’m damned if I can say why Tommy Brown isn’t utterly detested as a character by everyone involved, including Columbo and including the viewers. I mean, it can’t just be down to Johnny Cash as a person, let alone his portrayal, can it? I suspect the answer to that is, well, yeah.

Because there’s no reason why Columbo shouldn’t loathe him. And yet, the scenes between them are glorious and there’s a definite grudging admiration for how Brown came out of ‘nothing’ and sang like he did.

I dunno – definitely not in the Carsini or Mitchell mould, but there’s definitely something when these two are on the screen together. (Although I’m far from convinced by Brown’s final lines to Columbo.)

Lauren Straton – It’s All In The Game (1993)
Faye Dunaway. What the hell can you say about Faye Dunaway that hasn’t been said before. Fantastic actor – no, truly fantastic, and almost the only suspect on Columbo that… well, let’s just say that his mind wasn’t always on the job.

OK, the usual stuff out of the way: Dunaway’s character and her [secret] daughter discover they both have the same lover; Lauren kills him then the daughter stays with the body, keeping it warm under a blanket. Then when mother and building manager arrive, she fires a shot and escapes.

Long story short, Columbo figures it out, braces Stratton and says the daughter will go down for murder unless… after which Stratton says she’ll confess in full, as long as Columbo lets her take all the blame.

OK, so far, so mundane (apart from Columbo letting a conspirator escape.)

Except that for once, the murder and the solution are almost a side-bar. What makes this episode special is the chemistry between Columbo and Dunaway’s character. The screen… sizzles when they’re both on screen. Columbo of course would never betray Mrs Columbo, but for a moment or two, neither the viewer nor Columbo (as shown) is absolutely sure of that.

Rarely has Dunaway seemed more… vulnerable, yet quietly confident. At no point during the episode is Columbo even aware that the younger woman is Stratton’s daughter until right at the end… and how they get away with that is a demonstration of the writer’s and director’s skill. Oh the writer? One Peter Falk. You may have heard of him.


[Earlier post: A Trace of Murder and Uneasy Lies The Crown]

Murder Under Glass (1978)
This is kind of a cheat to include but it’s such a glorious moment when the eureka moment is revealed that I’m not even going to pretend there was any temptation to resist including it.

(Not for nothing, the episode was going to make it in somehow; either here or as Louis Jourdan’s character’s marvellous report with Columbo. Not for once a liking for each other, but a distinct dislike. Still counts, though.)

Jourdan’s plays a restaurant critic, Paul Gerard, who supplements his income by receiving bribes for reviews, poisons the wine of a restauranteur won’t won’t pay for a good review and threatens to expose the critic. He poisons the wine while they’re having dinner together.

Of course Columbo works it out. But for once the eureka moment wasn’t “how did he do it?’ But instead ‘how did Columbo KNOW that Gerard was the murderer?’

That eureka moment? Oh you don’t see the moment itself. Sorry.

No, Columbo tells the murderer what it was… after the reveal.

It was that Gerard didn’t seek medical advice when police informed him that the victim had been poisoned, and instead came immediately to the restaurant to help with enquiries. “That’s the damnedest example of good citizenship I’ve ever seen,” Columbo observes.

A Matter Of Honor (1976)
This is one of the sweeter reveals, I must admit. And as sometimes happens, the rest of the episode is fairly so-so. I mean, sure Ricardo Montalban is a superb baddie, the shield of his [once deserved] arrogance one moment away from cracking throughout. But the murder itself is fairly pedestrian, the reveal is… ok. And the supporting cast is similarly… ok.

And the eureka moment is… ok, well it’s shoehorned in, but what I like about it is that it’s enough for lots of dominoes to fall for Columbo.,, It’s the single thing that makes everything else make sense for him. He was sure Montalban’s character – a revered bullfighter, now retired but still hugely respected – had murderer the victim.

He was edging towards why but he couldn’t prove it. Until… until… he sees some children playing bullfighting and discovers precisely why they soak the cape. And… eureka.

[Earlier post: Suitable for Framing and The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case]

Ransom For A Dead Man (1971)
I hadn’t seen this for ages until – on one of its reruns – I wanted it last week and was blown away. I’d genuinely forgotten his good this was, Whoever came up with the idea of Lee Grant as the follow up baddie to Gene Barry earned their pay that month and how.

Utterly ruthless, completely amoral, and yet, completely and utterly different from Barry’s character.

And what nails her at the end, what makes the reveal so satisfying, is Columbo’s realisation that Grant’s character has no conscience whatsoever. Her amorality, something she thought of as one of her greatest strengths, was what sunk her.

Grant plays Leslie Williamson, a successful lawyer who’s tired of her elderly husband, so kills him. As you would, when you’re a successful lawyer who’s tired of her elderly husband, obviously.

But She Can Haz Smarts, so she fashions a ransom demand, and keeps the money, (It’s a bit more complicated than that, but not much.)

She buys the step-daughter (who thinks, for some reason, that step-mommy killed daddy) off with much money, so much money that she dips into the ransom money to top up the payoff.

After she sees step-daughter off at the airport, Williamson sees Columbo who’s apparently there for another reason. They go for a drink; she’s quietly confident she’s beaten him, and lets him know it,. He agrees, saying he was sure she had…

…and then a parcel is delivered to them. He opens it and inside is the ransom money Leslie just paid to the step-daughter.

“Mrs. Williams, you have no conscience and that’s your weakness. Did it ever occur to you that there are very few people who would take money to forget about a murder? It didn’t, did it? I knew it wouldn’t.”

Beautifully done.


This final one was probably the most requested ‘how could you leave this out?’ I received after the first post. I wasn’t convinced, to be honest, until I rewatched it and saw what everyone else meant. I mean, I still think the two I used in the first post deserved their places, but yeah, so does this one.

Negative Reaction (1974)
Once again, Columbo uses a character’s own self-confidence and sureness in their own mastery of their chosen field… against them.

But for once, Columbo steps over a moral line that he’s not entirely sure leaves him smelling of roses.

Dick Van Dyke’s character – Paul Galesko – kidnaps his own wife, someone he views as a harridan holding him back, snaps a photo to show she’s actually, y’know, been kidnapped, with a clock in the background showing the wrong time. Then kills her.

To ‘get’ him at the end, Columbo creates false evidence, a reversed image of the key photographic evidence, to show Galesko’s alibi is false. He then tells Galesko that while doing so, Columbo accidentally destroyed the original photo…

Galesko then says “ah-ha, but the film of the original photo will still be in the camera!” And immediately picks out the camera in the evidence store used originally for the photo to ‘prove’ his alibi. The problem is that only the murderer the killer could know which camera was used. Oops.

Great reveal, great manipulation. Not taking anything away from that, but yeah, it leaves a slight sourness. Which of course just enhances the scene.


Patrick McGoohan
It’s a genuine surprise to me, looking back at the twenty episodes I’ve highlighted that none of them involved Patrick McGoohan. I mean, his episodes were flat out marvellous. All were clever murders, all had great scripts and the interaction between his baddies and columbo were never less than fantastic.

It’d be wrong for me, just wrong, not to at least mention him in this post.

So… Patrick McGoohan.

There. I’ve mentioned him.


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others… During the last huge blog run, I did a few ‘ten things’ I liked: individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, and a couple about podcasts. And I wrote a series of Doctor Who posts, about each incarnation/regeneration, and my sometimes tenuous relationship with the show.

And in this run, I did one on things I’ve been watching during the various lockdowns plus others…

See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

[This is Part The Sixth, click on the links for Part the First, Part the Second, Part The Third, Part The Fourth, Part The Fifth, and the extra post I did about the Who theme]

And here we are. At long last, after six weeks, the sixth and final part of this run through tv themes I like, in alphabetical order.

Why am I doing it? Well, I laid out in detail way back in the very first part of this mini-run, but honestly? It’s just a bit of fun and a longer-than-strictly-necessary answer to the question:

‘What is your favourite tv theme?’

Because I don’t have one answer. I don’t think I’ve ever just had one answer. Or ten. Or twenty. There are dozens I like, for many various and very different reasons.

Look, I tried to narrow it down, honestly. But I didn’t try that hard, because I didn’t really feel obliged to.

So, after five lots of ten tv themes in previous weeks (see above), here are the final ten themes I like from my iPhone’s playlist of 150 or so.

And as with previous weeks, I suspect there’ll be some that won’t surprise you, hope that there are possibly one or two that might… and, as always, maybe one or two you weren’t aware of, or had entirely forgotten.

Anyway, here we go…


Theme 51: Ski Sunday

Another sports one, and another BBC sports one that hasn’t essentiaslly changed in decades, because it works and it’s become irrevocably linked with slaloms and people shooting down mountains at speeds that are far too fast for anyone entirely sane to contemplate.


Theme 52: Space: 1999

Given when this was written for the show, it’s astonishing to me that it still works and could easily be a theme tune from a more recent show. Clever editing on the titles, and especially the change for every episode to include the ‘this episode’ makes this one definitely one of my favourites. (And, amusingly, last week, I heard the opening sting used as someone’s text message tone not that long ago. As with Catweazle, there was an immediate grin of memory from all of us, of a certain age, present.)


Theme 53: St Elsewhere

e.r. before e.r. existed. A superb, clever show for 99.99% of its run; let’s not talk about that final episode, though, eh? But clever titles, a catchy fun tune.


Theme 54: Thunderbirds

I dunno what can possibly be said about this theme tune that hasn’t been said by others far more intelligent and wise than me. With the possible exception that only just now did I realise where Space: 1999 got the idea for the ‘this episode’ bit from. I mean, if you’re gonna steal, steal from yourselves. But yeah, a great theme tune that’s lasted fondly in everyone’s memories for all the right reasons.

Oh, but before we leave Thunderbirds entirely… you may have heard the <em>Thunderbirds </em> theme above and before, but never quite like this:


Theme 55: The Tomorrow People

One of the best kids’ sf shows around when I was growing up, and a classic theme, unsettling, weird, and designed to make you feel uncomfortable, a trick it achieves easily.


Theme 56: UFO

Another great show, another great theme. But every time I see the opening titles, it’s the “1980” that throws me. It’s ‘my’ “Blade Runner’s set in 2019”, if you get what I mean.


Theme 57: Van der Valk

This was everywhere when I was a kid. The theme tune hit the record charts and just refused to leave. I mean, I get why. And as the opening titles show, it’s a lovely tune to have a wander by. I mean, it’s no Shaft, but it’ll do.


Theme 58: Washington Behind Closed Doors

I really want to rewatch this show. Inspired by the Watergate scandal, and indeed based on a pretty good novel – The Company – by John Ehrlichman, one of the players in the whole clusterfuck, the opening titles, and especially the opening theme, is full of urgency and militarism and ‘official’ stuff. It’s great.


Theme 59: White Horses

Like Follyfoot in the third post in this run, this is from my childhood, and, like Follyfoot, to do with horses. But this is one of those series of shows that the BBC bought, dubbed, and then showed on a Saturday morning to kids who loved telly.

Like me.

For decades afterwards, I barely remembered the storyline, convinced that it was set at the Austrian Riding School. Nope, a quick look up destroyed that idea. It was set on the farm where the horses that went to the riding school were bred.

Anyway, the theme they used for foreign broadcast is one of those themes that sticks in your head, from the opening horns, to the gentle lyrics, sung by Irish singer Jackie Lee.


Theme 60: The Zoo Gang

Suitable that this is the final theme in the run, since it’s genuinely one of my favourites. Written by Paul McCartney and performed by Wings, its’ very much of its day – the 1970s – and just about perfect for the show.

The original book the show is based on (a series of short stories) is a lot ‘harder’ than the tv show, more brutal and the lead characters aren’t quite as… nice. But the basic plot is the same, and we’ll explained by the opening titles.



And that’s it.

Well, that was fun.

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Saturday ‘something else’.



Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

[This is Part The Fifth, click on the links for Part the First, Part the Second, Part The Third, Part The Fourth, and the extra post I did about the Who theme]

OK, time for the fifth and penultimate part of this run through tv themes I like, in alphabetical ordert.

Why am I doing it? Well, I said in detail four weeks ago, in the first part of this thing, but honestly? It’s just a bit of fun and a longer-than-strictly-necessary answer to the question:

‘What is your favourite tv theme?’

Because I don’t have one answer. I don’t even have ten. There are dozens I like, for various and different reasons.

Look, I tried to narrow it down, honestly.

But I couldn’t, and didn’t really want to. So, anyway, here are another ten themes I like from my iPhone’s playlist of 150 or so. And as with previous weeks, there’ll be some that won’t surprise you, possibly one or two that might… and, again, maybe one or two you weren’t aware of, or had entirely forgotten.

Anyway, here we go…

Theme 41: The New Avengers

There were a couple of versions of this opening titles sequence; one with no fancy graphics, and then this, which was to my mind by far the cleverest opening sequence The Avengers ever did in any incarnation. I like this one a lot.


Theme 42: News 24 Countdown

There’s no way I should like a News theme, particularly one that I often skip through when it’s pops up on telly. I just want the news, after all, not the preface.

But shorn of the actual news itself, I really like this as a theme. It’s clever and authoritative.

Ok, two bits of entirely unwarranted fun, since I’ve included the News 24 Countdown.

I arguably should have included this as an extra in the Doctor Who theme post… but better late than never…

And this… well, this is just sheer joy, and we need more sheer joy in life.


Theme 43: Pinky and the Brain

They redid the theme with new lyrics and new arrangements when the Animanicans returned last year. I prefer the original.


Theme 44: Pot Black

Pot Black was a knockout snooker thing, featuring, usually the top 16 players. It wasn’t a tour event, the winner got a trophy and nothing much else. And yet, it was required viewing when I was a kid if you liked snooker. Much more relaxed that tournament, this for the first time was people who were obviously for the most part friends playing each other. And you got to see them a bit relaxed. There’s no reason why they should have used George Botsford’s Black and White Rag, performed by Winifred Atwell, for Snooker but it bloody works perfectly, doesn’t it?

Theme 45: The Professionals

Once again, a show that had several theme tunes, but this one show where the transition fucked up. The first one – shown below, because I like the voiceover – had a voiceover. Then they switched to a new sequence, the one most people remember, that didn’t have a voiceover. And some idiot, when it went into syndication, just added the voiceover to the non-voiceover videos, and it’s over video that very much shouldn’t have a voiceover. So the voiceover makes no bloody sense at all on those episodes.


Anyway, here’s the original.


Theme 46: The Protectors

Perfectly edited video over a perfectly edited and arranged instrumental of The Avenues And Alleyways. (They used the full song as the closing credits.) just superb.


Theme 47: Question Time

There are so many versions of this theme tune, that I just chose one I like if for no reason other than it lasts longer than the ten seconds or so version that they started using a few years back.)


Theme 48: Rhoda

There’s a line in the opening introduction that I don’t believe a single Jewish person in their 20s didn’t recognise from their own mothers and their own life. And a superbly catchy theme tune.


