No… not the George Orwell book!
Given the last week has seen three of my friends celebrate turning 30, now seems the right time to consider 1984 through the eyes of television. In setting the scene it is worth noting – this is a land where EastEnders does not exist, Margaret Thatcher has just won her second term as PM and becomes locked in a battle with the miners, Neil Kinnock is just starting to make his mark as Labour leader given Michael Foot’s disastrous short tenure and over in America, Ronald Regan secured a second term as President. This really was a year where everything happened so let’s look at some highlights…
1. Comedy highs…
This was the year that Spitting Image first came to our screens, subject of a recent Arena documentary on BBC4 this programme lasted right through until 1996 providing a unique brand of satire on the issues of the day. Even now it is still remembered for its portrayal of the political figures of the day such as Regan, Thatcher and Kinnock. It has been noted recently that the current generation of politicians are ‘too boring’ for a new series to be made – I totally disagree, it could make them far more interesting than they’ve ever been before! Clip below shows the first ever episode of Spitting Image thanks to the person who uploaded it to YouTube.
2. Comedy lows.
No this is not the launch of Mad About Alice – that sadly came about twenty years later (and even then it was too soon). This is about the loss of three comedy greats in the same year. Tommy Cooper who sadly died live on television, Eric Morecambe (need I say more) and Leonard Rossiter best known for playing Reggie Perrin in the sitcom of the same name. All three comedians spirits still live on today with their shows being repeated on many digital channels at various points. Of course for the purposes of this blog providing a link to a news report of one of their deaths would be, in short, depressing. So instead relive ‘The Stripper’ breakfast sketch from a Morecambe and Wise sketch from the 70s instead.
3. The ‘on the job’ training school for actors trying to get into TV was launched.
Subtle hint at the contribution this particular show made to the acting industry over its 26 years on television before it was axed in 2010, I am indeed talking about ‘The Bill’. Providing shows like ‘Before They Were Famous’ and ‘You Saw Them Here First’ with enough material for at least two series, this show about the lives of coppers on the beat at Sun Hill had some very famous alumni make their first television appearances. Most notably Emma Bunton (1993), Martine McCutcheon (1991), David Tennant (1995), Russell Brand (1995), James McAvoy (1997), Kiera Knightly (1995), Michelle Collins (1986) and Paul O’Grady (1988). The list is endless!!
4. Michael Burke reported from Ethiopia and Band Aid was born
On 23rd October 1984 Michael Burke produced a report on the famine in Ethiopia. Two months later, 40 musicians led by Bob Geldof had written, produced and secured a Christmas No. 1 entitled ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ in order to raise money and awareness of conditions in Ethiopia and other African countries. This was then followed up by Live Aid the following year in 1985. The song was revived in 1989 for a rather unpopular ‘Stock, Aitken and Waterman’ version and again for a more popular version in 2004 that again resulted in a Live 8 concert the following summer. Whilst not a televisual highlight in terms of entertainment for 1984, if we are considering the impact television can have in securing fundraising and motivating people who have the time, money, connections and expertise to raise an even wider awareness – this is it. The report itself can be found on YouTube, but unfortunately embedding is disabled so here is the Band Aid video instead.
5. Torvill and Dean secure gold, and USSR boycott LA.
Its the victory the British press have been going on about sporadically for the last thirty years. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean winning gold in Sarajevo with their performance of ‘Bolero’. A moment screened around the world and a moment which led to them providing ten years of celebrities ‘Dancing on Ice’ until its demise earlier this year. A further attempt was made by the pair to go for gold at Lillehammer in 1994 but the pair dancing to ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’ only managed to get bronze. In other Olympic related news Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympic Games becoming the only US city to host the Olympic Games twice though politics behind the scenes dominated this one, with the Cold War facing its final escalation before the fall of Communism at the end of the decade, the USSR boycotted the games…. well the USA had boycotted the games in Moscow four years previously I suppose….
1984 saw the launch of many other television shows. Some iconic and some, quite frankly less so. BBC News at Six launched in this year, as did Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Cilla sprang her first Surprise, Surprise (though the surprise of her singing wasn’t exactly a welcome one), and Wentworth Detention Centre first opened it’s gates in the United Kingdom for Prisoner Cell Block H, though thanks to ITV regional broadcasting at the time only in Yorkshire. Across the channel, Luxembourg hosted the Eurovision Song Contest for the final time, withdrawing from the contest ten years later – and victory went to Sweden for ‘Diggi Loo Diggi Ley’. In football Liverpool won the First Division (no Premier League back then), and Tottenham won the UEFA Cup whilst Niki Lauda (one of the subjects of 2013 film ‘Rush’) won his final F1 championship before retiring in 1985. In short it was an action packed year!