“Jim from Neighbours” – The Busiest Actor in the World (perhaps)

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd January 2012.

A long time ago, in an Erinsborough far, far away, the beloved Neighbours character Jim Robinson suffered a major heart attack and passed away on screen, right before a commercial break. This was way back in 1993, when people actually watched Neighbours and on-screen deaths were rare. Most departing characters simply moved to Brisbane to live with Scott and Charlene.

After eight long years of service to Grundy Television, Kiwi actor Alan Dale was departing the soapie, and a regular income, with his dignity intact and no embarrassing attempts at singing to speak of. Well, there was the dreadful 1989 Christmas With Your Neighbours album but being a Christmas album, it was meant to be dreadful (I hope).

Typecast as “Jim from Neighbours”, Dale found it difficult to get work in Australia. With nothing to lose, he relocated his family to the USA where there was potentially a need for fresh faces in the mature actor niche.

The rest, as they say, is pretty interesting. “Jim from Neighbours” managed to overcome the spectre of Australian typecasting and went on to appear in almost every US television show going as the “serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide.”

He was Caleb Nichol, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide in the hit series that introduced the world to talent vacuum Mischa Barton, The O.C. After his character was killed off with a heart attack, he went on to star in Ugly Betty as Bradford Meade, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide. After his character was again killed off with a heart attack, Dale went on to feature in the brain bending Lost as Charles Widmore, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide but no known cardiac history.

There really was no stopping “Jim from Neighbours.”

Whenever you switched on a television, there he was in a guest role. His credits are pretty much the contents of my DVD shelf. E.R., The X-Files and its spinoff The Lone Gunmen, Torchwood, Entourage, NCIS, The West Wing, JAG, Californication and The Practice have all been graced by the authoritarian and secretive presence of Alan Dale.

He was even the Vice President of the USA in seven “hours” of the rather silly but fun 24. As Jim (not from Neighbours) Prescott, an authoritarian VP with something to hide, he mistakenly placed President Palmer under house arrest, based on false evidence. Playing the third most powerful man in the world (behind the American President and Batman) may seem  an honour until you realise that two years later on the same show, Vice President Mitchell Hayworth was portrayed by Aussie ex-pat and “actor” Cameron Daddo.

Not limited to the idiot box, Dale’s career has also expanded to the silver screen. Last week, I popped the sci-fi vampire action thingy Priest into my VCR to find “Jim from Neighbours” playing his usual character, but in a silly robe, in eye popping 3D.

Most impressive to geeks everywhere, Dale was also cast in two iconic film franchises. He pops up as General Ross in the mediocre Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and plays the Romulan Praetor Hiren in the so-so Star Trek Nemesis. OK, so they weren’t the best films in the series but how many Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies have you been in?

He even has his own trading cards. That’s right, on ebay there is brisk trade in Alan Dale signature cards from his Lost, Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Blah Blah Blah appearances.

Later this month, Dale will appear on Aussie cinema screens as Detective Isaksson in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This year, all Australians (and New Zealanders) should celebrate the amazing career of “Jim from Neighbours” and his remarkable body of work, playing the authoritarian figure with something to hide, since shaking off the stigma of typecasting way back in 1993 when Jim Robinson of Ramsey St met his maker.

TV Review: The New “It’s A Knockout” Sucks

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th November 2011.

On Sunday night, one of my favourite eighties TV shows was resurrected. With minimal fanfare, It’s a Knockout returned after a twenty four year absence.

Originally airing from 1985 – 1987, It’s a Knockout was hosted by Fiona McDonald and Billy J Smith. At the beginning of each episode they would enter the stadium in a golf cart and introduce a series of ridiculous challenges which pitted teams representing four Australian states against each other.

A guest referee would oversee the proceedings. Minor celebrities at the time filled this role, including Grant Kenny, Ricky May and Jon English, as well as Network Ten contracted talent such as Jason Donovan and Cameron Daddo.