Theme 49: The Saint

Absolutely perfect for the show, absolutely perfect for the graphics, absolutely perfectly catchy, and immediately identifiable. I like it.


Though, to be fair, the Return of the Saint was pretty good, and clever, as well.


Theme 50: Screen Test

This is one of those that I bet that maybe, maybe, only one of those reading this will remember. A quiz show for kids, I loved it. And the theme tune stuck in my head for decades afterwards.




OK, part the sixth – the final part – next week, when we cover from Ski Sunday through to The Zoo Gang.

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Saturday ‘something else’.



Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

[This is Part The Fourth, click on the links for Part the First, Part the Second, Part The Third, and the extra post I did about the Who theme]

OK, time for the fourth part of this run through tv themes I like, in alphabetical order.

Why am I doing it? To be fair, if you’ve read this far, you probably know. But just in case you’re new to the blog… I laid it out in detail three weeks’ back in the first part of this thing, but honestly? It’s just a bit of fun, and a longer-than-strictly-necessary answer to the question:

‘What is your favourite tv theme?’

Because as I’ve shown thus far, I don’t have one answer. I don’t even have ten. There are dozens I like, for various and different reasons.

And, I tried to narrow it down, honestly. But I couldn’t, and with equal honesty, it’s fai to acknowledge that I didn’t really want to.

So, anyway, here are another ten themes I like from my iPhone’s playlist of 150 or so. And as with last week, there’ll maybe be some that won’t surprise you, possibly one or two that might… and, hopefully, maybe one or two you weren’t aware of, or had entirely forgotten.

Anyway, here we go…

Theme 31: Laverne and Shirley

I thoroughly enjoyed Happy Days as a kid bnut I was never its biggest fan. But the first time I saw Laverne and Shirley as characters, and then saw their own show, I abolsutely loved it. Everything about it, including the very weird opening to their theme. But while there was no-one on Happy Days that I would have liked to know, would have liked to have met…

…I very much would have liked to have known Laverne and Shirley as people, even though they probably wouldn’t have thought much of me, either at the time or now.


Theme 32: Law & Order

I’ve chosen one of the openings from later on in the run, mainly because I liked the ensemble cast the final few seasons.

But with the exception of the pilot (which kept the same theme but had different visuals) and it being a bit shorter than the first few seasons, this is pretty much how the titles were through the run.

Theme 33: Law & Order | UK

I like the “UK” version of the show and I really like the theme tune. Very different from the US parent, but I like it a lot.


Amusingly, someone created an US version with the UK cast, using SVU theme and graphics. I kind of like this as well, but it’s very… odd.

Theme 34: Lost In Space

One show where the first theme the show used wasn’t the one that it became known for. Great theme, catchy as hell.


Theme 35: MacGyver

Oh gods, this one’s good. Nothing wrong with this one at all, except these days you watch it and cannot believe his hairstyle… But yeah, the opening, the setup, the pay-off.

Just about perfect.


Theme 36: Magnum P.I.

Always on the list of cracking tv themes, usually next to the A-Team. At the time, I think the final quirky eye-brows bit added to it. These days, I don’t think any visuals would have hurt. Just spot on for the show it was opening.

The only strange thing about the titles that strikes me now is the lettering. It looks… odd, somehow. And I couldn’t tell you why. It just looks like it’s from a different show entirely.


Theme 37: Mike Hammer

A bluesy, messy, melancholic theme for a messy, melancholic, bluesy show. With the exception, possibly, of his appearance in the Bourne movie from a few years ago, Keach was better in this than in any other thing he did. And the theme tune did what it needed: set up the show you were about to watch.


Theme 38: Miss Marple

I think this is basically someoen taking the original background graphics and refining the lettering. Either way, the theme is once again just about perfect for Miss Marple. Very “English garden’ with just a hint of ‘isn’t everything just a bit too perfect?’ laced in.


Theme 39: Murder One

I’d never seen a show like Murder One before it screened; I don’t think I’ve seen one as good since. And the titles exemplified that. Original, clever, and you’re constantly off-balance. One of only two shows that – when it was on – I actively avoided reading anytghing vent tangentially related, just in case I stumbled across a spoiler. (The other was the first season of 24)


Theme 40: Nationwide

A magazine tv rfegional news programme in the UK when I was a kid. The theme tune was the best thing about it, and one I actively looked for when I discovered the website with thousands of themes.


OK, part the fifth next week, with another ten from The New Avengers through Screen Test.

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Saturday ‘something else’.



Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

[This is Part The Third of this series within the run; click on the links for Part the First, Part the Second, and the ‘extra’ post about Who]

OK, time for the third part of this run through tv themes I like, in alphabetical order.

Why am I doing it? Well, I laid it out in detail in the first part of this thing, two weeks ago, but honestly? It’s just a bit of fun and a longer-than-strictly-necessary answer to the question:

‘What is your favourite tv theme?’

Because I don’t have one answer. I don’t even have ten. There are dozens I like, for various and different reasons.

Look, I tried to narrow it down, honest I did.

But I couldn’t, and, equally honestly, I didn’t really want to.

So, anyway, here are another ten themes I like from my iPhone’s playlist of 150 or so. And as with last week, there’ll be some that won’t surprise you, possibly one or two that might… and, again, just maybe one or two you weren’t aware of, or had entirely forgotten.

Anyway, here we go…

Theme 21: Falcon Crest

We ended up with Dallas last week, and now we have what, to my mind, is the best of the rest, the best theme tune of the 1980s blockbuster evening soap operas. From the opening bars, it says ‘this is big’, and the rest of the opening titles show it as well. (Not for nothing, I always liked the show as well; something about how the goodies were never quite that selfless, but the baddies were out and out pantomime villains who usually – but not always – thought themselves the heroes.

I read years later that it was written as the anti-Waltons, and given that it was created by the same fella who did that show – Earl Hamner Jr – I can’t altogether blame him.


Theme 22: Fame

One of those themes that from the first seconds you not only know what’s playing, you’re glad to hear it. A pretty much perfect setup for the show you’re going to watch, the theme had several versions over the years, and I’ve a personal preference for the earlier cast, but to be honest, they were all great.


Theme 23: The Family Ness

I’d say this is a guilty secret but it’s no such thing. I’ve no idea what the show was like, to be honest; I never watched it. But I love this theme tune more than is appropriate for a grown adult. There’s just nothing wrong with it at all.


Theme 24: Follyfoot

This is from a show I barely remember as a kid. Not quite true; I remember the set up and the characters, including one lad who was supposed to be a ‘bad boy’ but it was very much a 1970s kids’ show, so not that bad. But the storylines? The main story, the relationships between the characters? Nope. Hardly any of that.

But wow that theme tune. Very different to anything else at the time, and I remember it very fondly.


Theme 25: Good Omens

One of the few very modern shows in the whole list, for several reasons. For a start, so many shows these days have 10 or 20 second ‘sting’ and then they run the episode, while overlaying the opening credits. It’s a pity; I – pretty obviously – miss the days when shows had proper minute long opening titles.

The other reason this show is in here is because I really like them. the theme is glorious, the animation is fun, and the combination is glorious.


Theme 26: Grandstand

One of the most recognisable of British sports tv themes in history. In part because effectively the same theme, with various arrangements, was used for decades, and because there was bugger all else to watch on a Saturday afternoon.

Again, a theme that’s perfect for its genre; this is so obviously about sports that it barely needs saying.


Theme 27: Hawaii Five O

Every so often, someone will be introduced with “and here’s someone who needs no introduction… but I’m going to deliver one anyway.”

Here’s the single theme that, possibly only Mission: Impossible and Doctor Who apart, is the single theme that genuinely needs no introduction. So I’m not giving it one.


Theme 28: Hill Street Blues

One of the first US tv themes that became A Thing. Very different to anything else that had done the rounds; it was gentle, and clever, and told you from the first moment: this isn’t Starsky & Hutch, this isn’t Kojak, this is something… different. It felt like a family show, which it shouldn’t have. It was a cop show. And yet the opening worked superbly for the show.


Theme 29: JAG

I’m a sucker for military based theme tunes, marches. Honestly, I am… you’re gonna see that in a later week as well. JAG‘s is just about perfect, and does exactly what it’s supposed to. The first season’s opening titles seemed almost embarrassed that it was a show about military law, but later seasons’ titles were confident enough to show it was at least partly set in a courtroom.

Always slightly bugged me that The Last Ship didn’t have a military based theme; was about all that was wrong with the show. But yeah, JAG got it right. And it’s a pretty good alarm tone on your phone as well.


Theme 30: Joe 90

It’s always puzzled me why there hasn’t been a live action remake of Joe 90. The original? Yeah, I enjoyed it as a kid, but I suspect that if I watched it now, I’d wince at it in a way I don’t at Thunderbirds. But the theme is great; just odd enough to keep you interested and wanting to know more.



OK, part the fourth next week, with another ten from Laverne and Shirley (yes, really) through one of those shows I bet hardly anyone reading this will remember: Nationwide.

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Saturday ‘something else’.



Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

[This isn’t really part of the Ten Things tv themes I’m doing on Fridays; you’ll see why in a moment. But for the first two parts of that, click here for here for Part the First of that run, and here for Part the Second.]

This could, I guess, be called

57 plus 06: Ten, no wait, Sixty TV themes I like… Part the Second and a half’th

But that’s pushing the titles of the posts a bit, even for me.

Because I’ve just hit the D’s in my run through tv themes I like, and the final theme tune I put in Part the Second was that of Dallas. And Part The Third starts with Falcon Crest.

And I need to create an additional entry to the blog, because there’ll be a theme tune you’ll not only expect to see, you’ll be fairly, and correctly, astonished that it’s not there.

Because it should be there. But it can’t be there.

Look, I’m in a bit of a bind here. Because I do love the theme tune; not only is one of my all time favourite tv themes, it’s also generally acknowledged as one of the best tv theme tunes ever… no matter which version.

And there’s the rub.

Because although I’ve my own personal favourite, it’s the single tv theme where I just can’t pick one version of it and say ‘yeah, that’ll do.’

You know what’s coming, right?

Of course you do.

Dun-dun-dun-dun… dun-dun-dun-dun… dun-dun-dun-dun…dun-dun-dun-dun…dun-dun-dun-dun…dun-dun-dun-dun…dun-dun-dun-dun…dun-dun-dun-dun…


Dum-dum-dum-dum… dum-dum-dum-dum… dum-dum-dum-dum…dum-dum-dum-dum…

So, yeah, a special post for these.

I’m not going to put every single version of the theme up – even I won’t prevail upon your patience that far, but I’ll put one up for every Doctor…

So here we go.

William Hartnell… (1963-67)

This is what viewers were greeted with when they switched on their sets to see this brand spanking new tv show called, for some reason, Doctor Who…


Patrick Troughton

Enough of a change but still very recognisably the same tune, with, for the first time, the Doctor’s face being part of the credits. THIS pretty much remained until the end of the ‘classic’ run.


Jon Pertwee

There’s an iron rule that the first Doctor you watch is ‘your’ Doctor. It’s complete nonsense of course. Except when it isn’t. Although I think I barely remember the final story of the second Doctor, this is ‘my’ Doctor, the first Doctor I watched, and the Doctor that made me a very young fan of the show.

Tom Baker

And this is, for most people I know, ‘their’ Doctor, the one that they first watched. I mean, Baker was the Doctor for seven years, so that’s seven years’ worth of kids who discovered Doctor Who through The Fourth Doctor. He had quite a few different opening titles, but I’ve gone with this one, merely “because I like it”, a lot. And that’s good enough for me.


Peter Davison

Hmm. Yeah. I was never a fan of this theme so much at the time, but it’s grown on me with age.


Colin Baker

See my comments directly above. Same applies. Baker’s sixth Doctor again had a few opening titles, and I’ve chosen the one from The Trial Of A Time Lord, for the same reason as above.


Sylvester McCoy

I’ve barely watched any of McCoy’s run; not entirely sure why, especially since the episodes I’ve seen, I’ve enjoyed. I really should make more of an effort.

Paul McGann

Surprising, given it only appeared the one time just how much I like this one.


John Hurt

Yeah, ok, I’m cheating with this one. It’s my blog, so, y’know. But this was never broadcast,. This was a concept done by a very talented person on YouTube. I kind of like it though.


Chris Eccleston

After sixteen years away, Who was back. And blimey, they weren’t mucking around. Everything said ‘professional’, everything said ‘big budget’. Including the opening titles. Such a glorious idea to kick it off; stick the classic sting (which I believe some people nicknamed ‘the scream’) with which the classic series accompanied the ending cliff-hanger… at the start of the opening theme. Glorious trick which made all the difference. Because this was a statement: this is different. And it was.


David Tennant

Tenant had a few; I particularly liked the ones used for his run with Freema Agyeman. But I’ve gone for the ‘Planet of the Dead‘ special he did with Michelle Ryan. Something about the violins just tops it off perfectly for me.


Matt Smith

I really wish they’d have come up with one set of opening titles and stuck with it for Smith. The first set – new arrangement, entirely new opening section – was fine. It was good. Clever, and I liked it, after the initial surprise. I even liked the way the DW becomes a TARDIS that spins away. And every time they played with it, they made it worse. As for the ‘sparklers’ one? Don’t even… just don’t.


Peter Capaldi

Given the number of concept videos for Doctor Who themes there are around, it’s not the hugest surprise, I guess, that the producers saw one, thought it was so good they bought the concept from the creator. And then… somehow messed it up? Yeah, that bit surprised me. I mean, it’s still good; it’s just not as good as the concept was.


Jodie Whittaker

Took me a while to get used to this one, I’ll admit. I liked the theme, but the whole opening titles? Took me a good five or six episodes to even like it, let alone enjoy it. But I did, eventually. Just about.

(With the huge number of very clever people around, of course, there were multiple concept videos created, long before Whittaker’s first show debuted. Some of them are very clever, some of them are superb.)


See you tomorrow, with… the usual ‘Tuesday something else’.



Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

[This is Part The Second, click on the link for Part the First]

OK, time for the second part of this run through tv themes I like, in alphabetical order.

Why am I doing it? Well, I was more discursive last week but honestly? It’s just a bit of fun and a longer-than-strictly-necessary answer to the question:

‘What is your favourite tv theme?’

Because I don’t have one answer. I don’t even have ten. There are dozens I like, for various and different reasons.

Look, I tried to narrow it down, honestly.

But I couldn’t, and didn’t really want to. So, anyway, here are another ten themes I like from my iPhone’s playlist of 150 or so. And as with last week, there’ll be some that won’t surprise you, possibly one or two that might… and, again, maybe one or two you weren’t aware of, or had entirely forgotten.

Anyway, here we go

Theme 11: Bonanza

One of the first tv themes I remember, and I’m sure it’s entirely unfair to think that the Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I from Mary Poppins’ Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious owed anything to the opening bars of the Bonanza theme.


