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David Pearce Music Reviews

Doctor Who Re View The Claws of Axos

The Story

In essence, the story is The Trojan Horse. In reality, it is a psychedelic combination of ideas that makes as much sense as the average Gong’s Flying Teapot album! Admittedly, that album was released a couple of years after this story was aired, but its outlandish approach has a lot in common with this somewhat confusing (!!) storyline.

The original script had a spaceship in the form of a giant skull landing in the middle of Hyde Park, which became an organic spaceship landing in Dungeness in Kent! The original script called for the destruction of Battersea Power Station which was scaled back to a small scale explosion at the Dungeness Power Plant. The Master had to be added to the script and, although he is his usual urbane self, he has something of an Indiana Jones role in proceedings, in that his actions have absolutely no impact on the way the story plays out. Authors Bob Baker and Dave Martin were asked to reduce their original script from 6 episodes to 4 as well as adding in scenes for the Master. The impact is a headlong rush of a story that sees the Axons land on Earth in gold and white leotards before changing into proto-Krynoids (the plant based monster in The Seeds of Doom) crossed with Zygons, as their true intentions become known. Why? Who knows! Their organic ship has various tentacles and claws to hold prisoners and the Axons themselves are part of the ship, or it is part of them.

Suffice it to say, this is the kind of Doctor Who story to avoid showing a non-fan as the baffling plot combines with costumes and special effects that never work. Whovians can watch it with amusement but anyone else would probably be put off for life!

The guest stars do their best to carry the material with Donald Hewlett, a member of the Croft and Perry stable who became most famous as Colonel Reynolds in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, giving a good performance as a scientist. Peter Bathurst has great fun with the officious Chinn, the man from the ministry. Paul Grist played an American who becomes a captive of the Axons then spends the rest of the story helping Jo and The Doctor. He is very good value and gives the story a real lift whenever he appears.

Favourite Moments

A number of the scenes had me laughing, but that’s not really the same thing! Katy Manning’s reminiscences on the Blu-ray are brilliant, from comparing the opening of the Axon spaceship to a certain part of the anatomy, to being grabbed in various areas – specifically the chest – by the claws on the spaceship, and having great fun at the expense of Bernard Holley who played the lead Axon whose walk could have something to do with trying to avoid unsightly bulges in the leotard!! She was absolutely hilarious as ever and definitely the best part of both the story and the behind the scenes.

Final thoughts

Whilst it has its moments, this is one of the worst stories of the Third Doctor’s time at the controls of the TARDIS. With today’s special effects they might have been able to pull it off, but with 70s era special effects it was way too ambitious. File under ‘Never watch again’!   

Doctor Who Re View The Mind of Evil

The Story

The second story of Season 8 is a 6 part story that features two strands. The first features the Doctor and Jo at Stangmoor Prison where they are observers for a completely new type of rehabilitation approach for violent prisoners. The Keller Machine, named after its creator, removes the evil impulses from the minds of criminals leaving them with no memory of their past and no risk of reoffending. It also leaves them with significantly reduced intelligence, but this is considered a price worth paying by the prison governor. However, when the machine is used it makes the other prisoners even more violent than usual. The Doctor realises that something is wrong and decides to investigate further, leading himself and Jo into significant danger.

The second strand features UNIT at a world peace conference that sees escalating tensions between the Chinese and the Americans. Chin Lee, the second in command of the Chinese delegation, seems determined to stop the peace conference from succeeding. It becomes clear that she is working for someone who has a vested interest in World War III taking place and will stop at nothing to ensure that that happens. The Brigadier finds himself having to play peacemaker as things threaten to get out of hand.

What is the connection between the two events? Well, I’m not giving much away to say that it is The Master! However, the biggest issue with the story is that the connection between the two is, to say the least, contrived, so you effectively end up with a four part story set in a prison and a two part story set at a conference. Thankfully, the prison story is far the strongest part so you can sit through the other part as you wait for it to continue. In common with a number of the longer stories of the time there is the feeling of a fair amount of padding. There is even the frankly bizarre plotline of the Keller Machine being able to move between rooms by some form of apparition and kill people on the run, as it were!

There are a number of faults with the story that could have been solved by making it a four parter focused entirely on the prison, but the quality and enthusiasm of the cast carry the day. Special mentions go to three of the supporting cast in particular. Michael Sheard, the legendary Mr. Bronson of Grange Hill, in a rare heroic role as Dr Summers. He is a calm, assured character who is cerebral in approach but who is prepared to endanger himself by taking action to try to escape. Sheard added quality to everything he did and this was the second of half a dozen guest appearances in the programme, most famously as the villainous Scarman in Pyramids of Mars.

William Marlowe plays Mailer, leader of the prisoners and the Master’s second in command when he takes over Stangmoor. He is a genuinely nasty piece of work who will kill, beat up and threaten anyone who gets in his way or who could be useful as a hostage. His most famous role was on the other side of the law as Maggie Forbes’ boss, DCI Bill Russell. He also appeared in another Doctor Who serial, Revenge of the Cybermen with Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor. His final Doctor Who connection was that he was married to Roger Delgado’s widow, Kismet, for the 20 years before his death in 2003.

Finally, Neil McCarthy was absolutely superb as the hardened criminal Barnham, who was turned into a childlike innocent by the Keller Machine. He turned in a performance of real subtlety and you ended up caring about Barnham just as much as Jo did when she took him under her wing. What he did very well was to completely convince the viewers that he was now no danger to anyone, but that Barnham’s punishment was in many ways as cruel and unnecessary as those he dished out to his victims. In a sense, he was a symbol of the negative effects of prison and the unintended consequences state punishment in a system that brutalised rather than reformed prisoners. McCarthy’s was a familiar face on TV and film during the 1970s in particular, but he died at the tragically early age of 52 after developing Motor Neurone Disease.  

Favourite Moments

The relationship between Jo and The Doctor becomes a much closer one as a result of this story. It is Jo who often takes the initiative, showing bravery and imagination in her attempts to escape. When the Doctor needs her she is there and by the end of the story you can tell that he is starting to see her as more than just another companion.