The program was recorded just up the road from my childhood home, at Englefield Soccer Stadium in Dural. Surprisingly, I never attended a taping but remember being amazed by the stories from my school friends who went along. I recall being outraged at the time that audience members were split into groups and forced to barrack onscreen for a particular state.

I was particularly impressed that one of my next door neighbours was a cheerleader for the show. I ran into her several years ago. She is now the nursing manager for the intensive care unit of a major Sydney hospital. I bet she doesn’t have the It’s a Knockout gig on her CV.

The latest incarnation of It’s a Knockout is hosted by HG Nelson, Brad McEwan and Charli Robinson. The latter’s job is to interview the contestants and generally make everything seem so much more fun and hilarious than it actually is. Nelson and McEwan have a reasonable chemistry but their banter seems quite disconnected from the rest of the show, as if their segments were shot on a different day to the competition.

This is reminiscent of the similarly themed Wipeout show, which also featured two wise cracking hosts who were very obviously standing in front of a green screen in a studio far away from the stadium.

Both Wipeout and It’s a Knockout are filmed offshore, allegedly to take advantage of less stringent insurance regulations and contain costs. Wipeout and its various international editions, including Wipeout Australia, are shot in Argentina. Kuala Lumpur is home to the new It’s a Knockout, which is interesting, because when I think of whacky game shows, I definitely do not think of Malaysia.

The rebooted It’s a Knockout focuses less on the contestants and more on the action than the original incarnation. For me, this is counterproductive as it’s the human element which draws you in. Without some level of connection to the teams, the players just become Japanese game show cannon fodder for trips, spills and falls.

Gone also is the live audience split into four state groups. In its place is a small but excitable audience in a tiny grandstand. Presumably tourists who don’t care about whether NSW wins or not, the audience claps and cheers at the right times but based on the wide shots of the stadium, anyone in the grandstand would probably not be able to see the majority of the events. It is quite possible that the audience wasn’t even there for the games. With some clever editing, you would just need to shoot a couple of minutes of crowd reactions and send them home.

The continuous spruiking of a certain fast food brand was also annoying. Call me old fashioned but I prefer my ads in the ad breaks.

I know that It’s a Knockout is just another zany TV show but I’m being particularly critical because this one was a childhood favourite. The failed resurrection of Hey, Hey It’s Saturday last year and the imminent relaunch of Young Talent Time in 2012 prove that the TV networks are desperately running out of new ideas.

The problem with brushing the dust off old eighties programming such as It’s a Knockout is that its intended audience, nostalgic Gen Xers such as me, may have adored the show twenty five years ago but have now grown up. I’m no longer interested in Plucka Duck, precocious kids lip synching badly and people dressed up in ostrich costumes riding bikes. If the networks must go back to the eighties well, bring back the original shows as late night reruns.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 09:16  Leave a Comment  
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Terra Nova: hit or miss TV?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th October 2011.

Steven Spielberg’s latest science fiction creation for television, Terra Nova, premiered this past Sunday night. A big budget affair, there are high hopes for this series from its studio Fox and production company, Spielberg’s Amblin Television.

Terra Nova begins on Earth in 2149. The polluted atmosphere is barely breathable and the law dictates that couples may only have two children due to overpopulation. Scientists have discovered a rift in the space-time continuum allowing vital personnel such as doctors, scientists and lawyers (I’m joking about the last one) plus lucky lottery winners to jump back 85 million years to Earth’s Cretaceous period. Fortunately, this Earth is also in an alternate time stream so the events of the past cannot affect the future.

In the new settlement of Terra Nova, doctor Elizabeth Shannon and her two children are secretly joined by her former cop and now prison escapee husband Jim and their illegal third child. Can they survive in a world populated by hungry dinosaurs living in a fenced village (or is it a hamlet, I can never remember) under military rule? Only future episodes and ratings will tell.

So far, things are looking up for this fledgling series. Ratings in the US are acceptable (just) and reviews have been generally positive with an aggregated score of 65% on Metacritic. Thirteen episodes have been ordered so at least we’ll get a decent story arc and season one box set to buy.