Theme 12: Bret Maverick

I wasn’t old enough to watch the original Maverick, nor any of the tv sequels, until this one. But I was 17 when this was broadcast, and I loved the show from the moment I first saw it. Again, I’d never seen him in the role as a younger man, although I’d seen Garner in Westerns (Support Your Local Sheriff! and Support Your Local Gunfighter, the latter not exactly a sequel but kind of.) But I really liked Bret Maverick as a show. And the theme tune setup the show perfectly.

I didn’t know, at the time, that it was written and performed by Ed Bruce, one of the other actors and a country singer in his own right. Didn’t surprise me at all when I discovered that, though. The perfect theme for the short-lived show, western from the first moment.


Theme 13: Cagney & Lacey

This is one of those theme tunes that, honestly, if I’d heard it entirely shorn from the opening credits, I’d not have had a clue what the show was about. Not a sitcom, sure, but anything else? Wouldn’t have had the slightest idea. But it’s impossible, once you’ve seen the opening titles for it to have been about anything else. Catchy, matched with perfectly edited titles. Spot on.


Theme 14: Callan

For the longest time, this was my main ‘timer’ alarm on my iPhone. Perfectly menacing yet quiet enough that it’s comfortable if it goes off at night when I need to go get my washing from downstairs, in the block of flats in which I live. The titles are equally classic, a single lightbulb, swinging in the darkness, then the lightbulb goes out, shot


Theme 15: Captain Scarlet

An odd one here, because it’s the seven note bum-bum-bum-…bumbumbumbum repeat throughout that makes it special. But it works as a whole as well.


Theme 16: Catweazle

The purely instrumental version of this – no sound effects – is my iPhone main ring tone; has been for ages, and it’s only in part because I’m pretty much guaranteed to be the only person around me with it. So if I hear the tune, I’m damn sure it’s my phone ringing. However, one of the joys of having it set as my ring tone are the reactions of those of us ‘of a certain age’. There’s everything from faint recollection to mild surprise… to a smile of complete recognition.


Theme 17: Cheers

Definitely not the first tv theme tune that had people whistling it in the street, but… people definitely whistled this in the street. In any list of top theme tunes, this deserves a place, even in mine.

I put this up as a Saturday Smile the other week but since it’s being mentioned in here, I can’t resist putting it here as well: the Cheers theme from 1920s to 1990s, with special guest stars at the end. Simply glorious.


Theme 18: CSI New York

OK, four CSI shows, all with excellent Who songs as themes, and each other had several versions. I went with CSI: New York because I liked the show and the theme, and this particular version because it’s got the opening drums and then the opening to Baba O’Reilly.


Theme 19: The Cuckoo Waltz

Now here’s one that I bet most people won’t remember. Lewis Collins in a ‘nice’ sitcom, just before he hit the big time with The Professionals. Fairly standard setup for a British sitcom at the time: newly married couple take in a lodger to help with the money. “And hilarious results ensue”, as they say. Or said, anyway. but the theme tune is one of the most earworm-y there is, based on a pre-existing piece of music.


Theme 20: Dallas

Give them credit, the big US night time soaps had big impressive theme tunes, that became instantly recognisable, and none more so than Dallas. Pretty much everyone I knew watched it at one time or another. The only theme that comes close (of that genre) will be coming up next week…



OK, part the third next week, with another ten from Falcon Crest through Joe 90, but before you ask

Wait a minute, you’re surely missing one obvious theme…?

There may be an extra tv themes post before then… something a bit special.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

OK, this is a weird one, I’ll admit.

I can’t say it started on Twitter this week; Twitter this week merely provided a timely reminder that I’d said I might do it.

Y’see, every so often, someone on Twitter will put out a tweet. Say, something like this.

Now, at least he’s being somewhat fair. He did say ‘three’.

Often, whoever’s asking won’t; they’ll want you to identify your favourite tv theme.

And equally often, I look at such a request in bafflement.

Because, just as with movies, or songs, I can’t limit it to one. Nor even three. Maybe a dozen or so.

(I have an exception, just about, for my favourite novel. That is, and has been from the moment I discovered it, Irving Wallace’s The Man, of which a dear friend bought me a first edition for my fiftieth birthday. It’s one of my fondest possessions, I admit. It even smells like an old book should.)

And, with a lovely synchronicity, I wrote, on goingcheep, the other day:

Every so often the “what’s the best tv theme” question does the rounds on Twitter. And I can’t answer that question; I can never answer that question.

Because I can’t narrow it down to one answer. I can’t even narrow it down to 20.

A while back, out of boredom, I think, I found a site which let you download the audio of the theme, and I stick some in my iTunes. And use some as ringtones. And every so often, when I remembered one I liked, or came across a new one I liked, I’d go to the site, grab it, add it to the playlist.

Genuinely didn’t have a clue how many I had on the playlist until just now. When I checked. And discovered I have almost 150. Yeah, that may be too many to call it a casual thing.

And now I’m wondering whether to do a 50 tv theme tunes I like next Friday.

Someone talk me out of it.

So, no of course I’m not doing 50. That’d be daft. because I couldn’t even narrow down the list to 50. So, what the hell…? Here are sixty I like.

Not all in one post; that would be daft. (And would push WordPress’s ancient platform to reload the page every so often.)

So what I’m gonna do is provide ten at a time, for six weeks.

Which, I guess, kind of makes my mind up as to whether I’m going to continue into a ‘57 plus‘ run after my birthday. Not the hugest surprise, but yeah.

Oh, and these themes are not in order of ‘preference’, just in alphabetical order. Even if that means two of my genuine favourites – Washington: Behind Closed Doors, and The Zoo Gang – are relegated to the bottom of the list, and will appear in five week’s time in the sixth part of this mini-series.

But there’ll be some you expect to see, no doubt. There’ll be some you’re surprised at, no doubt. And there’ll – hopefully – be one or two that you’ve either never heard of, or had entirely forgotten.

Anyway, here we go

Theme 01: The Addams Family

I’m sure there are more ‘clickable’ theme tunes, but none spring to mind. This is one that always gets a smile… Although I’ve taken it from the tv series, gotta be honest and say that I prefer the casting, and the tone, of the first movie, with Raul Julia and Angelica Huston, and the wonder that is Christina Ricci.


Theme 02: Airwolf

There seemed to be a slew of tv theme tunes in the 80s that started with a rhythmic machine sound. Airwolf beat them all.


Theme 03: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

The perfect meld of tune and subject matter. Just perfect.


Theme 04: The A-Team

As with Airwolf, there seemed to be a fair few tunes that stated with a narration (The A-Team beat them all) and more than few with a first few notes sting (ditto). So of course this makes it in.


Theme 05: The Banana Splits

One of the very sentimental ones; I remember sitting on the couch watching this with my big brother. Always a fond memory.


Theme 06: Batman – The Animated Series

Not sure why this one works so bloody well; there’ve been more than a few Batman themes, more than a few animated super-hero themes. This wins every time. It’s so good.


Theme 07: BBC Cricket

Entitled Soul Limbo, by Booker T and the MGs, in case you wondered… Surprised me when I checked, given my lack of interest in sport, that two made it through the cut. This and Ski Sunday, which will be along in a few weeks. But yeah, of course this made it in.


Theme 08: Blackadder The Third

Like several other shows in this series, there are several I could choose from. I’ve never liked the first or the fourth series’ themes, but it was a tossup which made it in to this list between the second and third. The third just takes it for… for… I honestly have no idea why I prefer it. But I do.


Theme 09: Blockbusters

Another sentimental one. Before the hand jive, before Bob Holness started to believe his own publicity. Before it became A Thing, Blockbusters was just a neat tv show I enjoyed watching, with a cracking tv theme.


Theme 10: Blue Peter

Another one where there are multiple versions; I’ve chosen the Mike Oldfield version… I just like how… clean it is.


OK, there’s the first ten. Another ten, from Bonanza through Dallas next week

See you tomorrow, with the usual Saturday ‘something else’…



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Preface: I only realised while planning this entry that this is both the easiest and hardest of the “Ten Things” posts I’ve ever done.

I mean it; there are so many good, so many bloody good, episodes to choose from, that throwing ten darts at a list of the almost 70 Columbo episodes produced? You’re gonna hit 8 or 9 good ones and 3 or four that would make most people’s lists.

That’s the easy part. Harder is picking just ten I like. Do I go for the cleverest murder, do I go for the baddie? Do I go for the relationship between Columbo and the baddie? Do I go for how Columbo worked it out? Do I go for the reveal?

I could easily pick half a dozen of each. Instead, I’m going to limit it to two of each. So, two clever murders, two wonderful baddies, two lovely relationship pieces, two ‘lightbulb moments’ and two reveals.

That means, of course, I’m gonna miss out some glorious episodes. Maybe I’ll do another run if this blog run continues after 17th August. (I’ve no plans to right now, by the way, none at all. But I said that in 2019 as well, and I ended up running the blog through to Christmas and beyond.)

WARNING: Many, many, MANY spoilers below. If you don’t want to see them, best look away now.

OK, preface over, blog begins.


I’d actually forgotten I’d said I’d do this one.

I only remembered when I reread an earlier entry in the run and came across the passage

So, again, predicting is a mug’s game, a fool’s endeavour, an idiot’s quest.

Except in one circumstance. There’s one situation where a prediction is overtly expected, actively anticipated… in fact, it’s positively encouraged.


Murder mysteries. Private eye tales, detective stories.

You watch, or read, a murder mystery. And, in the absence of a Columbo-type story format¹, the author, the tv director, wants you to play along, to try to guess who committed the murder, who kidnapped the victim.

(¹Note to self: do a ‘Ten Columbo episodes Budgie likes’ at some point during this run.)

So, yeah, time to do a Ten Columbo episodes Budgie likes post.

A reminder as always… they’re not the objectively considered best, nor necessarily personal favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)


Publish Or Perish (1974)
Jack Cassidy in his second appearance as a baddie, this time as publisher Riley Greenleaf who really really wants to stop Mickey Spillane heading off to another publisher. So he kills him. I mean… you would, wouldn’t you? I’m not sure you’d hire a hitman though, then go to the trouble to first ensure you’re incriminated, so that you can then prove you’re not involved… It’s clever as hell, and it’s utterly believable with Cassidy playing the role. All of his appearances involved clever murders, in all of them was he a fine match for Columbo, and in all of them he was, for the main parts, entirely unsympathetic, It takes skill and talent to be able to play such odious characters who are ostensibly perfectly reasonable, And Cassidy does it every time, in spades.

Whereas with some repeat guest stars, Columbo finds one portrayed character likeable, one detestable, say, with Cassidy, they very sensible made the characters entirely unlikeable… in part, I suspect, to make it harder for Columbo to remain entirely objective. A smart, smart move.


Short Fuse (1972)
Another smart character here – though to be fair, if they were stupid, they wouldn’t be interesting. Roddy McDowell is immature, irritating, capricious… and self-aware enough to know that people underestimate him because of it. And that works for him until it starts to cost him. People forget he’s smart. So when his uncle is killed via the means of an exploding cigar box, he’s not really the first person who springs to mind.

His immaturity somehow ceases to be an act at the denouement though. (Was it ever an act? You’re never quite sure). Columbo bluffs him with another cigar box, and McDowell’s character folds, quite dramatically…


(Oh, if you think there’s one very smart, say someone with a huge IQ, missing… trust me, he’ll be along later.)

Note that I’m saving the ‘wonderful baddies because they’re fun to watch with Columbo’ for a moment’s time. These two are just out and out wonderfully evil.

Dr Ray Flemming – Prescription: Murder (1968)
The original, the one that started it all. Falk is still figuring out exactly how Columbo acts; he’s a little less bedraggled, a little more professional, a little less faux-absent minded, a little more obvious. And Gene Barry, as Dr Ray Flemming, is – surprisingly, if you’ve seen or read the original play – an out and out sociopathic prick. (I’d use cruder language but every so often I remember that I try and keep this place at least within shouting distance of all-ages)

So, yes, the original baddie, Barry’s smart, smooth, and highly intelligent, baddie is someone you can immediately decide “ooh, yeah, we like him, he’s horrible”. He kills his wife, and manipulates (I think that’s probably the right word) a vulnerable patient to help, assist and frankly, to kill herself to save him.

That it doesn’t quite work out like that comes as a surprise to Dr Flemming, and – to be honest – to the viewer. The show was off to one hell of a start. If you want to see where it all started, this is the episode to watch.

Wade Anders – Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health (1991)
I started this sentence with “George McGovern was…” before I realised what I’d typed. Now I’m not saying that this would have been a bad idea, but yeah, I’m not entirely sure the story would have worked as well. I have no idea why I was thinking of George McGovern, who ran for the US Presidency in 1972 against Nixon and lost, badly.

Anyways… George Hamilton, that’s the fella. He plays true crime tv presenter Wade Anders who is blackmailed by a rival who knows that Anders appeared in a porn movie at the start of his acting career. Oh, alongside an underage co-star.

Anders kills the blackmailer. Obviously. With concentrated nicotine. OK, that’s less obvious. And he screws up how he does it, leaving some heavy handed clues for anyone to find. He’s much better at presenting crimes than, y’know, doing them. But, that aside, Hamilton is incredible on screen. Most of the guest stars on Columbo, there’s a generosity showing where neither of them is acting the other off the screen. Not Hamilton. Presumably it’s not deliberate because after all he was invited back, but when he’s on the screen, you barely notice Falk. Or anyone else. And that plays through to the character, where Anders, once he takes that first step of… well, murdering someone… is oily, smarmy, charming when necessary, icy… Just superb acting. And an out and out bastard throughout.



There are several other baddies with whom Columbo has a ‘good’, charming or even likeable relationship with through the show. Louis Jourdan’s chef, Faye Dunaway, even one of Patrick McGoohan‘s baddies. But if anyone made a list of just two, and neither of the two below were on it, I’d doubt their judgement.

Adrian Carsini – Any Old Port in a Storm (1973)
Ah, Donald Pleasance in a simply wonderful performance, the perfect ‘man out of his depth who gets more and more out of his depth until being caught is almost a relief’. It’s a subtle role that gets even more subtle as the story progresses. I mean, let’s get it straight: he kills his brother because the brother wants to sell the winery. Strip everything else away, and that’s what he does. It’s not even done out of malice but because that’s the only option he sees left. And Carsini is not a sympathetic character on his own. He’s a snob, and he sees little need for, nor understanding of, normal human interaction. It’s not that it puzzles him as much as he sees no need for it.

And yet Columbo likes him. He does. He respects him, mostly. But – as Columbo admits elsewhere – while there’s never a murder he likes, there are murderers he likes. And he likes and more importantly recognises the expertise Carsini has for his job, just as Carsini recognises and acknowledges the expertise in his job that Columbo displays.

And seeing the two on screen together, you feel you’re getting a masterclass in how two giants of acting, two very generous actors, are at pains to let the scene flow. Each scene between them is not merely a chance for each to shine, but an opportunity for both to do so.