The prison siege is a genuinely unsettling event with Marlowe’s unpleasant, uncompromising, and ruthless leadership making sure that absolutely no character, regular or guest, is safe. It shows that 1970s Doctor Who could be as hard hitting as any mainstream drama.

The Keller Machine becomes a real danger when you realise what it feeds on and how it works. The idea is no doubt taken from Room 101 in George Orwell’s 1984, but it very much works on its own terms in this story.

Both the Master and the Brigadier get a chance to don disguises in this story and they are clearly both having a great time! The Brigadier in particular has a twinkle in his eye throughout his time dressing up as a workman in order to get his soldiers into the prison.

Finally, the missile in this story is a proper military missile called the Bloodhound which was on loan from the RAF. It adds a reality to the scenes that transcend the plot and is genuinely impressive on the screen.

Final Thoughts

The cliffhanger of Episode 3 is the first scene of Doctor Who that I genuinely remember, but it freaked me out so much that I was not allowed to watch it for a few weeks! All these years later it is still an effective set piece.

The Master is always good value and always effective, but his reappearance in this episode is not quite as impactful as his first appearance given the convoluted nature of the plot. You would think that a genius like the Master would have been able to see where problems might arise, but he seems to be too busy trying to prove how clever he is to notice the obvious flaws. This makes him somewhat less of a Moriarty figure in this one. I also wonder whether the fear that the Keller Machine unearths really does the character any good.

Doctor Who Re View Terror of the Autons

The Reviews

Welcome to the first in an ongoing series of reviews of old Doctor Who adventures. A while ago I got the Blu-ray version of Series 8 of the original series, starring Jon Pertwee with what became known as the UNIT family. That is where the reviews will start. I will then move on to other stories from other eras. What I will not be doing is commenting on the quality or otherwise of the special effects, or the improvement in picture and sound due to the Blu-ray. I will be concentrating entirely on the story and the characters. For those of you who want to enjoy the stories yourself I promise a minimum of spoilers, as I hate spoilers myself! With those parameters set up, off we go!

Time for a change

The start of Series 8 of the original run of Doctor Who was a game changer for the programme. Jon Pertwee was starting his second series as the Timelord and had settled in nicely. The previous run had got good reviews and reasonable ratings, not that those things really made a huge difference in those days. Despite this, the production team felt that things needed shaking up so out went the Doctor’s near equal Liz Shaw, to be replaced by a more traditional companion in Jo Grant. UNIT went up to a permanent complement of three with Captain Yates joining Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart and Sergeant Benton.

Finally, the Doctor was to get his own ‘Moriarty’ in the form of another Timelord as brilliant as he was, but entirely evil. This new character was the Master. It was an idea that gave the writing team the basis for a whole series where the Master would appear in every story. Was that overkill? We shall see!

Fantastic plastic?

The Autons were already well known to viewers as a result of their introduction in Jon Pertwee’s first story, Spearhead from Space, so the title itself lets you know what to expect. We know that the Autons can utilise any plastic material, in whatever form it appears, to help them in their attempt to take over the Earth. The hands dropping away to reveal guns were a familiar device to viewers, but writer Robert Holmes and director Barry Letts wanted to increase the danger posed by the Nestene Consciousness who controlled the Autons. To this end they utilised chairs, dolls, phone wires and even daffodils to attack anyone who stood in their way. Some of the scenes were so shocking at the time that questions were raised in the House of Lords as to whether it was suitable teatime viewing on a Saturday. Mary Whitehouse, the self-appointed moral guardian of the country used her pulpit to denounce the programme, but precious few people, even in those more devout days, saw her as anything other than a crank or a busybody, so all that did was raise the programme’s profile. The Autons were definitely a more evil and frightening monster this time around because Holmes had based their attacks on items that could be found in many homes. To this day, the concept of killer plastic can give children and adults alike fresh nightmares!   

The UNIT Family

Jo Grant definitely makes an impression on the viewers as well as the Doctor on her first outing. The gorgeous Katy Manning immediately gives Jo an appeal based on her bubbly and fun-loving nature. Throughout their first few interactions, the Doctor treats Jo as something of an imbecile. He mistakes her for a tea lady and assures her that he doesn’t need anything. When he appears to accidentally set fire to a piece of equipment he has been working on he looks on in horror as she grabs the fire extinguisher to put the blaze out. Instead of thanking her he calls her a ‘ham-fisted bun vendor’! When he finds out she has been dispatched to UNIT headquarters to take over as the Doctor’s new assistant he tells the Brigadier he wants her gone. The Brigadier says he has to sack her himself, but when the Doctor looks into her eyes he can’t bring himself to do it, much to the Brigadier’s amusement! Later on in the story Jo will prove herself to be a very resourceful companion.

The UNIT trio of the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates have varying amounts of work to do during this story. Benton, played as a solid and dependable professional soldier by the excellent John Levene, is peripheral to the story but his familiarity to the viewers means that we are content to see him working alongside the Brigadier just doing his job. The Brigadier himself played by the marvellous Nicholas Courtney comes across as the archetypal career officer with little imagination, but he is more than prepared to make it clear to the Doctor that UNIT is his kingdom, and he will rule it as he sees fit. His bravery is never called into question even by the Doctor in his prickliest moods, and on a number of occasions in this story alone he puts his life on the line for his friends and colleagues. Finally, Captain Yates is the new member of the team played by Richard Franklin. Young and ambitious, he plays a similar role to Jo in that he is there for the Brigadier, and occasionally the Doctor, to explain things to. As with Jo, however, his character deepens throughout his time in UNIT and goes off in some very unexpected directions.