Executive producer Steven Spielberg has a mixed track record when it comes to television. He has overseen critical and popular hits such as The Pacific and The United States of Tara as well as flops such as Seaquest DSV and Amazing Stories. He is also not afraid of covering familiar ground and recycling old ideas. Alien abduction series Taken was a retread of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This year’s Falling Skies feels a lot like War of the Worlds. Band of Brothers was a close relation to Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment also produced Earth 2, a short-lived sci-fi series with an extremely similar premise to Terra Nova.

Reportedly Spielberg vetoed Terra Nova’s proposed filming location of Hawaii in favour of Queensland. Jurassic Park’s lush forest locations were mostly shot in Hawaii and Spielberg wanted to differentiate them from Terra Nova’s lush forest locations.

I’d like to suggest that it’s not the trees that would make viewers think that Terra Nova is Jurassic Park-lite. That would be the fenced compound, armoured vehicles and the, wait for it, dinosaurs.

It certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing for the show so far. The pilot episode premiere was pushed back from May to September due to delays in completing the visual CGI effects. One of thirteen executive producers, David Fury, departed due to creative differences, and torrential rain delayed filming and damaged sets in Queensland.

I enjoyed the two hour pilot episode. The no-name cast was appropriately believable, the set and locations decent and the dinosaurs menacing. My only gripe was that perhaps too much was packed into the storyline. The rebellious teenage son got himself in and then out of trouble. Dad was shunned and then accepted into the security team. We met the breakaway settlement (the bad guys) and they attacked. Dinosaurs ate stuff, including people. How could so much happen in one day? It’s a good thing the storyline has established that the time travelling is one way only, otherwise I’d be on the first trip back to the polluted future.

With a production budget of $4 million per episode, Terra Nova is one of the most expensive TV series ever. Decent sci-fi is hard to find so let’s hope it survives past one season. A good indication will be if it manages to hold onto its Sunday 8:30pm timeslot. The ominous sign of a shift to 11:30pm on Wednesday right after the Proactiv ads will be an indication that Terra Nova is an endangered species.

Terra Nova airs Sunday nights (for now) at 8:30pm on Ten.

Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 05:18  Leave a Comment  
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Transformers 3: less than meets the eye

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 5th July 2011.

Like many movie goers this weekend, I took in a screening of the much anticipated Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Directed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer by Michael Bay (Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon), this 157 minute toy commercial was shot in 3D with the assistance of little known director, James Cameron. Mercifully, my session was in 2D. Whilst I was initially excited by the prospect of 3D cinema, I’m now over it completely. The glasses are uncomfortable and make me look like Buddy Holly pre-crash, plus I find the picture a little too dark and cannot follow the action.

The crazy thing about the Transformers sequels is that they are so unnecessarily complicated. I could not tell you what the storyline of the latest film is about. There’s plenty of running, explosions and shooting.  And not much of the movie takes place on the moon.

As a card carrying member of Generation X, I grew up playing with Transformers toys (I even had the opposition toy range, Machine Men or GoBots) and watching the cartoons. My dream Transformers movie would be the realisation of the battles that took place in my head and on the living room floor when I was a kid.

How about this for the perfect Transformers movie? Optimus Prime and the Autobots explore my mum’s kitchen in search of the Whisk of Power. The evil Megatron teams up with Skeletor and E.T. to locate the Egg Beater of Destiny in the second drawer down and the final battle takes place under the living room table. Chaos ensues until bedtime.

Seriously though, I’m struggling to recall anything that took place in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Nothing has stuck. The trailer certainly made a greater impression. How sad.

And what’s with the title? Did Pink Floyd deny Paramount and Hasbro the rights to their famous album name? If that’s the case, why go with the nonsensical “Dark of the Moon” then? I guess it doesn’t matter. Considering the film is a mess, they probably should have gone with Transformers: A Momentary Lapse of Reason instead.

My recommendation is that you by-pass this holiday’s crop of mediocrity. Jim Carrey’s Mr Popper’s Penguins looks pretty dire. By all reports The Green Lantern is terrible. Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Penguins Part Seven may be the only hope for filmgoers.