The final scene between them, when Carsini knows he’s been caught, when Columbo has laid it out clear and blunt (well, as blunt as necessary but no more than that), they spend a few minutes talking and drinking wine before Columbo takes him in. And the scene is certainly the best final scene of any Columbo, possibly one of the finest scenes with a baddie of any Columbo.

Abigail Mitchell – Try & Catch Me (1977)
And then there’s Abigail Mitchell, a deliberately quirky, funny, sensible baddie who you like from the moment you meet her. She may exasperate you on screen a teeny bit; you know damn well she’d exasperate you in real life. Played by Ruth Gordon, I defy you not to wonder why she didn’t play Miss Marple at some point. And she’s a vigilante. Well, not really, but kind of. She’s utterly convinced her niece was murdered by the niece’s husband. So she locks him in her airtight safe and then goes away for a bit, leaving him to suffocate. Cold-bloodedly? Well, yes… and no. I’ve seen this episode a dozen or more times, and I can’t say definitively.

Columbo likes her when he meets her. She likes him. He teases her. She teases him. It’s to her and some friends that he makes the comment above about never liking the murder. Again, the respect for each other’s job, and the skill and dedication with which they perform it, shines through.

The age gap is too huge for there to be any sexual interplay between them, thank heaven, but there’s definitely an element of ‘oh, Lieutenant, if I’d only met you thirty years ago…’ And it’s not until the final scene or two that that unspoken line takes on a whole new meaning.



A Trace of Murder (1997)

Perfect example here of a very not great episode, a not great pair of baddies, and – to be honest – a not that great performance by Falk, for once. But a bloody perfect lightbulb moment (not even spoiled slightly by Columbo’s almost pantomime-like reaction to it.)

Columbo, together with crime analyst Kinsley (one of the baddies, played by Barry Corbin) and Cathleen, the wife (the other baddie, played by Shera Denesa) of the fella they’re trying to frame for the murder, meet to discuss the case. As far as Columbo knows, they’ve never met.

And then as the coffee arrives, Columbo sees the former casually move the milk towards the latter. And as he’s starting to realise what this must mean, they leave… and confirm it. For if they’d not previously met, then how would Kinsley know that Cathleen gets car sick when sitting in the back?

(Once he knows they know each other, it’s fairly predictable how he catches them. As I say, not great. But that lightbulb moment is one of the best in the entire run.)

Uneasy Lies The Crown (1990)
It’s probably a mark of how rare the genuine ‘lightbulb’ moments were in Columbo that both of the best ones come from the revival episodes. James Read is just about perfect as the young, ambitious, jealous, dentist who kills his wife’s lover (a mutual friend of theirs, and a patient of his), frames her for the murder and (a not uncommon theme) deliberately incompetently ‘tries to cover’ for her. Oh, the actual murder? He placed poison under a temporary filling, which dissolved, and killed the lover while the lover is in bed with the wife. And while the murderer has a cast iron alibi.

The eureka moment here shows its age as well. I’m not sure the idea of time-released medication is as foreign to most people these days but in 1997, it was probably new enough, and it was certainly new enough when the episode was originally written in the 1970s by Stephen Bochco. There are many conflicting stories about why the episode was rejected at the time. One suggestion is that Falk’s mother said viewers wouldn’t believe a dentist as the murderer? I dunno.

But the acting of everyone in the scene at the moment of comprehension is lovely, and Columbo throughout the entire story is edging towards the solution, so the eureka moment just caps it. The reveal is pretty good as well, including a double-bluff on both the baddie and the audience that’s revealed in the final seconds. Beautifully done.


And talking of reveals, Columbo excelled in them. There were a dozen, easy, I could have chosen but for me, two stand out far in front of the rest. One is a typical Columbo plot of using the baddie’s own cleverness against them.

But the first, the first is just exquisite.

Suitable for Framing (1971)
The story is fairly clever in its own right. Arrogant art critic Dale Kingston (Ross Martin desperately trying to leave some furniture unchewed) frames his slightly odd aunt for for the murder of his uncle. His plan involves planting stolen Degas pastels in the aunt’s place, having previously tried to get Columbo booted from the case. (Long time Columbo watchers know that’s never a good idea.)

Columbo turns up, and gets the artwork dusted for fingerprints, as he tells Kingston he knows Kingston killed his uncle and fingerprints will prove it. But not Kingston’;s prints, which Kingston has already said were on the prints ages ago… Columbo’s prints which – if the aunt did steal the artwork – couldn’t possibly be there. Kingston, thinking fast and on the very edge of panic, protests “But you obviously touched them just now!”

And that’s when Columbo reveals his hands – thus far kept in his coat pockets, but so subtly that no-one, neither the baddie nor the audience, even noticed – to show they’re in woollen gloves, and have been since he arrived.

The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (1977)
As others have said, there’s very little to dislike about this episode. Fantastic script,an on and off likeable baddie in Oliver Brandt, arrogance punctured, and a sequence of events involved that must have inspired that famous car ad, decades later.

Columbo starts to deliberately needle the baddie (played by Theodore Bikel) and ostensibly shows him how clever Columbo is… which Bikel’s arrogance in his own cleverness can’t take. Columbo shows Brandt how intelligent another suspect is. So, out of pique, offended arrogance and a desperation, a need, to show Columbo how clever he is, Brandt demonstrates to Columbo exactly how the murder must have been committed, the only way it could have been committed, then celebrates with a delighted bark as everything falls into place…

…before his laughter stops, as he realises that he’s just shown Columbo how the murder was committed… by him.


Dr Barry Mayfield – A Stitch in Crime (1973)
A bonus bit here, purely because I couldn’t let Leonard Nimoy’s star turn pass without comment. Solely because of THIS moment, one of the very few in the entire run where Columbo gets angry, and shows it. There are times where Falk, always underrated as an actor in my opinion, portrays Columbo struggling to keep his anger hidden. Here he doesn’t even try. It’s extra-ordinary, and glorious.


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others… During the last huge blog run, I did a few ‘ten things’ I liked: individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, and a couple about podcasts. And I wrote a series of Doctor Who posts, about each incarnation/regeneration, and my sometimes tenuous relationship with the show.

And in this run, I did one on things I’ve been watching during the various lockdowns plus others…

See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

Just dropping this in here, as I was asked by message the other day: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at and @budgie on Twitter.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

During the last huge blog run, I did a stack of ‘ten things’ I liked: individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, and a couple about podcasts. And I wrote a series of Doctor Who posts, about each incarnation/regeneration, and my sometimes tenuous relationship with the show.

So, I figured I’d do it again in this run. A couple of weeks ago, I did one on things I’ve been watching during the various lockdowns, And last week, some shows I’ve been rewatching just to enjoy the rewatch.

However, I got a bit carried away in the writing, so cut it short. This is the second part of it, ok? Good.

As before, there will of course be omissions. Your favourite shows probably won’t be here. And if I have to point you again towards Budgie’s Law of Popular Television: y = x + 2 to explain why, I will…

As always, the usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)
OK, so last week, we did The West Wing, Doctor Who, Yes, [Prime] Minister, and the Arrowverse Crossovers.… That’s four. Here are the other six.

Moving on…

The Honourable Woman
I tell myself I rewatch this show every so often as much for the story as for the acting. And I’m lying to myself every time,.

Rewatching this is a pure indulgence, because, given the actors involved, I’d rewatch if the entire show was the actors merely reading pages from the phone book, interspersed with their shopping lists.

Every single member of the cast – which includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Lubna Azabal, Stephen Rea, Janet McTeer, Katherine Parkinson, Tobias Menzies and Lindsay Duncan – blow the screen apart every time they appear. I’d say each of them steal every scene they’re in, but they don’t. They steal every bloody line, and then it’s stolen right back by the next person to speak. The entire show is a masterclass of understated acting, every scene a story in its own right, and the passion and anger shown on rare occasions hits you in the gut, then grabs your heart, and refuses to let go.

It’s incredibly good.

A Touch Of Cloth/Police Squad
A complete change of tone for this one. And I’m putting them together not because I’m cheating or couldn’t decide between the two, perish the thought. No, they’re essentially the same programme, just with different settings, different intentions and different writers, actors and production crew. (Whistles innocently)

But they’re the same. They’re shows where you see the gags coming precisely a fifth of s second before they land, and instead of making you bored by the anticipation, it somehow makes you part of the experience, every bloody time.

I suppose if I were to have to separate out the two, A Touch of Cloth’s target is British police procedurals. Every other gag takes as its target something you don’t even realise is a trope, identifies it, targets it, hits the target spot on, then searches for the next one.

And when I say you didn’t realise it, here’s one example. Those screens that police put photos on, and write on, when making up an incident board. Why are they transparent? So the camera can be placed behind it and you can still see the actors. There’s no other reason why they should be transparent. See what I mean?

Or how an investigating officer, turning up at a crime scene, is greeted by his subordinates not with a “good morning” or similar, but instead by rapid-fire exposition about the victim.

There is a plot to each A Touch Of Cloth (two parts to each story) but even that takes the piss out of standard police drama tropes: the first, the burned out, widowed, misanthropic cop forced to return to work, for example.

The show concentrates more on the situational and visual gags than the verbal gags, but they’re there as well.

Police Squad, on the other hand, while still doing the whole ‘let’s take the piss out of US police dramas’, relegates the plot to solely being in service to the gags. Like Airplane (from where it came) and The Naked Gun which it spawned, it’s sole aim is to throw as many gags, verbal and visual, at the viewer in the hope that some stick. Some of the gags are a straight feed line=>response, some are more complicated. All are gloriously funny to someone, and if you don’t like an individual gag, hang around, there’ll be another one along in a moment.

The State Within
Back to the politcial thriller genre for this one. There’s no reason I should think of The State Within in the same vein as State of Play, but I often do. It can’t be because they both have the word ‘State’ in the title, as does ‘Deep State’, can it? (Spoiler: it almost certainly is). But while State of Play, excellent though it is, isn’t something I regularly rewatch, The State Within very much is. The actors are superb in it, the dialogue crackles, and every character in the show is… believable. I mean, I have no idea whether or not people in positions of power actually behave like this, but I’m quite prepared to believe they do. Besides, Jeremy Isaacs as a British Ambassador, Neil Pearson as his Deputy Head of Mission and Ben Daniels as his ‘counsellor of Extremal Affairs (his MI6 bloke) are superb in the roles they play, perfectly cast.

It starts with a plane exploding as it takes off, and moves through a British soldier on death row, fraud, embezzlement, and a rogue former ambassador who got fed up (if you believe him) with, as they say, the job of being sent abroad to lie for his government.

The plot is clever, the pacing gloriously varied but perfect for each scene, and there’s always a sense of everyone being slightly out of their depth, but always, well almost always, rising to the occasion.

Add in a slowly developing love story in there – which I have no idea how they pull off, but they do – and I really, really like rewatching how the show develops.

After watching it, I’m always torn between the wish for a sequel warring against the the knowledge that none was needed. I always come down on the side of being glad they didn’t make one, with the slightest very tinge of regret.

The Sandbaggers
OK, full blown for the spy genre for the next two, but while both show complete disdain for the ‘James Bond’ type of spy story, they’re about as different as they can be. Sandbaggers is very much of its time, the mid-to-late 1980s, and the lead protagonist is as ‘anti-Commuiist’ as you’ll find in fiction, but like every character in the show, deeply damaged. As a person, I mean.

(And not for the first time, I wonder why it is that I find seriously damaged characters so interesting, so much more interesting than merely slightly damaged ones. A blog entry for another time, maybe.)

The basic setup is simple: British intelligence, SIS, the secret intelligence service, MI6 as its popularly known. There’s a Chief of Service, a Deputy Chief, Directors of Operations and Intelligence, Station Chiefs, the usual… but within the Director of Operations’ purview is a small group, a three person team, known as Sandbaggers. They do the dirty work, the blackmails, the killings when necessary (and when they can get permission… when they ask for it, that is).

They’re underpaid, they’re at various levels of experience. And, unless they’re very very lucky, they get killed doing their job.

In the twenty-odd episodes, spread over three series, four of them don’t make it out alive and we learn through the series that three were killed before the show started.

What I love about this show is that every – almost every – character evolves during the run. You learn more about most of the characters and it shows how under pressure, high pressure, you can work with people you dislike intensely, with people you show respect only to because of their position. And, crucially, how you can trust people you don’t like, but you can also learn that people you like… can disappoint you, can betray your trust. And yet you still have to work with them, for ‘the greater good’.

This clip is from the end of the first episode, where Neil Burnside, played by Neil Marsden, almost lost two of his agents due to the naïveté and incompetence of his Norwegian opposite number… who tried to con SIS.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
There’s not much to say about this show other than ohnmygodit’sgreatyoushouldwatchitasoftenasyoucan.

So I’ve said it. Now watch it. (It’s on iPlayer right now, and pisses from a great height all over that movie they made.)

OK, a bit more. Every actor acts their socks off, and every character is rounded and human, and just a little bit more dangerous than they at first appear. It’s a show in praise of duty, and of secrets, and of never, ever forgetting who you can, and cannot, trust. And, oddly, about love.

I’m not sure there is an official trailer for the show, but that hasn’t stopped some people making their own. I particularly like these two.


I had intended to write about House MD or The Blacklist for my final one this week; both great shows and both are strange exceptions to my ‘I won’t rewatch individual episodes of shows which have a multi-season arc’. I’ve enjoyed rewatching individual episodes of both. Despite having to ignore the sub-sub-plot of the seasons-long arc, the main plot and sub-plot from individual episodes of each show are engrossing enough on their own to watch again and again.

But in the end, I couldn’t separate them. So, something entirely different, something that entirely took me by surprise, much as my discovery of Jeopardy took me by surprise when I started enjoying it more more more to my utter astonishment.

My final pick of the ‘stuff I’ve enjoyed rewatching’:

Not just the show itself, which I’ve enjoyed watching my copies of again, but season 2.

Y”see, season 1 was an hour long show. Ten episodes about that master of explaining science and history and their interaction, James Burke. And Series 3 was similarly, one hour (of US tv, ok) episodes.

For series 2, however, they made twenty half-hour episodes and on previous rewatches, I’ve not enjoyed them as much. For a start, they’re only – shorn of ads – about twenty-minutes’ each. I mean, they’re not bad tv, and the’re chock full of information. And Burke changed the emphasis from the connections of innovations themselves to the connections between the various reasons for the processes of innovation.

But I’ve found myself watching, over the period of eight weeks or so, watching one episode a night before I head bedwards. Not always immediately before aiming head at pillow, but yeah, somewhere around midnight, putting an episode on and watching the twenty-minutes or so.

And I’ve loved it. It’s been very enjoyable, very informative, and the bite-sized chunks have been exactly what I’ve needed before wending my way towards my bed. Huh.

No, don’t worry, I’m not about to make you I watch a whole episode.

Instead, here’s what’s often said to be one of the finest moments of ‘timing your shot’ in television, from the first series. Enjoy.