The Master

The Master is a rogue Timelord, like the Doctor, but his aim is not to protect Earth. Instead he wants to work with any alien race that will help him to enslave it. Roger Delgado gives the Master a suave and, in many ways, appealing character that makes the audience well disposed to him even when he is being evil. As with the Doctor there is a sense of purpose, a sense of honour and a sense of humour underlying everything he does. He sees the Doctor as ‘almost’ his equal, and he sees their battles in a chivalrous way. He would never stab the Doctor in the back because that would be dishonourable. He would only kill the Doctor face to face because that would give him a chance to say goodbye properly. Roger Delgado was a long term friend of Jon Pertwee’s and that gave the relationship between the two protagonists an underlying affection that shone through in every scene they did together. Every incarnation of the Master since has owed something to Delgado’s template for the character but none of them have matched the ability that he had for showing sheer closeness of the bond between the two Timelords. He was the first and unquestionably the best Master.

The Story

This is an incredibly fast paced story, apparently giving a lie to the widespread perception that stories were built up much more slowly in those days. It could prove to be an outlier, but I’ll get back to you on that one! The first appearance of the Master completely wrongfoots the audience, as you hear the sound of the TARDIS before it appears as a horsebox in a circus. The Master himself is this very impressive self-contained character who sees little need to shout which, as all good villains know, makes him much more menacing. His ability to hypnotise people is shown straight away, and that becomes very important throughout the story. When he walks in and takes over the plastics factory run by Rex Farrell, the son of its founder, he realises straight away that the other manager, McDermott, will be something of a problem, so he invites him to try out a plastic chair for size! Farrell’s father doesn’t like Colonel Masters and proves to be immune to hypnosis so other means will have to be found to remove his opposition. The menace of the Autons allied to the intelligence and ruthlessness of the Master makes this high stakes from the start. As UNIT investigates further they realise that anything or anyone can be used as a weapon to stop them thwarting the plans of the Master and the Nestene. The problem is that they don’t know where the next attack will come from, and they have no idea where the Master is working from. It’s time for the Doctor to really rack his brain to come up with ideas before it’s too late.

Favourite Moments

I love the way that children’s television in the 70s saw no need to talk down to their viewers. In the aftermath of one episode of hypnosis, the Doctor explains that the subject was suffering from ‘schizoid disassociation’ as a result of being made to do something that was completely out of character.

Usually, the Doctor’s new assistants take a couple of stories to get into their stride. Katy Manning IS the Doctor’s assistant from the time she walks through the door in her first scene. She has an air of sweetness and vulnerability, but her instant reaction to the workbench fire shows that she has a real instinct to help and protect the Doctor wherever possible. The instant rapport with Jon Pertwee is magical in its instinctiveness and is the reason why 50 years later she is still my favourite companion.

My favourite line in the story comes from Jo Grant. She tells the Doctor that she did an A Level in Science when she is trying to persuade him that she can be useful to him. Later on he describes the Nestene as being like a cephalopod in appearance, and she asks him what a cephalopod is. He explains it is a type of octopus, then looks at her quizzically.

‘I thought you did an A Level in Science?’

‘I didn’t say I passed did I?!’

The appearance of a Timelord in Episode 1 to warn the Doctor about the Master’s appearance on Earth is very amusing. It is a stroke of genius to have the Timelord appear in front of the Doctor in a bowler hat, three piece suit and carrying an umbrella. It places the rest of his race in the role of universal bureaucrats who look at the rest of the races in the galaxy in a bloodless and dispassionate way, in clear contrast to the meddling duo themselves.

The beautifully drawn relationship between Farrell senior and his wife takes place over two scenes. In the hands of experienced character actors, Stephen Jack and Barbara Leake, you see a whole lifetime of affection in their brief interactions despite them only sharing a couple of minutes of screen time together. In the second scene, where Mrs Farrell is speaking about her husband the depth of feeling is clear in the faraway look in her eyes, as she gives the Doctor the clue he needs to find out where the Master is hiding. The quality of the supporting cast, epitomised by these two characters, really shines through in this episode.

Final thoughts

This story is effectively the second reboot of the new era of Doctor Who and it works pretty much perfectly. The close knit relationship between the main cast members would become ever more apparent over the next few years, but as a starting point this can’t be beaten.

My Musical History Part 10

Royalty and the new Crown Prince of cricket

The summer of 1981 was chiefly memorable for two things. If you were a monarchist, the big event was the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. It’s easy to be cynical about it now, knowing how it turned out, but at the time it genuinely was a fairy tale wedding, perhaps the last royal marriage that will ever be seen that way. Lady Diana was a gorgeous, shy young bride who seemed to be perfect for Charles, although we only thought that because of the way it was reported at the time. The wedding itself was very much the height of pomp and ceremony with huge crowds camping out for days beforehand to watch the ceremony in London and many of the rest of us watching on television. When Diana got out of the coach with the almost comically enormous train, the overwhelming response of the British public was, ‘Look how creased the dress is’! The ceremony itself was marked by Diana getting two of Prince Charles’ four Christian names the wrong way round. Funny the things that stick in your mind isn’t it? There were parties around the country, although not to the extent of the Silver Jubilee, and those who were well disposed to the institution of monarchy, and even some of those who weren’t, were happy in the knowledge that the future king had found the love of his life. As it turned out he had, but that’s another story!

The event I remember most clearly from that year was the Ashes series, with a fairly strong Australian team coming over to face a beleaguered England team who had the completely unsuitable Ian Botham as captain. Despite being a better bowler than Tony Greig and, on the odd occasion he came off, a destructive batsman, the one thing he could not match his predecessor as the great English all-rounder on was his captaincy. Greig was a brilliant, unorthodox, instinctive captain who was superb at man management and tactically inspired. Botham could only try to lead by example, and he looked like as a man completely out of his depth when it came to coaxing the best performance from his side. He started the campaign as captain with a low scoring loss to Australia and the Second Test at Lords, the home of English cricket, saw him bowl badly and fail to score in either innings with the bat. His silent reception from the massed ranks of MCC members in the pavilion after his second innings duck left him with an anger towards the MCC and a broken relationship that wasn’t healed until many years later. He resigned the captaincy straight after the match, leaving Mike Brearley to be called back into the England side as the new captain. This led to three of the most amazing test matches ever played. If anyone tells you 2005 was the greatest Ashes series ever, they were too young to have a clear memory of 1981!