If you have pay TV, stay at home and enjoy some of the landmark shows about to kick off. Boardwalk Empire, a 12 part series set in Prohibition era Atlantic City, has just concluded and was absolutely amazing. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese and starring Steve Buscemi, this gripping series was television storytelling at its best.

The next instalment in the Dr Who spinoff, Torchwood, will debut next Saturday. Entitled Torchwood: Miracle Day, John Barrowman returns as Captain Jack Harkness in this ten part season which will explore what happens when the population of Earth stop dying.

Finally, the much anticipated Game of Thrones, another big budget series and starring Sean Bean, will debut on July 17. Based on the popular books by George R. R. Martin, the show follows “kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars and noblemen as they vie for power.” I can’t wait.

Some of the best storytelling is taking place on your idiot box. With toy companies now in the filmmaking business, why not stay home and have a big night in?

Masterchef Mindbender

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 7th June 2011.

Are you a reality TV fan? Are you addicted to watching a bunch of starving, bickering Americans on a tropical island? Perhaps following pairs of bickering Americans race around the globe floats your boat? Or maybe you prefer something a little more home grown?

Masterchef has become a ratings phenomenon and made stars out of its contestants and judges. With spinoff cookbooks and merchandise, product endorsements and personal appearances, the show has become a cultural and marketing juggernaut. It’s changed my life. I wouldn’t know how to spell croquembouche if not for Masterchef. I also now know that I shouldn’t cook the bait.

On the surface, Masterchef is a show about cooking, personal triumph and caramelised stuff. It’s about real people doing a real life activity that most of us have to do everyday, albeit a little better. However, I think Masterchef is the most unreal show on TV, far more complicated than any episodic drama or sci-fi series.

Think about this. You’re watching a standard episode of Masterchef. You’re witnessing a contestant baking a cuttlefish or perhaps something more exotic. The next moment, the same contestant is speaking in an interview about their thoughts and motivations in real time. Wait a minute. How can the same person be in two places at once? They’re living and reflecting on the same moment simultaneously. It’s an instant director’s commentary.

Compare this to a documentary. In this format, you might see footage of a subject doing whatever, let’s say, protesting for the rights of cuttlefish. Then you’d cut to an interview with the subject, speaking about the cuttlefish protest in the past tense. They know the outcome of the protest and any future developments. And they acknowledge it.

On Masterchef, the contestant doesn’t appear to know what happens next. You see them burn the cuttlefish, they speak about the stress of burning the cuttlefish but they don’t then say, “Actually, it all worked out in the end because I won anyway as George liked my cuttlefish flambé.” It’s like a good (or bad, your choice) Star Trek episode about parallel universes.

OK, so I understand that this is not actually the case. Obviously the Masterchef production team must grab the contestants from time to time, or perhaps at the end of the day, to watch footage of the day’s events and then reflect on them, without giving away the outcomes. Clearly there must be some very switched on production assistants who observe everyone and everything, taking notes on who would be the most interesting contestant or contestants to interview and follow, storyline wise, for that particular episode.

A single episode of Masterchef is a masterpiece (no pun intended) of editing. Footage from the past in the kitchen is spliced together with interview footage, also from the past, to produce an episode that to the audience appears to be in the present but as a whole, is also from the past considering that it is pre-recorded weeks in advance. The cuttlefish that was baked tonight and interviewed about it at the same time, was actually baked and eliminated weeks ago. This is more mind blowing than an episode of Lost.

And let’s not even mention the insertion of that annoying explosion that happens just before every mystery box reveal, decision or cuttlefish dissection. The winner is…whoosh! The mystery ingredient is…whoosh! I think Matt Preston just accidentally ate someone. Oh no, it’s…whoosh!

So ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as you’re enjoying your favourite reality show about bickering contestants, remember that what you’re watching is a feat of editing genius and is possibly more unreal than any work of fiction.

Classic TV shows you won’t find on DVD

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 22nd March 2011.