See you tomorrow, with… something else. It’s Saturday tomorrow, so you know what to expect.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Last week, it was fun to run through the things I’ve been watching during the various lockdowns, So, here are some shows I’ve been rewatching just to enjoy the rewatch.

There will be omissions. Of course there will, but I mean there’ll be omissions of your favourite shows. There’ll be no Breaking Bad, no The Wire, no The Sopranos, no Game of Thrones. Not because I don’t enjoy rewatching them, but because I never enjoyed watching them in the first place.

I’ll take it as read that you think that I’m objectively Wrong On This, say again that I tried each for a episode or two, and then point you towards Budgie’s Law of Popular Television: y = x + 2.

So, the usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)
The West Wing
Not the hugest surprise, I’ll grant you; in fact, I doubt very many of the things attached will surprise anyone reading this. I liked The West Wing when it was first shown and I’ve continued to enjoy it since.

Yes, it has its faults, yes, sometimes the attempts to address those faults weren’t exactly… successful. And yes, the seven-season show has about a season and a half (from about ⅓ of the way through season five through the first half of season 6) that’s not great.

But man, when it delivered, it delivered. And the first four seasons are fantastic. The show doesn’t really find its long arc until about almost the end of the first season, but it doesn’t matter. The ‘episode of the week’ format serves it perfectly well through most of the show’s run.

None of the characters are free from ghosts, and all of them are people you’d want on your side, but what’s struck me on repeated viewings is that I’m truly unsure I’d like any of them as people, y’know. I mean, I’m sure I’d respect them (most of them, anyway) but like them? I don’t know. I doubt it, to be honest.

The scripts – at least for the first four seasons, and for the final season – are razor sharp, the dialogue is sparkling, and the walk and talks work for the show in a way that no other show, to my mind, with the exception of House MD managed,

Was it ‘realistic’? Probably not. Within its own storyline, sure. But ‘realistic’ in the ‘real world’? I wouldn’t claim that, even in the pre-orange poltroon era.

But if you’ve not seen it, you’re in for a treat.

Usually, I put trailers up for these things, but something a bit different this time. Something from each thatI really like. This is a two-hander bit from near the end of season 2, with Richard Schiff’s character, the White House Communications Director and John Spenser’s, the White House Chief of Staff.

Doctor Who
I mentioned Doctor Who last week, but only insofar as I’d been watching the recent run, with Jodie Whittaker. But during lockdown, I’ve rewatched pretty much all of what someone named Nu-Who, and quite a lot of the original run. My Doctor is, and will remain, Jon Pertwee, as his was the first Doctor I watched from the first appearance. And, as you know, them’s the rules.

But what I’ve gone back to again and again, is the Ninth Doctor’s run. On rewatching, I’ve come to appreciate more and more Chris Eccleston’s short stay on the show. I must have rewatched his episodes a half dozen times each, and wow they’re good. And they get better on every rewatch.

There wasn’t a wasted line, a wasted glance from him. A deeply damaged character – we’d find out why later, and we’d properly find out why much, much later – full of flaws and fairly burning with anger. Smouldering at times, but often just plain burning with anger, with fury.

And with shame.

The whole thing covered over with silliness, and with clowning, that he barely, just barely, lets slip occasionally, when he’s not paying attention.

There’s a game I play, sometimes. How would each Doctor have dealt with the first episode of another Doctor? How would Tennant’s Doctor have dealt with Patient Zero and the Atraxi? How would Tom Baker’s have dealt with The Sycorax?

There’s not one episode of Eccleston’s run which wouldn’t have been completely, utterly different, often with different resolutions no doubt, had it been any other incarnation. Would Capaldi’s Doctor have been quite so delighted that “this one time, everybody lives?” Would Davison’s Doctor have dealt with Cassandra quite as… forcefully on their first meeting?

It’s powerful acting, and the effortless switch between silliness and serious, between clowns and cold.

Also, I’ve realised, despite the deliberate move from ‘having assistants’ to ‘having companions’, it’s Eccleston’s Doctor that, patronisingly maybe, loves being A Teacher to Rose. He’s not her friend, no matter what she thinks. He enjoys having her around, but he’s letting her travel with him…

Here’s a clip when he encounters something anew, long after he thought he was done with them.

Yes, Minister, and Yes, Prime Minister
Yeah, be honest, you were waiting for me to mention these, weren’t you? Not only the best political comedy around to my mind.

I never really took to either Thick of It or Veep; the former I found too reliant on dialogue and plot at the expense of character or gags, and the latter I just didn’t enjoy at all.

But yeah, Yes, Minister, and Yes, Prime Minister. Just about perfect to my mind. Nothing really to say other than of course it wasn’t realistic in the slightest. The ‘four stage processes’ etc., were made up by the writers and though some plots were based on actual events (a dozen or so, over the forty or so episodes, spring to mind without much difficulty) they were of course exaggerated for comedic effects. And even when the show was being made, and broadcast, in the real world, executive agencies had already been created to remove responsibility both from ministers and the civil service.

But while I’m talking about the show, let me address the short reboot the writers did only a few years ago. The original actors of Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds were replaced by, respectively, David Haig, Henry Goodman and Chris Larkin.

The reason the revival was horrible, a travesty, wasn’t solely down to the new casting, although that was a large part of it. (Simon Williams had played Sir Humphrey Appleby on stage, and to my mind did a creditable job of it. The same character, no doubt. Possibly slightly more polished, slightly less prickly. But essentially the same character.)

What didn’t work was that the characters in the revival shared the names of the characters from the original and their job titles… and nothing else.

Eddington’s Jim Hacker was a successful politician before he became a cabinet minister and then PM. And over the period of the show, he matured both as a politician and as a manipulator, occasionally triumphing over Sir Humphrey while never maintaining the win. He truly believed in the political process being superior to the governmental.

Appleby was the consummate Perm Sec and then Cabinet Secretary, but never oily, never cowardly. He truly believed, as much as he believed in anything, in the Civil Service as wholly essential, to maintain order in the face of politics’ inherent chaos. In it for service as well as what he could personally gain, the two were, to his mind, inseparable.

And Bernard? Ah, Bernard. Smart, clever, political but he tried to hide it, still learning his trade, quietly ambitious, and with a genuine like and respect for both Appleby and Hacker, though he tried to hide it from each.

They were not the venal, incompetent, stupid, selfish, slapstick… caricatures portrayed in the revival, as much caricatures in flesh as the opening titles portrayed. And bringing the political situation ‘up to date’ via a coalition? A stupid, stupid idea.

And yet, and yet, they could have os easily made it work. With one small change: Make the Perm Sec Bernard Woolley, the Private Sec Humphrey Appleby’s nephew, Hector. And make the politician Jeff Thacker, or even John Hacker, the original’s son who followed his (late) father into politics.


Anyways, here’s Humphrey Appleby explaining how you rubbish an official report you don’t like.…

And here, as a bonus, because why not, is yours truly, answering some questionss about the show…

Arrowverse Crossovers
Again, I mentioned last week how I was still watching the Arroverse shows, but I want to write this week about something more specific: the crossovers. They’ve done half a dozen, usually increasing them in size as they’ve added more shows. The first one, for example, just had a crossover between Arrow and The Flash, each show’s characters appearing in the other show for a two-part story.

But there are four I want to talk about, because each was handled differently, and two of them worked for me, while two of them didn’t, and one of them really, really didn’t.

Let’s get that one out of the way first.

The first of those crossovers, 2016’s Invasion! A three parter: Arrow, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, with Supergirl from her own show being pulled into the story without in any way featuring it on her own show.

It was a mess. It was one story spread over three shows, with nothing really to spoil the uniqueness of each show. It was a mess, I repeat. Barely any explanation of why each show was involved and each show took an entirely different ‘take’ on it. There was simply no reason for this story to happen other than… someone said ‘why not?’ And it showed. The Legends episode added precisely nothing to the story and could quite easily have been slid into a five minute bit in one of the other episodes. Arrow could have handled it because that story was an extended dream sequence. A mess, I repeat.

Moving on: 2018’s Elseworlds. At least they’d learned from 2017’s crossover (about more of which in a moment) and made it a story that crossed over from one episode to another, one series to another, with Things Actually Happening That Mattered.

The problem was that what mattered? Didn’t really matter for the most part. The purpose of the crossover was to introduce Batwoman and in that the show, and the story, did it, accomplished it, in spades. Superb story introducing her, and the resolution was fun. Loads of Easter Eggs, a call back to a fan-favourite Arrow/Flash moment (ouch, their poor backs), the introduction of the Monitor, and you got to see Superman and Lois. That’s about it.

OK, now we’re on to the two that really worked, that were proper full-blown comics-fans-would-recognise-it-as-a-proper-crossover-event. The last of these was 2019’s Crisis On Infinite Earths. The story itself started big and got bigger with every episode. We got so many cameos I could do a Ten Things about my favourite cameos (I won’t) and another Ten Easter Eggs I loved. Almost every character and actor got to play against type, the story didn’t go where you expected, and the interactions between everyone just… worked. And the story… Mattered. One of the main characters, one of the Big Characters… died. Not a fake, not an imaginary story. They died.

We got to see crossovers from characters that no way should the rights holders have said ‘yes’, but they did. And it was great and fun, and it was superb.

And we got to see the formation, if they want to use it in future, of the Justice League.

Yeah, can’t think of anything better.

Yeah, I can. 2017’s Crisis on Earth-X. The first crossover that the Arrowverse did right and they didn’t miss a trick. The show that each episode was, technically? yeah, didn’t matter. This was a four-part story where it didn’t matter who the stars of each individual shows were. Part one, part two, part three, part four. Each part relied on the part that came before and that came after.

The story? Oh, an Earth where the Nazis won invades our heroes’ world and wants something from them. It’s as simple as that. And it’s fun, and silly and serious and everything works just right. There’s heroism, and sacrifice, and you get to see alternative versions of the people you like and don’t like.

Anyway, here’s the trailer for Earth-X.

Oh gods, I have just seen how very long this entry is, so I’m splitting it; you’ll get the rest next Friday, including The Honourable Woman, The State Within, The Sandbaggers and more. Next week.
See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

The great science educator and pundit James Burke repeatedly makes the point – and I’ve quoted it enough that I guess it’s fair to say that I similarly repeatedly make the point – that what buggers us up as a species, time after time, isn’t tech going wrong, but two similar, but separate, issues:

1/ When tech we rely on, have come to rely on, almost as an article of faith, stops working, The assumption that it will always work, that it will never ‘break’, is what screws us over every bloody time.

And its easy to make that assumption, easy to view something that we’d have regarded as magical only a few years earlier, as something that just… is.

I never had the first Apple iPhone. A couple of friends did, but I was quite happy with my Samsung slide phone, or my Motorola Razr, or whatever I had back then… plus an Apple iPod, which again, I’d not intended to get until a friend intervened.

I’ve never been a ‘must have dozens of albums, hundreds of songs, instantly available’ kind of fella.. Some music, sure, and the radio, definitely. But hundreds of songs? no.

A friend, however, sold me on the idea of the iPod nano, the anodised metal one, with the simple comment:

Don’t think of it as, say, 1,000 songs; think of it as 4,000 minutes of sound.

And that was all it took. Because, of course, what Al meant was:

You can transfer loads of comedy recordings you have: you can have loads of Yes, Minister, loads of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, loads of The Goon Show.

I’s genuinely not thought of it like that until that point… but as so often when it comes to tech, a single thought, a single idea, a single application of that idea, changes the world. Or at least, can change your, or my, world.

So I got one, and never looked back. So, who needed an iPhone? Not me. I had a phone, I rarely played games, I had an iPod; I even had a pretty good financial calculator, since I was an accountant back then.

And then they released the second iPhone, in 2008, the iPhone 3G.

And I got one. And instantly, it became how things should be; I’m shocked at how fast, looking back, I got used to it, how slow other devices seemed. And, when it stopped working for any reason, how furious I was to have to rely on something that months earlier I similarly regarded as the norm. The paradigm shifted. And it continued to shift. Again and again.

I now have an iPhone XR, and a 2016 iPad Pro 9.7. With each new device, I became used to the increased speed, the increased facilities, the increased functionality scarily fast… and always regarded having to use a lesser device or a workaround as an enormous inconvenience.

We do that, a lot.

The comedian Chris Addison used to do a bit about broadband at home. It’s a genuine miracle of modern life, he’d say.

With it, you have the whole world at your fingers. You can see webcams in China, have access to the best dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and an watch video of pretty much whatever you want to. Again, a genuine miracle of the modern age.



…if your broadband goes down, if it stops working, it takes about 30 seconds for ‘the internet’ to go from ‘a miracle of the modern age’ to ‘a basic human right’.

He’s right. I mean, he shouldn’t be; we should be better than that. But we’re not.

The other thing Burke – yeah, back to James Burke – identifies as something that we do that perhaps we shouldn’t is…

2/ the assumption that when something breaks, something we rely on almost as an article of faith, that it’ll be fixed in due course so no need to seriously worry.

The example he offers as the archetype of this is the 1965 Power outage that hit the East Coast of the United States. Not only were the effects exaggerated because people had become so used to it that there weren’t available, sensible, workarounds, but also, the possibility that it couldn’t be fixed was literally inconceivable to most people.

The closest public one I’ve probably come to it was the 7/7 terrorist attacks in 2005. One of the lesser consequences, on a macro level, was the unavailability of tube services to get to work for some weeks.

It genuinely never occurred to me, though, that the tube wouldn’t be back in action ‘soon’.

Maybe it should have. Maybe it wouldn’t do any harm for us, for me, to every so often wonder what we’d do if tech, if stuff we rely on so much that we don’t think about it… stopped.

Why yes, I have been dealing with tech that’s not working as it should, and it’s both pissing me off, and hugely inconveniencing me.

Why do you ask?

Well, maybe ‘hugely’ is pushing it a bit But it was inconveniencing me.

The problem I had was deciding whether a bit of tech that I used every day, or to be precise, every night, needs to, in fact, be replaced.

Oh it was broken. That’s not in question. After years of faithful service, a bit snapped off a few nights ago which rendered the kit entirely useless’ reduced its purpose, in fact, to precisely one: an oddly shaped paperweight.

As long bank as I can recall, as a single fella, both before and after I was married, I’ve gone to sleep listening to audio.

I’d say listening to sounds, but that’s unfair on the natural world. I now live on a main road in London, and so the sounds that would naturally accompany me to my slumber would typically be: busses stopping outside the flat, cars zooming past, and drunken students on their way home.

But, back in the days when iPhone speakers were teeny, tiny, tinny, little things, I picked up a decent little speaker/dock for my iphone, and headed off to sleep listening to an audiobook, or some music, or the radio.

And I’ve done so pretty much every night since.

(Why yes, I am single, why do you ask?)

And the connector on my speaker/dock snapped off the other night. And the item is so old that, to be honest, you can’t even get a like-for-like replacement these days. (Or so I thought.)

