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Network On Air: Nights In with ABC 3 - Don't Go Away - I Could Do with a Bit of Cheer Now!

  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 third of these Nights In, named after a line in one of the episodes: Don't Go Away - I Could Do with a Bit of Cheer Now!

First up was someone who had become a regular in these offerings, David Nixon, with his blend of gentle humour and closeup magic, this time with a small sponge cube (he says Arthur Askey wants it back after the show), three outsize playing cards and a dartboard, along with a bit of standup material that gets a mild response. The magic is more impressive, you have to say, but he was an engaging character regardless.

Next was the eighth episode in 1968's The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - what happened to the episodes since the first, in the last selection, you may ask? Predictably, they were wiped, so as Hamilton observes you'll have to get the book out to find out the rest of the story. This instalment at least features Aslan (Bernard Kay) and the wicked Witch (Elizabeth Wallace), all decked out in the finest costumes ABC could muster, with the lion reminiscent of the more cowardly variety of the one from The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, there's more discussion than action in this one, as it was the buildup to the big finale of the last two, but you never know what will survive.

Third was the sitcom Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width from 1967, a stereotype-laden outing which took John Bluthal as a Jewish tailor and Joe Lynch as an Irish Catholic tailor and placed them together in the same business so they could run up suits and compare ethnicities. The audience are in absolute fits at their antics, which this time details what happens when Lynch wants to enter a tailor's contest and is convinced his incredible trousers are just the thing to secure the prize, or he is until Bluthal accidentally cuts them up, anyway. The rest of the plot focuses on the fallout from that, very broadly played, but they're an engaging pair of performers nevertheless. This is the sole surviving ABC episode of sitcom powerhouses Harry Driver and Vince Powell's series.

Fourth was another tale of derring-do from Dial 999, the vehicle for Canadian actor Robert Beatty who again makes it very clear he is playing a Mounted Policeman from the Frozen North, barely before the story has begun. This time he is facing a gang of counterfeiters, alerted to them by one of their number (called Stanley Baxter!) trying to smuggle plates into a London port, and when he's rumbled, biffing all and sundry in an escape attempt. This was notable for its climax in Battersea Fun Park, where there's yet another fistfight (lots of scraps on this show), in this instance in the water slide (or rather, just away from it). It was obviously filmed with overseas sales in mind.

Fifth is Big Night Out, where Mike and Bernie Winters introduce a showcase of variety acts, all of whom seem to be appearing around the country judging by the end credits, presumably doing much the same material as you could witness here. On that line-up is David Nixon again (he must have done great business for ABC) with a nifty Russian dolls trick, a hard-rocking Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson, Terry Hall (not the dour Specials frontman) and Lenny the Lion doing a routine about the space programme, and Lionel Blair trying to convince us he'd make a great James Bond, should a musical version ever be needed - his sister Joyce Blair was also present to belt out showstoppers.

Howerd's Hour is next, as you might have guessed a one-off vehicle for comedian Frankie Howerd, plonked down in a variety format though still getting ample opportunity to go through his shtick with all the oohs, ahs and double entendres present and correct. The conceit here was that he was sitting in his dressing room chatting with the viewer, averring he did not want to go on, and instead telling the story of an ancestor, in this case his great-grandfather who took a troupe to Klondike to entertain the gold miners there. He also seems to have taken Sandie Shaw and Scott Walker, of all people, which adds great historical interest, but mainly this is very funny thanks to his interactions with saloon owner Hattie Jacques and prospector Patrick Wymark.

Then a little filler, a ten-minute burst of Candid Camera, the highlight of which was not the water gag posing as a consumer report, but the restaurant where the tulip drinks the wine and cola of the diners. Seeing how genuinely amused they are by this stunt is a real treat, and it is pretty funny.

Eighth was an entry in the Armchair Theatre series, often called Armpit Theatre for its focus on the grime and grit of modern life, but here with an actual pit in the studio since it was set on a Northern Irish building site and peopled either by actual Irish thespians or those putting on their best brogue. The plot was something about an industrial dispute, where Leo McKern led the insurgency against the man from head office Richard Pearson, who meanwhile is trying to have his wicked way with Elisabeth Murray, the secretary and only woman around for miles, therefore it doubled as a sexual harassment in the workplace tale too. All very rough and ready, with a lot of grunting.

Ninth and last was an episode of The Eamonn Andrews Show, the evening chat show the popular Irishman hosted on ABC, making him a household name (and victim of many an amateur impressionist). Here he was commemorating the tenth anniversary of ABC with a collection of guests from Manchester, or at least the North of England, so while Harry H. Corbett of Steptoe and Son fame sounded Cockney, he was actually Mancunian, and actress Billie Whitelaw followed him despite a peripatetic childhood. Also on were wordsmith Peter Moloney and his mastery of accents, and adopted Mancunian, orchestra conductor Sir John Barbirolli, both of whom were excellent value in an entertaining forty-five minutes of conversation.

That's it for the third 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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