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Network On Air: Nights In with ABC 2 - Your Faces are All Blurred!

  To launch the Network On Air streaming service, the centrepiece of the entertainment was a set of curated Nights In, fashioned like an evening of television from the 1960s from the ABC region of ITV as was. Original continuity announcer David Hamilton was on hand with the freshly recorded avuncular introductions and goodnatured quips in between the programmes, as were a selection of original adverts. Let's take a look at the second of these Nights In, named after a line in one of the episodes: Your Faces are All Blurred!

First up is something for the younger viewers, or at least those who were younger viewers in 1967, as ABC adapted C.S. Lewis's classic tale The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for television. As Hamilton points out, out of ten episodes made there are only two that survive, and this, the first, is presented in this selection. It may not have had the lavish budget of the 2005 movie, but it was able to stick to the plot fairly closely, with Lucy finding her way through the back of the titular wardrobe to Narnia, where it's always Winter but never Christmas, and meeting Mr Tumnus (Angus Lennie, best known from cheapo soap Crossroads). Very much a scene-setting introduction at a mere twenty minutes, but atmospheric in its monochrome way.

Next is David Nixon again, delivering his magic tricks, this time using a member of the public's handkerchief ("Do these come in white?" he asks, cheekily) and a different pair of gentlemen's pound notes, which he tears in two. That may be necessary for the trick, but isn't it illegal? As far as we know, Nixon was not visited by the rozzers, as his television career lasted well into the next decade.

Third is Dora Bryan's sitcom from 1961, Happily Ever After, where she starred alongside popular DJ Pete Murray to act out various domestic dilemmas. Again, only two of these episodes survive in the archives, and this one saw Dora hankering after a holiday, dropping heavy hints by making out Pete was in need of a rest, until he agreed - and went on a Scottish salmon fishing trip for men. Undeterred, Dora dresses up as a bloke to infiltrate the party, but thanks to a giant-sized outdoorsman all does not go to plan. Although nothing groundbreaking, this was amusing enough thanks to Bryan's comic persona being well-honed by this stage, a bit daft, but well-meaning and obviously patterned after Lucille Ball's design classic I Love Lucy.

Jezebel Ex U.K. is unusual for its time in that every episode survives, though it's not entirely apparent why, presumably someone at ABC was a big fan. It was a drama series set onboard an ocean liner where a different tale would play out every week with a guest cast mingling with the regulars: this time the most prominent stars were Pete Murray (again) and Heather Sears as a new husband and wife who may have a dark secret in his past to tackle as she grows suspicious he was involved with a child kidnapping that has gone horribly wrong. With stock footage to maintain the illusion of being at sea, this was rather better at its goals than, say, the North Sea soap of the eighties Triangle, even if the cruise itself looks remarkably calm. They certainly liked their theme tune.

Fifth up is The Bruce Forsyth Show from 1966, the second episode in the first series, where the all-round entertainer got to sing, dance and tell jokes in his... well, it wasn't an inimitable fashion, everyone was doing impressions of him, but after his stint as host of Sunday Night at the London Palladium he starred in this for the rest of the sixties, among other efforts. His two guests here are Tommy Cooper and Dudley Moore, two comic talents who were as instantly recognisable to audiences of the day as Brucie was, and this has survived very well, with some very big laughs at their antics. Moore got to perform one of his jazz tunes as part of his trio as well, in a good show for all concerned, the breakfast sketch probably the highlight.

As a little filler before the next programme, we have a Candid Camera skit, the hidden camera capturing shoppers encouraged to dance to music over the Tannoy, which is notable for not being cruel at all, and actually very sweet and charming. Somewhat reminiscent of what consumer rights and general interest show That's Life! would get up to on the BBC in the following decade or three.

Hour of Mystery was a fifties show that dramatized stories with a touch of menace, and the example here is an adaptation of Wilkie Collins' classic Victorian novel of suspense, The Woman in White, brought to this series in 1957, and one of two episodes that remain in the archives. They were introduced, topped and tailed in fact, by respected thespian and general barnstormer Sir Donald Wolfit, here seen apparently looking up from the tome in question having been suitably engrossed in its tale of madness and murder. Naturally, there was only so much they could have done on slender means to reproduce the genuinely thrilling source, and it does resemble a filmed play as much of British television did in the fifties.

Penultimately is an hour spent in the company of Michael Caine, one of the iconic faces of the sixties, with and without his glasses, in confidante to the stars Roderick Mann's short series of interviews Film Star from 1967. We find his subject in his old haunts to recall his younger days growing up as a Cockney, and reminiscing about his filmography to that point - he was filming Billion Dollar Brain - as Caine was a celebrity always happy to discuss and analyse his work and his place in cinema. You could not say his fame ever slackened off, as he was still a draw into his eighties, but catching him in midst of his first flush of success is undeniably absorbing.

Lastly, there's an episode of ABC's arts programme Tempo which took on the consumerist society, which of course meant a focus on soap powder, but also a barrage of imagery of London's advertising and a fascinating view of an entire evening's broadcast of ITV, commercials and all, played at breakneck speed, too fast to take in the plot of anything but you got the gist. Produced by future film director Mike Hodges, this kind of documentary could be labelled pretentious, and probably was at the time, but the sense of grasping towards its truths made it valuable.

That's it for the second of Network's Nights In from the sixties, and you can view it among other Nights In and television episodes at their Network On Air site, a must for nostalgists wishing to immerse themselves in television of decades ago. Click here to join the Network website.
Author: Graeme Clark.


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