Most of the replacements are wireless chargers and/or bluetooth speakers. And I want neither of them, even if they weren’t horrendously expensive; expensive for me, anyway.

And let’s face it, the iPhone now has pretty decent speakers, certainly, they should be enough for my purposes.

So I tried the last few nights without it… and it’s… ok, I guess. But it hasn’t the… ‘warmth’ of the sound that came through the surprisingly decent speaker on the kit, and I can’t just look up, tap and see the time on my vertical phone, what with the phone being horizontal.

I can’t complain; the kit lasted me for years, probably half a dozen or so.

Ah, the little things we rely on that completely, entirely out of proportion, bug the hell out of us when they just stop working.

All of which leads up to the inevitable, I suppose. I found a replacement, the exact same piece of kit, in fact, on Computer Exchange’s website.

I have no idea what I paid for the kit originally. £15, I’d guess. Maybe £19.99.

I picked a replacement speaker/dock up for £6.00

It arrived yesterday; and last night, for the first time in a week, I went to bed with the warm sounds of, funnily enough, James Burke’s Connections audiobook in my ears.

Hope you all slept equally well.

And since you’ve been so good at reading all of the above, here’s James Burke with possibly the best single setup and resolution ever broadcast on television, from the tv version of Connections:

Something else tomorrow…

Hello there. Welcome to whatever the hell this is.

I doubt I’ve gained many new readers since the last time this was offered, but just in case, here’s how I opened the 55 minus countdown; there’s a pretty good FAQ in there, and of course, you can ask if there’s anything else, either in the comments or here.

Which leaves me with an odd situation. I mean, I said yesterday that I’m doing this, and pretty much why I’m doing this, and a fair bit about how I’m doing this, and what I’ve got in mind for this.

Usually, I’d put up a refreshed FAQ but again, I kind of did that four months ago, and not much has changed since then.

So instead, sparked by a memory of the ‘things you don’t know about me’ threads online, and those ‘here are three/five/ten facts about me; one of them is false’, here are three things about me that you may not know, or that you may know but don’t know much about, or just that are odd things.

I can’t play any musical instruments

I’d say that I’ve never been able to play any musical instruments but that’s not quite true. I mean, ok, I tried the guitar long ago, but gave up because I discovered an allergy to pain. Seriously, people, how on earth do you put up with the initial pain of learning the guitar? OK, I guess the answer is ‘because I want to learn to play the guitar’, but for whatever reason – lack of inclination, lack of effort, lack of actual genuine desire… no, not for me.

The only two and a half musical instruments I leaned to play were:

– the recorder

I went to school at a time when everyone had music lessons, everyone had the opportunity to discover which musical instrument ‘spoke’ to them and which musical instrument they’d enjoy playing. And anyone who was at a complete loss, anyone who didn’t enjoy playing any musical instrument, they were given a recorder to use. id say ‘play’ but that would place an unfair burden on the language that it should never be fairly expected to bear.

I was very bad at using/playing the recorder. No, really, very bad. But – and this is the important bit – I never had any urge to actually get better at it. Not a one.

I was surrounded by music at home; both my old man and my brother played the guitar, and I loved music. But I never felt any urge at all to create any, or play some, myself. It’s a flaw, a big one, that I genuinely regret.

Oh, by the way, just to prove that it’s the performer, not the instrument, that makes the difference:

– a melodica

My parents then, lord knows why, bought me a melodica. I’ve seen more modern ones, melodicas that you lay horizontal and play via a connected tube, the ‘wind’ part of the process being supplied by blowing through it. This wasn’t one of them. You held it like a big thick recorder, and just blew through the mouthpiece, down the instrument, while you played the keyboard on the outside of the device. I remember quite liking it, or at least, not hating it, which for me and music wasn’t easily distinguishable back then.

The difference between this and the recorder was palpable for me. The recorder sounded silly, apart from anything else. And it annoyed people. The melodica on the other hand, had a warm sound, and no one actually got annoyed by it.

I was never any good at it, but I didn’t stink while playing it.

You remember I said two and a half?

Here’s the half.

Yeah, ok it’s a bit daft calling that a musical instrument, as the only thing coming out of it – at least when I used it – was a series of discordant tones, which only by coincidence bore any resemblance to ‘notes’. It really was ‘noise for Dummies’; no question there.

You see the numbers? Below and above what I suppose I should call a ‘keyboard’? The music books you got with it, and could buy, had standard sheets of music, with the notes numbered. It made painting by numbers look intellectual.

(Yes, I enjoyed it, of course I did. No other bugger around me did, though.)

Not that long ago, after I mentioned that I would like to learn to play the mouth organ, Mitch bought me a mouth organ; it’s genuinely a regret that I’ve not thus far learned to use it.

I will. Soon.

(An added advantage of learning to play it would be that I would never be expected to sing, while playing it, but that’s a blog entry for another day.)

I’ve occasionally been on telly

Yes, I’ve every so often mentioned that I was on Mastermind, but usually for fairness, do add that there’s only the first, the specialised knowledge, round clipped… since I died on my arse in the general knowledge round. Just had brain-fart after brain-fart.

But enjoy, at my expense, the ‘rabbit frozen in the headlight’ look of the first round.

But no, I wasn’t referring to that. I’ve been on the occasional studio discussion: one on reform of the electoral system on Newsnight; one, several decades back, about ’empty nest syndrome’ (and how students have little if any sympathy for parents hit by it); and a few years ago, I was on Question Time. Not on the panel, no; in the audience.

Of course, this was back in the days when Question Time had an actual mission of informing, and getting politicians and guests to at least have a genuine stab at answering the question. So, yes, many years ago, obviously.

It was before the 2010 election, and the panelists included George Osborne, Alex Salmond and Charles Kennedy. It came up in conversation the other day, and I was reminded of the biggest shock of the evening; I’d say ‘…of the recording’, but you’ll see what that would be inaccurate.

After the warmup, with audience members playing the panelists, complete with a couple of dummy questions, the real panelists came out, and there’s ten minutes or so while they settled themselves in. During that time, Osborne came over as warm, funny, self deprecating, a very dry sense of humour, very funny, and obviously someone you’d like to know. Genuinely.

There’s another dummy question, then the lights dim very slightly, and David Dimbleby says ‘ok, we’re about to start…’ and a marked change comes over Osborne. He sits up a little straighter, the wide smile on his face metamorphoses into a slight sneer. The voice goes up an octave.

It’s the most remarkable transformation I’ve ever witnessed.

I’m reminded of the line said about Humphrey Bogart: he was fine until nine at night, and then he remembered he was Humphrey Bogart.

Osborne went from someone the audience liked, genuinely liked, to a representative of everything about the Tory Party that the public disliked: smarmy, sneers, cheap gags at others’ expense, unyielding, cruel.

Anyway, so, yeah, I’ve been on telly once or twice.

I’m an idiot

No, really. On stuff I don’t know, I’m usually completely ignorant. There are so many things that it seems everyone else knows – mainly anything to do with ‘current’ culture, reality shows, sports – of which I’m entirely anywhere. Part of it is lack of interest, partly that I have no memory skills for stuff in which I have that lack of interest.

But I’m also in awe of ‘professionals’, peopel who make their living doing something; I tend to often believe that they know what they’re talking about.

Here’s a tale, a quick one, about someone who knows their field, and knows me, all too well.

Not a secret that I have a fucked up foot. Also not a secret that due to the aforementioned fucked-up foot, I take large amounts of painkillers, opioids. And even before the current crisis, I was worried about how many I was taking.

Within weeks of taking them, I suddenly got it into my head that a) I was addicted to them, and b) that was inherently a problem.

At the time, I was… let’s be polite and say ‘seeing’ a young lady in Birmingham who was a drugs worker. I mentioned my concerns to her. Well, let’s be fair; it’s me, after all, so I probably drove her nuts about it.

After patiently explaining to me the difference between

‘being addicted’ (“Of course you’re addicted. You’ve been taking them for weeks now, 1/4 gram of codeine every day. If you came off them cold turkey right now, you’d rattle for a few days’


‘having a problem’

And the following conversation ensued:

Her: Why are you worried?
Me: Because if I have a problem, then…
Her: Your doctor will know.
Me: Yeah, but I want to know.
Her: OK, I’ll tell you what I tell my clients. You take 8 a day?
Me: 6 or 8, yeah, depending on how bad the pain is.
Her; OK, pick a day when you need to take 8… and take 7. Don’t replace the other one, the tablet you’re not taking, with anything. Just… don’t take it. See how you get on. See whether you ‘live’ for that tablet.

Made sense to me. So I did precisely that. I waited a few days, then we had a cold snap, as I recall. My foot was on fire; I remember every step I took, because it hurt.

I waited a day, then, took seven instead of eight. I took two when I woke, two around lunchtime, two before bed, but just the one cocodamol tablet in the early evening.

Oh shit. Live for the missing tablet? I wanted to maim someone to get the other tablet. Ad I couldn’t. I mean, it was right there: in my bathroom cabinet.

I really wanted to take it, but resisted… but yeah, I lived for that missing tablet.

I repeated the experiment the following day. Two tablets each at morning, lunch and bed, but just the one early evening… with pretty much the same result.

And again on the third day.

By the late evening of the third day, I’m angry and upset, at me, at my stupidity for following the advice, at her for giving me the advice…

The fourth day, I call her.

Me: Yeah, we need to talk
Her: What’s up?
Me: That test you set me?
Her: Yeah? Oh, you’ve been doing it? I wondered why you were cranky on the phone last night
Me: Yeah, I might have a problem.
Her: Why?

So I told her. I told her what I’d done, told her the effect, told her I’d been living for the missing tablet

And what did this person do? This woman who liked me? Who I trusted?

What did she do?

She laughed down the phone at me. Proper belly laughs.

What the…?

Her: You’re supposed to be smart. You’re an idiot. Don’t you get it? If you had a problem, you’d have taken the other tablet. You’d have made up every excuse, you’d have lied about the excuse, but you’d have taken the other tablet. You’d have lied to me, lied to yourself, you’d have come up with an explanation why you cut the experiment short. You’d have convinced yourself that it was a waste of time. You’d have justified it ten ways to Sunday. But: you would have taken the other tablet. You don’t have a problem. Well, not over this anyway…

And of course, she was right. And I’ve kept a look out for the signs since. Do I take them when they’re not needed? When I’m not in pain? Have I ever increased the dosage, or the number of times I take them (at all, but especially beyond the allowed amounts)

And I haven’t. I’ve taken them for years, and I’ve never abused them.

But yeah, I was an idiot. I still am. But not, at least, I hope about anything important.
Something else, tomorrow.

(Five part blog entry, for length. Part two tomorrow, though, with part three on Friday, Part four on Sunday, and the final part on Monday… if all goes to plan.)

I can’t remember the first time I came across Doctor Who.

I mean, I’ve always felt a kind of connection to it, though, because I was born 17th August 1964. My due date, however, was 22nd August 1964. Walk back roughly nine months from that date and you get 23rd November 1963.

So my parents were obviously so affected by the broadcast of the first episode that… er, erm, er… they sought comfort from each other.

Or it could have been JFK being shot, I guess.

But despite my previous entries confirming that I watched anything on television as a child, I’m pretty sure, however, that it wasn’t on television that I first encountered Doctor Who.

It could have been in comics, via The Daleks in TV21

…or it could more likely have been that I’d heard of Doctor Who and possibly even seen it (before I remember), but either way, the first time I actually recall encountering Doctor Who, I was ill, in bed. Enforced absence from school, but devouring comics and books.

And a neighbour (an ‘auntie’, in old money) bought me three books to read.

These three:

Although, it’s fair to acknowledge, I tend to reverse the order of the final two in my mind, since I clearly recall reading them in the order:

  1. Daleks
  2. Zarbi
  3. Crusaders

I haven’t read the books in years, in decades, and I’m mildly curious, I’ll admit, to see if they stand up as novels. I remember loving the first book, quite liking the Zarbi one, and being faintly bored by the Crusaders but I suspect that had more to do with me wanting more scary aliens after the first two books.

So, yes, the First Doctor is the one I first remember encountering, although I don’t consider William Hartnell’s portrayal as ‘my’ Doctor, for the fairly obvious reasons that I don’t recall William Hartnell’s Doctor as the first I encountered.

The character in the novels was just “The Doctor” to me, an old man who travelled through time and space with some companions.

Heh. An old man. OK, he may have been hundreds of years old, but Hartnell was born in January 1908, which means when the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast, he was 55. the same age I am now.

Oh gods, I feel old.

To be honest, I don’t remember that much about the novels. I recall that the first was written in first person, from the POV of Ian Chesterton. (Which confused the hell out of me as a young child when I then saw the movie, about more of which later, because Roy Castle’s character was nothing like the Ian I read about in the book.)

But since Terrance Dicks – script editor for Doctor Who and the author of many of the Target novelisations – died recently, and it’s been a while since I’ve even mentioned Who in here, why not some thoughts on my experiences with the various incarnations of the character?

Why not indeed.

The First Doctor – William Hartnell
First Doctor - William HartnellI’ve not seen that much of Hartnell’s run. I’ve seen the odd episode, the odd story. (The BBC ran the first four episodes to mark the 50th Anniversary.) But I’d not seen any until we were long into his successors had taken on the role. I was two when he handed over to Pat Troughton, and my only real ‘memory’ of seeing him ‘live’ was at the end of his career/life when he did a cameo in The Three Doctors.

But he was very ill and I’ve seen far more of the First Doctor when he was played by someone else; by Richard Hurndall in The Five Doctors, and by David Bradley (both as William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time, and then as The First Doctor proper in Twice Upon a Time, the crossover with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.)

But yes, I’ve seen some. For what it was, it was great. Cleverly made, surprisingly adult, considering that it was aimed at children, but slow. My gods, it’s slow, compared to modern story telling. But there’s no way the show would have lasted without the great start. So everyone involved with the show deserved thanks. But since this is mainly about the performances, my belated thanks to Mr Hartnell.

The Second Doctor – Patrick Troughton
Second Doctor - Patrick TroughtonThe favourite incarnation of so many people just a few years older than me. He was my big brother’s Doctor. He is, I know, the favourite Doctor of some writer friends of mine. And lo, so there started the ‘whichever is the first doctor you encounter on tv, that’s your Doctor‘ rule’ Applied to Pat Troughton’s portrayal, as well as for almost every Doctor since. There are exceptions that test the rule, that breach it in fact, but as a general rule of thumb, it applies. Again, Troughton left the role (other than guest returns) when I was very young, when I was six, and again, I don’t remember seeing him play the role ‘live’ so to speak.

If the show wouldn’t have lasted without Hartnell’s performance in creating the role, no less would it have survived without Troughton convincing the audience that he was the same character, merely with a personality transplant.

Brilliant move. ballsy move.

The cleverest thing the show ever did, and yet the biggest risk the show ever took, was ‘the star can’t continue, so we get a replacement… but we tell the viewers it’s the same character‘.