At Headingley, England were in huge trouble by the end of Day 3. Although Botham had shown a welcome return to form with 6 for 95 and a dashing 50, England were following on 227 runs behind on first innings. When wicketkeeper Bob Taylor was out, mid-afternoon on Day 4, England were 135 for 7 and facing total humiliation. They were quoted at 500/1 to win the test match, odds that two of their Australian opponents, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh, found too tempting to ignore! In those less suspicious times, it was taken for what it was, two Australians having a bit of fun at the expense of their opponents. Certainly, anyone who saw the match at the time could have no suspicion that either were trying anything less than 100%. Graham Dilley came in to join Ian Botham and they just decided to swing at anything and go down fighting. Their shared instinct to attack led to the most amazing turnaround I have ever seen in a game and a series. In 80 minutes of carnage the two added 117 runs with Dilley the senior partner in terms of runs scored with a brilliant 56. The next 85 minutes saw Botham unleash his full range of shots as he added 104 for the last two wickets with bowlers Chris Old, who hit a useful 29, and Bob Willis whose greatest moment was yet to come. This left Australia with a mere 129 to get, to find themselves 2-0 up in the series with 2 tests to go. At 56 for 1 it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Within 30 minutes, Bob Willis, with 6 wickets, had laid waste to the middle order and Australia had lost a further 7 wickets for 19 runs! I was at school at the time, and it was getting close to registration, but transistor radios were on everywhere and the bulk of the staff were still in the teachers’ room following the game to its conclusion. Lillee and Ray Bright gave the England fans a huge scare with 25 quick runs to bring them within 20 runs of their target, but Willis and England were not to be denied. He picked up the final two wickets to give him the historic figures of 8/43 and England won by 18 runs! There were huge cheers throughout the school and the afternoon lessons were definitely secondary to the huge excitement caused by that once in a lifetime test. For Botham, with 50 and 149 plus 6 wickets in the first innings, that 3rd Test was the start of the most incredible 31 days of his cricketing life. He won the 4th Test for England with a spell of 5 wickets for 1 run in 28 balls! Finally, in the 5th Test, he produced an inning that was even better than his 149 with 118 at better than a run a ball to leave a shellshocked Australia chasing over 500 to win. To give them their due, they only fell 103 runs short as Allan Border, in particular, demonstrated the skill and determination that were to epitomise his batting over the next decade. The 6th Test saw Botham take 10 wickets in a draw that saw England win the series 3 – 1. At the end of a series that started so disastrously, Botham was back at the top with 399 runs and 34 wickets in 6 matches and Mike Brearley had cemented his status as England’s finest ever captain.   

The Singles Chart

January to March – Novelty records return!

Back in 1981, the chart was nothing if not eclectic in nature. The melting pot of punk and new wave was still producing incredible songs, synth pop music was making waves and artists started finding success with novelty records that were a throwback to the mid-70s.

First out of the traps in January were Chas and Dave with the sexist but tongue in cheek Rabbit which bemoaned the fact that one of them had a girlfriend who wouldn’t stop talking! Now don’t run away with the idea that these two middle aged blokes just got lucky in the music industry with some novelty songs, they were far more respected than that. Both Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock had been working in a variety of musical genres for over two decades before Chas and Dave hit the big time. They played with artists like Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Chas Hodges was a session musician for early rock n roll legends Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bill Haley. Their records as Chas and Dave may have sounded rough and ready, although in truth they were brilliantly crafted pieces of music, but they had the musical background to really make them connect with the public. Later in the year they were in the Top 10 again with Ossie’s Dream, their cup final song for Tottenham Hotspur!

Next was the most controversial novelty song of the 1980s. It wasn’t obscene or unpleasant, nor was it, of itself, particularly memorable. However Shaddup You Face by Joe Dolce Music Theatre became notorious for having kept Vienna by Ultravox off the Number 1 spot that it merited! The music papers and indeed the national papers had a field day with this cod Italian song that, in the words of the song, ‘Gotta no respect’ for the musical prowess of the synth pop legends led by the marvellous Midge Ure. Confession time. I bought Joe Dolce not Ultravox thereby contributing to one of the worst miscarriages of justice in chart history and I hope Midge and the guys can forgive me!

The final novelty was far less controversial and also much funnier. Fred Wedlock, a Northern comedian proved to be an enduring one hit wonder with his ode to the sad middle aged man trying to recapture his youth in the hilarious Oldest Swinger in Town. Unlike Rabbit, this song had male vanity firmly in its sights and ran through the enormous number of artificial aids that this pathetic specimen had to use to try to pass for someone younger at the nightclubs. It made me laugh 40 years ago when I was a teenager, and it makes me laugh now when I am the age of the Oldest Swinger but having hung up my dancing shoes for good!

The previous year, Adam and the Ants started to come on my radar as a group I enjoyed listening to. Adam and the Ants were the brainchild of Stuart Goddard, whose stage name was Adam Ant. He was a former student at Hornsey College of Art, but he dropped out to become a musician. However, his design and art background gave the band its incredible aesthetic appeal. Running the gamut from Native American warpaint to pirates, highwaymen and fairy tale characters, the only guarantee with each new track was that Adam and the Ants would have a look unlike any other group. You know that moment when you hear an introduction, and your mouth just drops open when you realise you are hooked? Well I had that moment the first time that Kings of the Wild Frontier appeared on Top of the Pops. It started off with the now familiar call and response style opening that they would have got from listening to glam rock. So far, so commonplace I thought. Then, the song started in earnest with the tribal style double drumming, and I was absolutely hooked from then on. Kings of the Wild Frontier is still one of my favourite songs of the 80s and every time I hear that drumming it just reaches something deep inside me that is almost primitive. It is an outstanding piece of music.

The middle of March saw the first Top 10 hits for two 80s icons, Kim Wilde with Kids in America and Shakin’ Stevens with This Old House, but more of both of them later in this journey through my musical memories. The second record that just made my jaw drop with an incredible opening was the outstanding Reward by The Teardrop Explodes. The brass opening just blows you away every time you listen to it and the song itself almost epitomises early new wave music in its musicality and its attitude. This was a song for teenagers, not for the oldies and you could listen to it and know that you were hearing something in it that your parents would never get. Julian Cope’s chart success was fleeting, although he continued to produce challenging and interesting music, but in Reward he and his band produced a truly great song that stands the test of time.         

