Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Best of British

As it was my birthday last Saturday (and coincidentally, my fiancée’s two days later!) my folks decided to pop over for the weekend to join in with the joint festivities. We all had a great time having a day by the seaside as well as a wonderful big Sunday lunch at a beautiful little nearby carvery. Thanks to the kind generosity of friends and family we now have a rather impressive pile of brand new viewing added to our DVD and Blu-ray ‘To Watch’ pile.

It’s almost impossible to jump online and not read something fantastic about the classic 1976 BBC historical drama series I, Claudius. Cited by many writers and actors as probably the best piece of television ever produced, the cast list reads as a who’s who of the greatest British actors of our time. It rather shames me to admit that it’s taken me this long to get around to getting my hands on a copy. I’ve actually been meaning to watch it for ages now, as I’ve been steadily expanding my collection of classic British serials on DVD over the past couple of years; so far I’ve made my way through Brideshead Revisited, Jewel in the Crown, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Elizabeth R, Chronicles of Narnia, The Box of Delights, Beasts and Edge of Darkness.

In two years time it’ll be two whole decades since one of Britain’s funniest physical comedians died, the legendary Benny Hill. Sadly Hill was a casualty of that witch-hunt-esque PC quagmire of the late 80s / early 90s, where alarmist do-gooders were instrumental in both ‘banning’ and censoring various comedians, films and TV shows from British television for nearly half a decade. All content considered sexist, racist, violent or harmful to the morals of the viewing audience were removed, meaning that shows such as Minder, The Professionals and The Sweeney were heavily censored, whereas the Carry On films and comedians such as Benny Hill were refused air-time altogether.

Thankfully all his Thames shows from 1969 to 1989 are finally being released uncut onto DVD. Benny Hill never actually put together proper six or eight episode series, but rather focused on producing three or four 50-minute ‘annuals’ that would be televised intermittently throughout the year - similar to the run of Doctor Who specials in 2009. The 1970-79 Annuals box set collects together all thirty-three of his seventies shows along with his two shows from 1969 and a 25-minute TV play from late 1970 that Hill variously wrote, co-directed and starred in.

As a fan of John Wyndhams 50s apocalyptic novel I adore the BBC’s 1981 adaptation of The Day of the Triffids. I was just turning 8 years old when I first saw this series and I remember being a little freaked out by the eerie opening credits*. It’s odd, but I have a very strong memory of sitting down to watch it on a Saturday tea-time while at my nana and granddad’s, which is impossible as any fan will tell you it was shown on a Thursday at 8.30pm (or Wednesday at 7.40pm on the 1984 repeats). But the memory is there and even though I know it’s wrong I still swear blind that that is when I first watched it.

I was lucky enough in the mid-90s to have a friend with cable TV and was able to get them to record it for me off UK Gold, and so I‘ve been able to watch this wonderful series as and when I want. I still have the old TDK 180 VHS tape with it on, although for reasons I’ve never understood this version was the 3 x 52-minute episode version that was sold overseas, rather than the 6 x 26-minute version originally broadcast in the UK and released on DVD.

So that, along with Sarah Jane Adventures and various films and comedy series, is our viewing pretty much sorted for the next couple of months. We’ve still got birthday money left over, or course, so more DVDS and Blu-rays will be added to the pile over the coming weeks…and I’ve just discovered a fantastic new online store called UKDVDSOnline which sells nothing but “Classic TV and Film”!
*All those who have read my previous blog entries may have noticed a slight pattern forming when it comes to late 70s / early 80s opening credits and my nerves!

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