And it worked. The viewers – kids and adults alike – accepted it. (Lord knows what Twitter would have been like at the time, had it existed, though…)

It’s the single specific reason why the show stays fresh… (let’s face it, many of the companions over the years are eminently forgettable) and yet for all the cleverness, for all the courageous risk taking, something else also started at that moment, which has evolved into the now ubiquitous online assertion that… the new Doctor isn’t as good as the last one, and never ever will be…

It was nonsense then, it’s nonsense now. Whether the character in his new incarnation, the new regeneration, is as ‘good’ as the previous actor/character…, that misses the whole point. I’ve tended to look at it as different moods, different facets, is all.

In fact the only time it doesn’t work for me is when the writers cram in the ‘I’m so much older now, you know when I was younger [ref earlier Doctor]’ stuff. Occasionally, it works. There’s a line in School Reunion when David Tenant’s Doctor says “I’m so old now. I used to have so much mercy…” It worked then because it was unexpected, and fit the scene. Often though, especially with Matt Smith’s Doctor? No.

The Third Doctor – Jon Pertwee
Third Doctor - Jon PertweeAh, now we’re talking ‘my’ Doctor. I kind of remember the very first appearance of the first Doctor, and Liz Shaw as his companion. I didn’t care that budgetary restrictions meant it was all set on earth. I loved the show. I loved everything about it. I loved this Doctor with all the action, with this arrogant school teacher attitude, the patronising because he was the smartest person in the room. I thought the Brigadier was fantastic, Sgt Benson was like a sensible big brother, and… oh, I loved it. And the Jo Grant came along and she was kind of like the girls my big brother liked, and I never understood why. And she was fun and silly and always getting into trouble, and The Doctor’s exasperation with her made her a bit loveable. But only a bit.

And then Sarah Jane Smith came along. Sounds harmless if you say it fast enough. And then Sarah Jane Smith arrived, and like so many boys I knew, I instantly fell a little in love with Sarah Jane. She was the big sister I never had, had never missed, but suddenly desperately wanted. She was lovely. And smart, and funny, and yeah.

That was when I started collecting the novelisations. That was when I couldn’t miss an episode. That was… that was when I fell in love with the show. The Daleks, the Ogrons, the Draconians, the baddies, the allies, Alpha Centari. The Master. Oh gods, the Master.

Roger Delgado’s eyes, that voice. Wow.

I didn’t care that the plots had holes you could drive trucks through. I didn’t care that some of the dialogue was ropey, that the special effects – especially the mattes – were even rosier. I didn’t even care that the ‘Whomobile’ was ludicrous (bring back Bessie!). I loved the show. Unreservedly.

And then the Third Doctor went to Metebelis III. And then, as my Doctor left the world, and the show, almost everyone else’s Doctor, the actor that personified the show for a generation, the Doctor that took the show to new heights, and new planets, arrived.

And we’ll talk about him tomorrow.

Nothing really to add the clusterfuck that is the current state of British politics, other than to note that our primus inter mendaces has been at it again today:

And if I write about it any further, I suspect my blood pressure medications won’t suffice.

So, something more pleasant.

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to live in Richmond. well, to be precise in Ham, but hardly anyone knows where that is, so I say Richmond-Upon-Thames and most people have a general idea where that is, to the south west of London.

I was over there last night and this morning, staying with friends; friends I see on a roughly weekly basis. It’s always an evening full of fun and laughter, and it’s a wonderful oasis from the world for a few hours. I don’t think even they realise how truly I value it.

Coming back this morning, I crossed Richmond Bridge, and I was reminded how lovely Richmond can be.

Pretty, isn’t it?

But yesterday evening, we had our usual catchups. Catchups with me (health, and some other stuff) and with them (health, life, one of their kids has just started Big School) and on life in general.

Yes, I’m afraid politics on both sides of the Atlantic was discussed but with surprisingly few swear words, obscenities and curses. Yes, I know. I must have been off my game.

But we also caught up on some telly.

As is well known, my not liking a show is almost guaranteed to mean that it’s a critically acclaimed series that most – if not all – of my friends will enjoy, and will praise to the skies.

But there are exceptions to the rule: shows I like that my friends like as well, so usually, we’ll catch up on the latest episodes; last night all three had episodes broadcast this week , so we caught up on them.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

Oh, gods, how highly can I praise this show? I doubt anyone coming across it for the first time would think of it – as it was thought of in its very, very early days – as “The Daily Show But On A Sunday. John Oliver quickly established the show’s own identity and its own style of doing its thing. Hell, it’s Thing is completely different to The Daily Show, both under Jon Stewart and under Trevor Noah.

(I’ve warmed to Noah’s version of the show the past year, by the way. I’m not sure whether I’ve just become more accepting of it, or whether he’s toned down the things I didn’t like about the first couple of years, while upping the gag quality and content. Either way, my perception is that it’s sharper than it was, and cleverer than it was.)

But Last Week Tonight. Is clever in its own way, and the methodology John applies to his taking apart a story in a 20 minute segment, leading the audience on the story he’s telling is gloriously fun, rightly smug on occasions but utterly compelling.

And even though he knows you an csee where a set up is leading, at least half the time, you’ve missed an important aspect, and it’s not until it drops that you realise quite what you missed, and how important it is.

Have to say I miss the earlier seasons’ ‘and finally…’ moments. They were always fun and usually a much-needed relief from the ‘what the fuck?’ anger at some scandal or issue he’d raised.

Last night’s show… heh, last night’s.. Of course it was Sunday’s show, I just saw it last night. Sunday’s show’s main story was about the filibuster. And for once, it was faintly… I dunno. There was nothing new to me in the story. I mean, it was great, and funny, and showed the idiocy and the hypocrisy inherent in the tactic’s defenders, but I was once again – as I am occasionally – surprised that the audience seemed to find it new.

But then again, I’m never unsurprised at how little most people – on both sides of the Atlantic – know, and usually care, about how things happen, how they’re supposed to happen, and why things happen, in our respective institutions of government and politics.

OK, so after that, we watched…

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee

Again, I wish I had the words to praise this show highly enough. Now this show is, it’s fair to say, a direct evolution in format of The Daily Show. Three segments, six or seven minutes each, with the host railing against this or that, but with sharp gags, and sharper delivery.

It’s not the format that makes Full Frontal so damn good, however. It’s the writing and especially the delivery of Samantha Bee. The anger, frustration, anger, upset, anger and especially the anger shines through on every segment, on every topic, in every glance, every word, every expression, every side-eye to the camera.

My grandmother had an expression: what’s on her lung is on her tongue.

My grandmother would like Sam Bee. Not that the anger is manufactured nor a conceit, not that the fury is an artifice. But the writing takes advantage of her upset, her fury and her boiling exasperation… and channels it into exactly the weapon appropriate for the subject matter: a rapier on this occasion and a bludgeon on that.

The writing is top notch, and Sam’s correspondents (another Daily Show holdover) are used to clever effect, complementing rather than supplementing Sam’s performance.

One notable thing though that I only rarely get from The Daily Show these days: I get the feeling that the correspondents, the host… they like each other. They’re not merely colleagues, they’re people who enjoy working with each other, enjoy each other’s work and enjoy each other’s company.

And that’s enormously pleasing to see. Congratulations to the writing teams, the correspondents and Sam Bee herself for a fantastic, angry show, that’s essential viewing.

After those shows, we finished off with the latest episode of…

Only Connect

There are few quiz shows I’ll watch for pleasure. Hardly any, in fact.

But Only Connect, of which I was an early watcher, almost instantly grabbed me and addicted me. Vitoria Coren Mitchell is a wonderful presenter/host and the questions not only make me think, I take great joy if I get one right, and experience disappointment if I get one wrong, and mild but definite upset if I get one wrong that I should have gotten right….

Sometimes the two teams will go into the final round in a tie or a point or two apart. Sometimes one team goes into that final round quite a bit ahead. Rarely, as in last night’s show, they’ll go into the final round ahead 26 – 6. Ouch.

But its a show that makes me think, and that’s what it shares with the other two shows, and why I enjoy watching all three with two of my closest friends on the planet.

(After they’d gone to bed, I watched the first couple of hours of the Democratic Debate. Hmm. Didn’t enjoy that as much, and I may write about why after the weekend..)
It’s Saturday tomorrow. If you’ve been paying attention, you know what that means. If not, then join me tomorrow for some Saturday silliness. Oh, and join me tomorrow if you know what’s coming up as well. That’d be nice.

(For part 1 of ‘one-offs’, about individual television episodes I will rewatch whenever they’re shown, click here; part 2, about individual issues of comic book series, is here.)

In the posts above, I’ve mentioned ‘baddie of the week’ tv shows or long running comic book series, and that an individual episode or issue will… stand out… for some reason; the guest star will knock it out of the park, the writing or art on that issue will particularly impress, the specific plot will reward rewatching or rereading.

And of course I’ve previously written of Budgie’s Law of Popular Television: y = x + 2.

But in that latter post, I kind of breeze past the shows I do like, while mentioning that if it’s got a great pilot, that’s a very good sign; if not, a good omen in a different way.

Its not conclusive, of course, but it’s certainly indicative: if the pilot doesn’t grab me, chances are good that I won’t stick with the show. Not guaranteed, of course, any more than if the pilot does impress me, it’s a guarantee that I’ll love the show, and stay with it despite the occasional bum episode every show has.

But as a rule of thumb, it’s generally paid off.

And since the past couple of weeks on a Friday, I’ve written about individual episodes, individual comics, that have impressed me, here are ten tv pilots that definitely impressed the hell out of me. And in all bar one example, I stuck with the show.

Pilots are an odd thing. They have to introduce the characters, and the plot, set up the rest of the first season, make you care about each of those elements… and still tell a story that entertains. All in an hour¹.

Some pilots cheat with the ‘make you want to come back next week’ by slipping in a final 30 second scene cliff hanger… Hill Street Blues jumps to mind. After an entertaining hour¹, the final few seconds show two beat cops we’ve come to know, and individually like or dislike, entering a building looking for a phone. But its a drugs den… and then guns are pulled and we see them both shot several times… they fall to the ground… fade to black.

Not the first show to pull that stunt, but probably the first to become famous for it.

As with the individual episodes and issues, there are far too many to give an exhaustive list; but here are ten that spring to mind without even breaking sweat; seven dramas, three sitcoms.

Warning: there are spoilers in the rest of this post, of course.

The Blacklist
One of the best pilots I’ve ever seen, bar none. The concept is a clever one, the setup explained in the first few minutes, and it’s an ‘everything changes’ moment. And from that instant, it’s non-stop. The number four on the FBI’s most wanted list – a facilitator for criminals – walks into the FBI and surrenders; states them he knows about a terrorist attack that’s about to take place, and he’s there to tell them all about it but that he’ll only talk to a named newly-qualified FBI profiler. the attack attempt duly takes place, it’s averted… and then he says “that’s just the first”. He has a list of criminals – the Blacklist – the FBI don’t even know about. And the FBI work with him – on occasion, it seems for him – to capture them. Great concept, great writing, so bloody much happens in the first episode of the series, you have to pay attention. But it’s the performances of James Spader and Megan Boone as the criminal and profiler that make this pilot something special. It’s their show, and their performances keep your attention throughout. Spader is having the time of his life, and acts everyone else off the screen. Everyone apart from Boone, that is, who somehow manages to hold her own against him. Both of their characters have secrets, both discover yet more. And yes, there is a ‘WTF? Ccome back next week…’ moment right at the end. I’ve seen the pilot loads of times and there’s not once I’ve not spotted something new in the rewatching.

The Last Ship
I can’t recall another show where so damn much happens in every episode. It isn’t so much that there’s a twist in every act of every episode, although there are a lot. More than the writing is so dense, the military dialogue is both enthralling and delivered crisply. I’ve no idea how accurate it is, by the way. I don’t care it seems accurate and that’s good enough for me. And the actors are aided by the military setting in that respect. Every line either tells you something about the characters, or advances the plot; not a wasted line, nor a wasted gesture. So what makes the pilot so damn good? Because it starts as it means to go on: a routine military exercise testing equipment in radio silence for months at the South Pole, while a couple of scientists research bird populations. Everything’s going normally. Until Russian helicopters and snowbikes turn up, try to kidnap or kill the scientists. And then The Reveal: a virus has swept across the planet, killing half the population. The scientists are looking for the original strain of the virus, that one of them believes is in the permafrost. It’s perfectly timed, perfectly acted, gorgeously written. I don’t think I’d like to know any of the characters in person; none of them are particularly likeable but damn, they do know their jobs. And again, a ‘WTF? Ccome back next week…’ moment right at the end.

Reaching back into pre-history here. Or at least it seems that way. I recently rewatched the pilot of 24, the very first time they’d tried the ‘events occur in real time’ stunt, writing around the ad breaks, starting at midnight, and following characters through the next 24 hours. If two or more things were happening simultaneously, you got a split screen, and it was often used as a technique to move from one scene to another, or to reopen the action after the ad breaks. The main character, Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, wasn’t yet the ‘superhero’ he later became. He wasn’t as prepared to break every law going ‘for his country’. Not quite as prepared to go for the torture-first-ask-questions-later. He was a good agent, not a great one. And that showed. He made mistakes. He found himself being used… and panicked as he didn’t know what to do. And while the good guys weren’t all good, the bad guys were pretty much all bad, and mistakes had consequences. But we didn’t know that in the pilot. We didn’t know much at all. But that ticking clock (or beeping clock, anyway) kept the tension high from about ten minutes in.

House MD
Gregory House, as introduced to the audience, was unpleasant from the off. He was rude, in pain, older than he wanted to be, didn’t suffer fools at all, and was brilliant at what he did. And he didn’t give a shit about patients; he wanted to cure the disease. Actually, that’s not true, either. He wanted to figure out what was causing the patient to be ill. Once he knew, curing them was just what he had to do to keep his job. I’d say the pilot made it clear that he delegated ‘caring about the patients’ but he didn’t. not really. He viewed the junior doctors in his department with mild contempt for caring about the patients as much as the disease. The pilot sets all of this up, sets up the conflicts, has a great medical mystery, and a suitably great guest star as the patient. But it’s Hugh Laurie who steals the show. As the lead character, he’s almost instantly unpleasant, brilliant, and a character you care about almost against your better instincts. I can take or leave most episodes of House, the overwhelming majority in fact, but I’ll rewatch the pilot whenever it’s on.

True Detective
Certainly one of the more original pilots on the list. Takes place in two time periods, present and past, the latter being revealed in flashback while two retired detectives are being interviewed on camera by current day detectives about an old case. The two retired detectives haven’t spoken for years, and make it plain they never actually liked each other much. The acting is the thing here. Oh, the writing is glorious, the dialogue wonderful, but it’s the acting of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, playing effectively two different characters each, their characters in 1995, and again in 2012, when they’re very very different people. (Later in the series, they also portray the characters again, as they were in 2002.) But there’s no doubt at any point of the convincingness of the portrayals in any time period. I find it impossible to not watch to the end of the episode once I’ve started watching. And every time I watch, I’m more impressed with both the acting, and especially how generous both Harrelson and McConaughey are in their scenes, with each other and other actors. And even the “WTF’ moment at the end, perfectly delivered by McConaughey seems so casually delivered that you wonder what the hell this is… but you know you want more.