April to June – Eurovision, Punk, all time favourites, and a couple of all time classics

Back in the 70s and 80s, the UK were usually found near the top of the leader board when it came to the Eurovision Song Contest. The entry for 1981, however, was probably one of the best songs the UK ever sent to compete with the rest of Europe. Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz was an insanely catchy song that would have done well anyway, but one piece of choreography arguably turned it from a contender to a winner in an incredibly close contest. The group made up of Bobby G, Mike Nolan, Jay Aston, and Cheryl Baker kept their moves simple as the song built up a head of steam. Then, as they reached the line, ‘If you want to see some more’, Bobby and Mike grabbed hold of Jay and Cheryl’s long skirts and whipped them off to reveal much shorter skirts beneath! It brought the house down in Dublin where the contest was held and the voters around Europe queued up to give the song high marks as it swapped the lead with Germany, Switzerland, France and Ireland. Norway got ‘nul points’ for the third time, a state of affairs the UK would become all too familiar with in later years.

The two Punk tracks that really stood out were D-Days by the ever brilliant Hazel O’Connor whose follow-up to the previous year’s Eighth Day really hit the spot for me. The other one was by a band called Tenpole Tudor whose anthemic ‘Olde English’ song Swords of a Thousand Men melded Oi Punk with medieval imagery and a nod to Henry V by Shakespeare. It was joyous, infectious, and led me to Punk which I had really been too young for when it first came out. It’s a song that has definitely stood the test of time, being used in adverts and sports events, and rekindling great memories for those of us who were around at the time.

Whenever I think about Madness, song after song comes to mind, testament to their stream of brilliant tracks throughout the first few years of the 80s in particular. For my favourite original song of theirs, however, I have to choose their release in May of 1981 of the doomy but brilliant Grey Day. It is an atypical song that reflects the day to day drudgery of a job you can’t stand but need to have to pay the bills. I loved the song as soon as I first heard it, and I was off to my favourite record shop the Saturday after it was released to buy it. Like many of my favourite singles it was barely off of my record player in the first week after I bought it, and it still mesmerises me even now.

Hazel O’ Connor hit the charts again in June with Will You, a song that became her signature tune thanks to one of the finest saxophone solos ever put on record. I have mentioned my weakness for saxophone solos before, and this is very close to being the top of the pile at a time before it was a regular feature of songs. This was the tune that demonstrated, perhaps more than any other, how much emotion it could convey.

In May, Adam and the Ants released their follow up to Kings of the Wild Frontier. It became their signature song, introducing the Dandy Highwayman to the list of characters in Adam Ant’s dressing up box. Stand and Deliver is just the epitome of their sound, a coachman’s horn that starts the song followed by the cry of ‘Stand and Deliver’! It is the start of a song that grabs you from that first note and never lets up for three minutes. The video is funny, self-aware and brilliantly put together. It is probably the best example of the song and the video playing off of each other from the early 80s and showed Adam Ant’s design aesthetic in all its glory. Even the picture sleeve of the original single was an incredibly exciting thing to pick up and look at. Stand and Deliver was the high water mark for one of pop’s most original bands.

Kim Wilde’s first hit had been Kids in America, but for me her second single was the best one she released that year. I am aware that I am in a minority, but I felt that Chequered Love was the better record and it’s the one that still has the place in my affections. The driving synth of Chequered Love seemed to borrow riffs from Gary Numan which were then channelled through the rock n roll sensibility of Kim’s dad, Marty Wilde. What resulted was an exciting track that proved you could pretty much go anywhere with electronic music if you had the right ideas.

Similarly, This Old House by Shakin’ Stevens was, to my mind, bettered by his second, slightly less successful single. Mind you, a Number 2 record is not a disappointment in any way! In fact You Drive Me Crazy, written by Ronnie Harwood won an Ivor Novello award for the year’s best song in its genre. The track updates the rock n roll sound that he was famous for and has a great vocal performance from the Welsh singer.  

In June, the record that got everyone talking, whether they listened to music or not, was one of the most socially aware and incisive pieces of music of the 80s. The Specials were a multi-talented, multi-cultural band from Coventry who had set up their own label, 2-Tone, which introduced acts like Madness, Selecter and The Beat to UK music audiences. Their tracks like Too Much, Too Young, which looked at the trap of teenage pregnancy, and Rat Race, which looked at a lifetime in a job you hated, had a sardonic edge of humour to them that slightly softened their effect. There was no such softening in the track they released in June of 1981. Ghost Town was a frankly astonishing piece of music which reflected on the social unrest in their hometown. It took on a wider resonance just after it was released with a wave of riots that reflected the hard edged and angry song, and, in that occasional synergy you get when a record reflects the time, became the theme tune of Thatcher’s Britain in 1981, a time when many young people saw little hope, and nothing being done to make things better. If it had been released when the UK was at ease with itself it would still have reached the top of the charts, but it would not have been so iconic nor so emblematic of an era.

July to September – Summer hits and electronic beauty

In 1981, the latest James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only was released and, to my delight the theme tune was sung by one of my favourite singers, Sheena Easton. If you’ve read my previous blog about 1980 you will know how much of a fan I am of hers. The song itself was classic Bond with the hint of that famous tune, lush strings and a beautiful vocal that moved away from the torch song approach of Shirley Bassey and reflected the more subtle style of Carly Simon. The film wasn’t quite as good as the Spy Who Loved Me, although it was a great example of a Roger Moore Bond with chases, wordplay and explosions galore, but the song was right up there with the best Bond songs of all time.

