Television Tales: 1970s
This week we are continuing my meander around television through the decades. Television, that cultural icon sitting in the corner of most people’s lounges, which has been blamed for all sorts of degeneracy over the years – until the internet came along and pinched that mantle. Previously, we’ve looked at the very early days, up to the 1950s; and the 1960s. This time, we move into what was for me, the most busiest decade of my life. But more of that later.
Televisions were much less a luxury and more a standard item in the 1970s, with more than 90% of homes tuning in. At the start of the decade, the television viewer in the UK still had just three channels to watch: BBC1, BBC2 and ITV, but they were by now all in full colour. This was a decade in which dramas became even grittier than before, comedy became surreal and Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association found ever more to complain about. Jack Warner, playing Dixon of Dock Green said “evenin’ all” for the very last time in 1976 and that model of common sense policing gave way to more aggressive, violent series such as The Sweeney featuring John Thaw, long before Inspector Morse hit the streets of Oxford.
The anarchy that was Monty Python’s Flying Circus delighted or puzzled the nation for five years, but a lot of the iconic sit-coms that still appear as reruns today date from this time. In fact, I was quite surprised to see what a short time some of the series lasted for. Dad’s Army, which actually started in 1968, was on our screens nearly ten years, but Rising Damp, with the brilliant Leonard Rossiter, was only around for half that time; as were The Good Life; Love Thy Neighbour; Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em; and George and Mildred. Even the pinnacle of British comedy that was Fawlty Towers only ever aired as twelve episodes. Looking back at any of these old shows, it’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces, albeit much younger, and the think of the careers these programmes launched.
As I said at the start of this piece, the 1970s was a busy decade for me. I left home to go to University; had a bit of a blip when I failed my first year exams, but got not only my degree, but a doctorate as well; oh yes – and met and married my husband. So, it’s hardly surprising I wasn’t watching a huge amount of TV myself, although I do remember gathering with other students around the small screen in our hall of residence each week to watch Top of the Pops and on one occasion trying to explain to a bemused American that Pan’s People weren’t actually there for the choreography.
This was still a time when the whole family would gather on a Saturday evening to watch such popular programmes as The Generation Game or Morecombe and Wise. I was certainly among the nearly 29 million viewers on Christmas Night 1977 when a host of broadcasters such as Michael Parkinson, Michael Aspel, Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendal joined Eric and Ernie in a rousing rendition of There is nothing like a dame. Now that’s what you call entertainment.