The Crossing
This is the one. This is the one that tested my “if it’s a good pilot, I’ll stick with the series”. And ultimately failed the test. Great concept, good writing, good enough acting. And at the end of the pilot, I wanted to know ‘what happens next’. Setup is a couple of hundred people are rescued on a beach from the ocean; when asked where they come from, they tell the lcoal sherif and authorities they’re escaping from the war… a war that hasn’t happened yet.. As I say, great concept. And yet I gave up after four or five episodes. It felt like all the smart writing was done in the pilot, and even the actors knew it. Could have been great – the pilot still is great, but oh my.

Jonathan Creek
An hour and a half – it’s BBC so it’s genuine 90 minutes, not 70 plus ads – a fella who designs illusions for a magician gets caught up when his boss is interested romantically (for want of a less discreet term) in someone involved in an ‘impossible crime’ mystery. And then teams up with an freelance investigative journalist to solve it. and it just works. Most of the clichés are subverted, the ‘it’s simple when you know the trick’ often isn’t, the kind of mind that thinks up this stuff isn’t necessarily someone you want to know, and both lead protagonists aren’t really that sure – in the pilot – whether they even respect each other, let alone like each other. At one point, challenged to do so, Creek – Alan Davies – makes scale models to prove that the victim’s ex-wife could have committed the murder undetected. And then reacts with scorn when the journalist – Caroline Quentin – exclaims ‘so she did do it!’ Of course not, Creek says. There were so many ways it could have gone wrong, so many times the plot would have fallen apart.. he did it merely as an intellectual exercise to see if the ex-wife could have. The dialogue sparkles, Davies and Quentin are a delight on screen and Anthony Stewart Head as Creek’s illusionist boss, the guy on stage, is delightfully repulsive. I was hooked from the start, and stayed with the show for years.
OK, so those are the seven dramas. Now for the sitcoms. Sitcoms can go one of two ways, in general. They can go the ‘everything has changed; this is the start of a journey for a character, or set of characters’ way.

Frasier did that, introducing the characters to the audience as well as to the protagonist as he moved across country. But they had to; as a spin off, there’s no other way of marking the series as something ‘new’. Same as they did with Rhoda, a spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. They did it in The Good Life, showing the character first in one situation, then changing the circumstances and seeing what happened. Same with Man About The House. And then there’s Dad’s Army, where you show the characters meeting and seeing how the situation develops. These are the true situation comedies, where the comedy arises from the situation in which the characters find themselves.

Or… the audience can join the characters mid-situation. Nothing’s changed… except that now the audience is being invited to observe. Most ‘family sitcoms’ rely on this, whether you’re talking about Steptoe and Son or Roseanne.

Of course, sometimes, rarely, sitcoms manage both; a familiar situation except for a new character joins at the same time as the audience. But in these, still, it’s the situation that brings forth the comedy.

No surprise then that two of the three pilots below go that route; it’s the smartest – to me – way of doing it, with the most comedic options.

But sitcoms still have the same problems to solve as dramas, only in half the time: they still have to introduce the characters, and the plot, and leave you caring enough about both that you want to come back next week.

The best sitcom pilot ever. I’ll brook no dissent on that. If you think otherwise, then either you’ve not seen the Cheers pilot or you’re wrong.

Every important character gets their moment, every character gets their laughs. Not one of the characters can be mistaken for another, and not one of them has the same speech patterns cadence or style as another. Four main characters, two or three minor ones, a couple of whom get bigger roles as the series progresses. But for the pilot, just the four main: a former ball player who owns the bar; his former coach – getting on in years, mentally; a waitress; a woman abandoned in the bar by her cultured professor, (who’s her boss and fiancée) in the first episode… (he goes back to his wife). She takes a waitress job at the end of the pilot (offered mostly out of pity) while she figures out what the hell she’s going to do now. The gags start in the first minute of the show, and keep going every bloody moment throughout. The introductions for each character are spot perfect, and the casual style of the acting doesn’t imply lack of care. The actors work hard to be so causal and that you can’t fully appreciate it at first speaks volumes for their skill. Stunningly good work. And it’s a genuine pleasure to rewatch whenever I get the chance.

Just Good Friends
One of my favourite sitcoms, and one of my favourite pilots. Setup is simple and clever: two people out on separate disastrous ‘dates’ (she’s taken someone out from the office as a nice gesture; he’s out on a proper date) bump into each other, speak politely. Then the penny is dropped suddenly on the audience: he jilted her five years’ earlier, and they’ve not seen each other since. And it starts from there. Paul Young and Jan Francis are just superb as the two protagonists, both completely messed up in their own ways. she reluctantly at first still likes him. He still likes her. And despite friends interference, despite parents’ interference, they try to make whatever the hell they have now… work. The gags flow fast and furious – it’s written by the same fella who wrote, among other things, Only Fools And Horses the pacing of every scene, let alone every episode, is perfect, and you care about the characters while your sympathy shifts from one to the other and back again. And, uniquely for a sitcom, it had a cliffhanger, or a coda, at the end of every episode. The credits would role over one of the characters doing… something (lighting a cigarette, or walking across the road)… and then the credits would fade, there’d be a final couple of lines… and then the end. Every episode was wonderful, and the pilot started it all, perfectly.
Yes, Minister
Yes, well, this was an obvious one. This shouldn’t be here, really. Not really. The opening credits are awful as is the theme tune. They changed it immediately for the familiar Scarfe credits and Westminster tune for episode 2. But you have to shudder and put them to one side because the show starts as it means to go on… and the show truly, truly gets every bit of comedy from the situation: new minister, already in place civil service, the clash of the political will and the administrative won’t. Not the first sitcom set in a ministerial department, and certainly not the first ostensible servant is really the one in control sitcom or drama, but this one works because Hacker as the minister isn’t an incompetent fool. He’s a politician who’s completely out of his depth, sure. But even in the first episode, he realises that quickly, and realises both the advantage of having the civil service, while the danger of them as well. Every performer is perfect for the role they play. And even now, having watched it dozens of times, it makes me laugh.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s on its way tomorrow. See you then.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

¹ Yeah, ok, just in case this comes up. An hour of commercial television time isn’t an hour of real time, unless you’re talking about a show that pretends it is, like 24. It’s anywhere between 42 and 48 minutes, depending on when it was made, whether it’s the US or UK. And a ½ hour sitcom is actually about 21 to 24 minutes.

I started this entry as a daily braindump on goingcheep, but quickly realised that it would be more suitable here. And almost as quickly realised that it’s not one blog entry but three. Actually, maybe 3½. We’ll see.

Here’s part one, anyway.

Back in the day, when the UK only had terrestrial television, and three or four channels at that, one of the most common, and regular, complaints in the UK was “too many repeats”.

Just imagine that, those of you born at a less comfortable distance from the apocalypse. Three television channels. Three. And no video on demand, no ‘that’s ok, I’ll record it and watch it later’. If you missed it, that was it… until or unless it was repeated months or years later.

(Channel 4 started in November 1982, and I watched the opening hour or so in the common room of Manchester Polytechnic’s students’ union. First and only time I’ve watched a major channel go live.)

But yeah, repeats. It was such A Thing that listings pages in the newspapers even felt it necessary to denote repeats with (R) after the episode’s information/solicitation.

How things change.

With multi-channel tv, one of the pleasures of watching telly is an old favourite series, or even a favourite episode, appearing on the electronic programme guide, so you can watch, or record, an episode you’ve previously missed, or one you’ve enjoyed.

And considering how many ‘baddie of the week’ shows there are in serialised tv drama, individual episodes shouldn’t ‘matter’ so much. But even in a ‘baddie of the week’ show, an episode will stand out for some reason: the guest star will knock it out of the park, or the writing on that episode will always particularly impress, or the plot will reward rewatching. Could be any number of things.

(The same applies, of course, to long running comic books which, let’s face it, are also serialised drama. I’ll write about them in part 2, next week. Part 3? Part 3½? Well, I’ll let you ponder that for a bit, and you’ll find out what else falls within this entirely made up category in a couple of weeks.)

But when it comes to television, and individual episodes of long running dramas, there are too many, far too many, for me to list all that I’ll almost always make an effort to watch if they’re shown.

But here are ten. (Of course with some series, there are multiple episodes I’m happy to rewatch, but I’ll limit this to one episode per show.)

Fair warning: there are spoilers for the episodes discussed below, and there may be spoilers for the series itself.

CSI New York: “Yahrzeit” (Season 5, Episode 22)
There’s nothing that should make this episode jump out at anyone, but as so often with episodes that do, it’s the little touches, the revelations of main characters’ backgrounds. And as so often, it’s a guest star that lifts the episode into ‘Oh, yeah…’ territory. With this one, it’s Edward Asner as the ostensibly Jewish holocaust survivor who turns out to have been a survivor from the camps… but from the other side of the fence. And there’s a beautifully played coda to the episode that tells you more about Gary Sinese’s character’s family, and what it meant to survive when others didn’t.

New Tricks – “Parts of a Whole” (Season 9, Episode 9)
In many ways, this episode is one of the few in the series to completely subvert the reason for the whole show – the main story has only a faint connection to what the show is about – but it’s an excuse for the actors to have an enormous amount of fun playing against type, while staying true to who they are. Again, you find out some of the background of one of the main characters, and one of the recurring characters. (They met at sandhurst, did something naughty; it comes back to haunt them decades later.) However, as well as all that, and the fact that the actors are obviously having a blast, the writer of the episode is a comics fan, and sprinkles scripts with the names of comics professionals. So there’s a journalist named Greg Rucka who was killed decades ago… It’s just fun and I like the episode a lot.

Law & Order: “Called Home” (Season 18, Episode 1)
This is from very late in the run – the show ended with season 20. Law & Order went through a lot of cast changes in the ensemble through the years. With six main characters, there were half a dozen junior lawyers, and the same number of junior detectives. And while I’ll bow to no-one in my admiration of Jerry Orbach as Lennie Briscoe, I always liked the episodes where new people came in, and no moreso than the start of season 18. On the “Order” side of things, Sam Waterston’s character has been promoted to be the new District Attorney and Linus Roach comes in as the new ‘main’ lawyer. On the “Law” side of the show, Jeremy Sisto comes into the show. And just like that, the show that had been getting a bit stale comes alive again. The new dynamic just works and the new characterisations work as well. Waterston’s character has to mature, and does so, and his reluctance – because he stepped away from the courtroom – to allow his people to do their jobs rings true.

The West Wing: “17 People” (Season 2, Episode 18)
The ‘bottle show’ to end all bottle shows. The season was over budget, and the writers were told to write something that takes place wholly within the existing sets, inside the White House. And in doing so, Aaron Sorkin came up with one of the best scripts of the entire show. Every character rings true, every emotion screams out of the screen, and every actor does their job and then some. Especially, Richard Schiff. It’s his episode from the very opening shots, and he makes the most of it. And the opening is one of the finest pre-credits teaser the show ever had, hell one of the best four minutes’ opening to any show.

Doctor Who: “School Reunion” (Season 2¹, Episode 3)
(¹OK, it’s season 2 of NuWho; the season numbering was restarted when the show returned after 19 years in 2005)
It’s the Sarah Jane episode. That’s all that should need to be said. The first time the show explicitly brought back a character from the ‘old’ run of the series into the new run. It addressed old continuity, set up the differences between OldWho and NuWho, showed Rose what it means, what it really means, to travel with an effectively immortal alien, has character growth, has the usual silliness of Tennant’s run, and to top it off, a star turn from Anthony Head as the baddie. Glorious in every way, and not a bad bit in it.

NCIS: “Heartland” (Season 6, Episode 4)
The “Gibbs goes home” episode. After five series, you find out something about who the mainstay of the show is. Ralph Waites is superb in the guest star (which became a recurring) role, but then Waites always was superb in anything he did. It addressed ageing, filled in some holes in Gibbs’ backstory, while setting up a whole set of new questions, and everyone.. has fun. It’s obvious that the scriptwriters had a blast with the episode, and the actors duly ran with the fun created for them, and ran with it. It’s just… fun.

Highlander: “An Eye For An Eye” (Season 2, Episode 5)
From very early on in the tv series, the obvious unanswered question wasn’t ‘what’s it like living forever?’ The movie had dealt with that, and the series tried to address it as well. No, what was missing was ‘what happens when you become immortal?’ Not flashback, not legends, but in real time. And this episode answered that when one of the main characters gets killed (in the previous episode) and then wakes up. And is cocky, and unsure, and confused, and figures he’s gonna be all right… and then discovers very, very quickly that the cockiness is unwarranted, the confusion sure as hell is, and unless he learns how to handle a sword very, very quickly? Well, that ‘gonna be all right’ isn’t going to be true for long. Another immortal comes for him… and he hasn’t a fucking clue how to defend himself. And it takes Macleod some time to realise that it’s his responsibility to teach Richie in a way that works. Not to bully him into it. The training montage is just fun to watch, and when Richie gets his chance to take the baddie’s head… well, it doesn’t go quite how he expects. There are a dozen or so episodes that I’ll watch for pleasure, but this one always gets a rewatch if it’s on.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (Season 3, Episode 15)
I’m a sucker for time travel stories, for alternative universe yarns, for ‘what if…?’ tales. And I like Star Trek. Yeah, was kind of inevitable I’d like this one. But it’s not only all the foregoing. The story’s a cracking one, the acting – given that they’re playing alternative versions of their characters, but not ‘evil mirror’ versions, the same versions in an entirely different situation, at war – is first class, and the production values, though now pretty dated, are excellent for their time. And one character gets the ending her character deserved, rather than the “empty death” she got in the main timeline. It’s beautifully played, and considering how much is done in 45 minutes, the show doesn’t seem rushed at all. A tribute to all concerned.

Bergerac (all the ‘Philippa Vale’ episodes)
OK, I’m cheating with this one. But hey, it’s my list. Liza Goddard appeared as jewel thief Philippa Vale in half a dozen episodes of the 87 episode run. And in every episode that she’s in, she lifts the show from a typical ‘baddie of the week’ police procedural which happens to be set on Jersey into a semi-romantic drama-comedy. The interplay, the flat out flirting, between John Nettles’ (later the star of Midsomer Murders) character and Goddard’s Vale is always a pleasure to watch. She’s like no one he’s ever encountered before, and he’s equally fascinated and attracted to her… while you’re never quite sure whether it’s solely because he’s unattainable that Philippa likes Jim… or whether she thinks a bit of naughtiness would make him more attractive or less.

Well, that was fun.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s coming tomorrow. See you then.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.