The summer saw two records that could not have been more different worm their way inside my head. Japanese Boy by Aneka was a simple, throwaway song sung beautifully by the Scottish singer Mary Sandeman. Due to her performances on Top of the Pops dressed up in a kimono, the song shot up the charts, reaching Number 1 in its second week of release. It took over from the second of Shakin’ Stevens Number 1s of the year, the catchy Green Door, which had been Number 1 throughout August. However, neither song would come to represent the summer of 1981 in my memory, so it came as something of a surprise to find out that Tainted Love by Soft Cell wasn’t released until August 22 and didn’t reach Number 1 until the first week of September! Amazing the way that occasionally your memory plays tricks on you isn’t it? Whatever the timing though, Tainted Love is by any standards a total classic with an incredible vocal performance from Marc Almond who inhabits the song in a way that no one else could have done. It was a song that everyone was singing when I got back to school to start my A Levels. After 5 years of constant bullying I just about rescued 4 O Level passes from the wreckage and was fortunate indeed that the rugby team’s best player had a similarly bad set of results. They let him in to the Sixth Form, so they had no choice but to let me in! If anything was tainted for me it was the education I had got in how to just about survive bullying, so the angry and occasionally bitter lyrics really spoke to me.

The final record I want to reflect on led to a decades’ long affection for the brilliant Liverpool based electronic band, OMD. Souvenir is, without doubt, the most beautiful synth based tune ever recorded. I’m stating that as an objective fact because nothing else has made me stop in my tracks as quickly as that did, and I am not prepared to hear any argument! It is 3 minutes of beauty and mystery, and it just gets inside your soul. I had heard them and enjoyed their music before then, but this was the track that turned me into a lifelong fan. Many years later I saw them live for the first time and when they played Souvenir I got very emotional as that beauty hit me once again.

October to December – Classic artists reappear and there’s a Christmas Number 1 for the ages

The charts at the start of October saw a huge variety of styles from the sublime to the ridiculous. Invisible Sun by The Police, about the ongoing Troubles in Northern Ireland, just missed out on the Number 1 spot to the unsettling, off-kilter, and brilliant remake of 60s hit It’s My Party by Dave Stewart (not the one with the Eurythmics) and Barbara Gaskin. 70s Glam icon Alvin Stardust was back in the charts with the rock n roll number Pretend, which launched a new wave of success over the next few years. Then, just to prove that the UK record buying public could buy complete rubbish even in the name of comedy records, in the Top 10 was the Birdie Song by The Tweets, an irritating earworm that is running round my head as I think of the song! As with every other horrible record it still isn’t as bad as the trio of sausage roll related crimes against music that the UK public inflicted on the rest of us as Christmas Number 1s in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Here’s hoping he doesn’t release another in 2021!! Anyway, back to 1981.

Dave Godley and Lol Crème were half of the classic 70s group 10cc, whose hits included the brilliant trio of Number 1 hits, the anti-love song I’m Not in Love, the prison drama Rubber Bullets and the cod reggae of Dreadlock Holiday. When Godley and Crème went solo you just knew that whatever they released would be interesting. Under your Thumb was a psychological drama and supernatural thriller rolled into one. Set on a train with a suitably percussive backing it was a really classy and unnerving track that sent a shiver down your spine. In December they picked up a second Top 5 hit with the sarcastic and catchy Wedding Bells about a man trying to escape the inevitable walk down the aisle with his marriage obsessed girlfriend!

New Wave stalwarts Squeeze had been making funny, slice of life records since 1978 and having a good measure of chart success in the late 70s. In November 1981 they released a single that remains amongst my favourite story songs. Labelled with Love tells the story of an old woman, shuffling around in a decaying house, who has been abandoned by her family and the rest of the world. As the song fills in the background you realise that this woman could easily have found herself in much better circumstances, but through chance and a couple of bad decisions she is condemned to living out her life in poverty, shunned by everyone else. It is a deeply sad song that seems to borrow from the country and western tradition whilst still remaining unmistakably English at its core.

In November, The Police reached the top of the charts again with the infectiously catchy Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, a blast of sunshine in a dark and dreary winter in the UK. They only stayed there for a week as the once in a lifetime collaboration of Queen and David Bowie took over top spot with Under Pressure, an instantly recognisable tune that was used in another Number 1, the far less appealing Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice, proving that you can ruin any tune however good! Both of those great groups had to give a nod of acknowledgement to the year’s biggest selling single, the defiantly UnChristmassy Christmas Number 1, the frankly brilliant Don’t You Want Me by The Human League. The Sheffield based synth pop legends had been building up a head of steam that year before breaking through with the instantly recognisable tune and a song about a Svengali figure who has lost control of his protégé. Despite his threats that he can put her back in the obscurity where he found her she knows that she has enough talent and determination to make it on her own, so she walks away from him with her head held high.

New Tricks: An Appreciation Part 3

The Newer Dogs

James Bolam was never going to be an easy actor to follow, so when Denis Lawson was brought in as Steve McAndrew, a Glasgow cop, it was very much a case of waiting to see how he fitted in. His first couple of episodes played with the idea of the new guy very well. Gerry bonded with him over a heavy drinking session and found that they were similar characters with a similar way of doing things. They were both instinctive policemen, happy to use their fists as well as their brains and possessing a healthy disrespect for authority in all its forms. Brian, on the other hand, was petty and spiteful as he made no effort to adjust. Steve did his best to mollify him, but the efforts he made seemed to make things worse if anything. Eventually, Esther took a hand in things and invited Steve over for dinner. Initially Brian’s rudeness and unpleasantness went up a notch when he refused to sit down at the table with him, but Steve stood his ground and promised Brian that he wasn’t trying to be a new Jack. Although there was some measure of acceptance eventually, Brian and Steve never really made a breakthrough. In that sense, Gerry represented the viewers who were happy to see change and a new dynamic while Brian represented the viewers who clung to the past and harked back to the old days.

Once Steve had fitted in, he brought a different approach to the job. Outwardly he was more content to toe the line, but his working practice consisted of hunches, occasional deception, and an ability to change his persona depending on who he was dealing with. He could be drawn into a case entirely on one side, due to sympathy with one of the protagonists, but if the evidence pointed in the direction of that person he would, regretfully, do his job to the full extent of the law. Of course, if he nailed someone he didn’t like he would often take an inordinate amount of pleasure in it. In a sense, Steve was more of an everyday copper with fewer quirks than his colleagues and, at times, provided a necessary corrective to their more offbeat approaches. When pure policework was needed, Steve McAndrew was your man.

With over 50 in years in the business and nearly 100 acting credits under his belt, Denis Lawson was a well-known face on British TV before New Tricks came along. He also appeared in the original Star Wars trilogy as Wedge, a role he repeated in the most recent film.

Brian Lane’s departure saw the arrival of a similarly quirky replacement, Danny Griffin. At least, that’s what he appeared to be on the surface. Erudite, full of facts about a huge range of subjects, and somewhat distant at first he found himself immediately at odds with Gerry who reacted really badly when the last of the original team left. Over the time they spent together they finally reached a kind of understanding, but they were too different to become close. One of the running jokes of the later series was either Gerry or Steve asking Danny, ‘What exactly did you do in the Diplomatic Service?’ as Danny demonstrated yet another skill that was far from commonplace. We never got an answer, but we knew he was a copper to be reckoned with for his intelligence, instinct, and approach to the job.  

As we got to know more about Danny, it was clear that he had built up barriers to protect himself from a world that had dealt him some very bad hands. His daughter, Holly, was left disabled after an horrific incident that had seen Danny’s wife sectioned. When he finally confided in Sasha what had happened, in an incredibly well played and emotional scene, she tells him to take as much time as he needs. His reply was direct and devastating.

‘That’s impossible. I won’t live that long.’

His growing friendship with pathologist Fiona Kennedy was an appealing diversion at first, but once it became more serious the history of his previous relationship loomed very large. At heart, Danny was an affectionate and loving man, as he demonstrated with Holly, but he was also very scarred and found it difficult to move on.

Nicholas Lyndhurst is one of the best loved actors in the UK. His extensive TV experience has seen him go from a young scene stealer in Going Straight with Ronnie Barker and Butterflies with Wendy Craig to national treasure as Rodney Trotter in Only Fools and Horses. His ability to blend comedy and pathos in every single role he has taken on has made every character deeper and more interesting than perhaps even the writers were expecting. A consummate performer, he has never played to type, with every role bringing out a different aspect of his personality. It is impossible to imagine TV over the last 40 years without this incredible and charismatic actor.

The final addition to the cast was Ted Case, a recently retired senior policeman who brought a very different approach to the job. He was first introduced in Gerry’s last case where his attention to detail managed to give UCOS the breakthrough they badly needed. An excessively superstitious policeman who refused to allow people to say that a case was going well in case they jinxed it, and saw signs in everything, he could have been very irritating if the approach hadn’t been underpinned with a knowing and mischievous sense of humour. When he was brought in, his first case saw him temporarily replacing Sasha, but instead of resenting his presence, Steve and Danny ended up playing an increasingly funny game of one upmanship to try to impress him. Ted was a no nonsense East End copper like Gerry, but he knew how to play the game and climb the ladder by getting people to accept him and being something of a social chameleon. Initially reluctant to reveal the fact that he was gay, his UCOS colleagues’ reactions to his partner was the final acknowledgement he needed that he was fully accepted. Despite appearing in fewer than 10 episodes, Ted made a huge impact in that time and became an integral part of the team in their final series.

Larry Lamb, like most of his New Tricks colleagues was an instantly recognisable actor from a host of programmes over the last few decades. However, he was, at the time of the final series of New Tricks, probably most famous for his role as Mick Shipman in Gavin and Stacey. The comedic flair he showed in that series definitely underpinned part of the character of Ted Case, but he showed in Eastenders that he could handle the grittier side of the character as well. A gifted performer, he has an ability to connect with the viewing public in any role and often lifts a programme just by making a well-judged guest appearance.

Colleagues, Friends and Family

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Robert Strickland took over the role of line manager for UCOS in the second series, and initially was seen very much as the enemy because of his apparently slavish adherence to rules and regulations. In truth, he was finding the job something of a poisoned chalice. Despite UCOS’ incredible clear up rate, the way they went about their jobs and the incompetence and corruption they exposed amongst police officers was never going to be popular. A number of the police who were shown to be corrupt were, by the time the cases were reinvestigated, very senior and very well connected. As a result, Strickland really had to tread carefully in order to avoid seeing the unit closed down. Eventually, the official mask slipped little by little and it became clear that in his way Strickland was UCOS’ biggest supporter and best friend. The way he put himself on the line for the Old Dogs time after time was appreciated both professionally and personally, but woe betide anyone who really overstepped the mark!

Anthony Calf can often be found in period dramas like Poldark, Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations where he took the lead role of the adult Pip in the 1989 production. Wherever he turns up you know you will get a performance of quality, and his significant role in the evolving story of New Tricks was a huge part of the success of the programme. With nearly 100 film and TV credits already I am sure it won’t be long before we next see him popping up on the screen to steal scenes and give real depth to more characters.

Esther Lane has been mentioned before in this retrospective, but her importance in the series, as Brian’s wife and an effective fifth member of the team cannot be overstated. Without Esther, Brian would be unable to cope with everyday life. She is often the only person who can reach him in his manic stages, and it is only by using her love as a kind of handhold that he can drag himself up from the depths of alcoholic despair. When he let her down, Esther’s devastation was total as was her anger both with him and with UCOS. It took a while for her to trust him or his colleagues again, but fiercely loyal wife and friend that she is, she will eventually accept someone who has proven to have learnt from their mistakes. Esther’s final appearance in the series saw her, very fittingly, becoming an investigator on her own account as she and Brian get involved in a mystery that eventually ends up dragging in the rest of UCOS.

Susan Jameson appeared in Coronation Street, Z Cars, Crossroads and Dixon of Dock Green in her early career before really becoming a familiar face in the 1970s series When the Boat Comes In. it was in that series that she met fellow New Tricks actor James Bolam who must have made quite an impression on her as she ended up marrying him! She also appeared as Christine Forster in the classic BBC series To Serve Them All My Days, which featured a very young Nicholas Lyndhurst in its early episodes.

Doctor Fiona Kennedy was a forensic scientist who the team first met when they were investigating a death connected with a re-enactment society in Series 11 where her attraction to Danny becomes apparent, and reciprocated, very quickly. She reappeared at the start of Series 12 when the team were trying to help Gerry prove his innocence of a 30 year old crime. After that she becomes effectively a fifth member of the team working both officially and unofficially to help them with their cases, as well as becoming Danny’s partner. In the final episode she tells Danny that she is moving up to Scotland for a new job leaving him with a massive decision to make which will decide their future.

Tracy Ann Oberman has an incredibly varied professional life with appearances in drama and comedy series interspersed with a successful parallel career as a voice artist in Thomas the Tank Engine and the Final Fantasy video games. Her characters are often very playful in nature and seem to be a step ahead of everyone else. She is funny and full of personality in whatever role she plays and she has been in such diverse series as Toast of London, Tracy Ullman and It’s a Sin. Her range is terrific and you never quite know what she is going to pop up in next!

Classic Episodes

Old School Ties (Series 9 Episode 2)

The first episode after Jack’s departure sees Sandra trying to keep the team focused and to keep their spirits up. The case is a very good one that revolves around a private school where the body of the former PE teacher has been found 5 years after he disappeared. His disappearance and the lack of help from the staff is not the only thing that seems to be amiss to Brian. How can they have such a healthy financial state when there are fewer and fewer pupils year on year? Two things make this episode stand out. Brian befriends one of the pupils who is undertaking an experiment to disprove the existence of a poltergeist. As the episode progresses we see that they have a lot more in common than they realise. The main guest star in this episode is the marvellous Nicola Walker who plays a support worker at the school. Her performance is the calm centre around which the story revolves.

Love Means Nothing in Tennis (Series 9 Episode 6)

This episode is one of my all time favourites because of the marvellous performance of Dennis Waterman. The investigation centres around the apparent suicide of a junior tennis champion and the team get involved in the case when doubt is shed on the original verdict. Gerry is horrified at the way that the young players are forced to pose for questionable publicity shots, and he stops a photoshoot by putting his coat round the young player who may or may not be involved. When she returns his coat Gerry finds a letter in the pocket that confirms his suspicions. The case shows Gerry at his most fatherly and he begins to wonder if he should have encouraged his football loving daughter to push on with sport. The main guest star, as the deceased tennis player’s mother is none other than Tamzin Outhwaite! Her performance is subtle and gives the viewer a feeling that something isn’t right. However, with the dead girl’s younger sister having made her way to the top of the junior game she could well be nothing more than a pushy tennis parent.

Glasgow UCOS (Series 9 Episode 9)

The burgeoning bromance between Gerry and Steve gets its own show in this episode where the two of them head to Steve’s old stamping ground of Glasgow to help start up a Scottish version of UCOS. It is a brilliant two hander that gives us time to get to know Steve McAndrew properly. We find out that his wife cheated on him with another policeman, but that he wasn’t exactly blameless for the breakdown of the marriage with his increasingly erratic behaviour. The case is quite grim throughout and Gerry is increasingly worried that they are being watched by people who will stop at nothing to keep their secrets. Some of the threads of Steve’s life are picked up in future episodes so it is quite a pivotal one for the character. It also has a fantastic ending when Gerry intervenes to stop Steve doing something stupid!  

The Little Brother (Series 10 Episode 4)

Brian was dismissed from UCOS in the previous episode, but he and Esther get a truly fitting send off in this story. One of Esther’s friends requests Brian’s help in finding out what happened to her brother. Before long, Brian, with Esther’s increasingly enthusiastic assistance, is embroiled in a case that starts to involve UCOS as well. Someone seems to be laying a trail for them to follow, but why? The performances of Alun Armstrong and Susan Jameson are superb as Brian’s swansong hits the heights. There is also a lovely scene at the end when Sandra and Gerry say a final goodbye to their friend and colleague in a fittingly offbeat and affectionate manner.

The One That Got Away (Series 10 Episode 8)

Sandra Pullman’s final episode is a very interesting one. At the time I was disappointed that she didn’t get an all guns blazing send off. Instead we are taken back to her very first case which remained unsolved. It is a case that has eaten away at her since, and after all, what is UCOS for if it’s not for finally bringing people to justice? In that sense it is incredibly fitting that her final case brings her full circle. The episode is memorable for a guest appearance that is very unexpected but extremely welcome, and for a lovely scene in the office at the end which is more about Dennis Waterman saying goodbye to Amanda Redman than Gerry saying goodbye to Sandra. He tells her not to look back and she doesn’t, but she knows that for 10 years she has done a hell of a job at UCOS and it’s time for her to do a hell of a job elsewhere.

Prodigal Sons (Series 12 Episode 5)

I wanted to choose a case from the final series featuring just the new team and I decided on this one. It really had so much going for it. The case is that of a cricketer who was found dead in suspicious circumstances. When the team ask why they are investigating it, Strickland mentions that it has something to do with his application for membership of the MCC! Sasha is back at the helm after her incapacitation and the Old Dogs, apart from Ted, are very unhappy with the fact that they are being forced to undergo training for a basic fitness test. We find out that Steve is struggling financially, so Danny takes it upon himself to get Steve out of trouble by setting him an incredibly strict budget. Danny himself is struggling emotionally as his friendship with Fiona has turned into a full blown romance and he is faced with the decision of how to tell his estranged wife. The case itself is very intriguing and eventually quite sad. Ted has the chance to face a former test match fast bowler, but his attempts to rile him so he will bowl fast backfire on him! Finally, we find out why Ted has been trying to avoid after work socialising. It is an episode where we really get to know the new team and it works well on every level.

Well, that’s it for my New Tricks retrospective. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Don’t forget, I have taken an in depth look at both The Queen’s Speech and Last Man Standing in previous blog entries.

To Amanda, James, Alun, Dennis, Denis, Nicholas, Tamzin, Larry, Anthony, Susan, and Tracy Ann, if you’re reading this I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Thank you for 12 marvellous years!