Have you ever wandered around the entertainment section of your local department store and seen how many TV shows are now available to buy on DVD? Surely there can’t be a demand for all of them? For every classic series such as Twin Peaks there’s a Golden Girls Season 5. Why buy the excellent Firefly box set when you can buy the craptastic JAG or The Anna Nicole Show? There must be someone buying this stuff.

With that in mind, there are still many notable shows that have yet to find a release on DVD.

“Holy chicken sticks Batman, we’re not on DVD yet!” That’s right, the campy Batman series from the sixties is still yet to be released. Starring the super serious Adam West as the titular superhero and millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, alongside Bert Ward as his youthful sidekick Robin a.k.a. Dick Grayson, there are apparently very complicated rights issues between US networks Fox and ABC, Greenway Productions and DC Comics preventing the Caped Crusader from making his way to DVD.  Why can’t there be disputes keeping Acropolis Now off the shelves?

The eighties series about the sixties, The Wonder Years, is also stuck in DVD purgatory. Starring cuddly Fred Savage as tweener Kevin Arnold and Danica McKellar as his love interest Winnie Cooper, the six seasons of this popular dramedy utilised many popular songs from the late sixties and early seventies. This is where the problem lies. With the licences for the songs limited to television broadcast only, each tune requires a new licence and royalty to be negotiated for DVD release.

Secret Valley was an Australian TV series broadcast on the ABC in 1984. Starring siblings Beth, Miles and Simone Buchanan, the show revolved around a holiday camp for kids. Strangely devoid of adult supervision, the camp was regularly terrorised by bully Spider McGlurk and his gang. It was a G-rated Lord of the Flies without a pig’s head. From memory, each episode ended with a flour bomb fight (take notes kids, bullies are best dispatched with flour, not body slams). The show was shot at the now defunct Smokey Dawson’s ranch in Terry Hills, NSW and the even more defunct El Caballo Blanco Spanish horse theme park in Catherine Field, NSW.

A spin off from Secret Valley, Professor Poopsnagle’s Steam Zeppelin was produced in 1986 and starred Justine Clark. Broadcast on Channel Ten, the story followed a group of kids from Secret Valley who build a flying red bus (as you do) to search for the missing six golden salamanders which when combined will produce a solution to air pollution. Apparently this show is still very popular in the UK, but then again, so is Benny Hill.

Both of these classic Australian children’s shows are not available on DVD. To be fair, equally daggy but awesome kids’ shows Pugwall and Pugwall’s Summer can be found on DVD.

D.A.A.S. Kapital was a sitcom of sorts written and starring the Doug Anthony All Stars. Running for two seasons on the ABC, the show featured Tim Ferguson, Richard Fidler and Paul McDermott as custodians of the world’s most treasured artworks stored aboard a submerged submarine that is owned by the Shitsu Tonka Corporation, a company that now owns the world. Despite a recent DVD release of Doug Anthony All Stars material compiled from the also MIA comedy series The Big Gig, this cult series is nowhere to be found.

If there is supposedly a demand for all twelve seasons of Murder, She Wrote (if Jessica Fletcher arrives in your town, leave because someone’s going to die), five seasons of Ally McBeal and one (but feels like twenty) season of Cops L.A.C., then there must be a market for my picks. And while you’re at it, why not also release China Beach, L.A. Law, Jim Henson’s Dinosaurs (not the mama) and Hangin’ with Mr Cooper? Write to your local member today.

Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!

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One of the hottest new shows from last year’s US television season is sadly yet to find a broadcast home on Australian television. The Walking Dead has been universally acclaimed by both critics and viewers, with strong ratings both in the US and the UK. Developed by Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist, and co-produced by Gale Ann Hurd of The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Aliens fame, the series is based on a popular comic book series of the same name.

So why isn’t The Walking Dead sitting in our TV guides alongside Hawaii Five-O and Blue Bloods? Probably because it is a post-apocalyptic drama focusing on a small band of survivors following an outbreak of zombies.

Zombies are nothing new to popular culture. Originally appearing in films such as I Walked with a Zombie (1943), zombies were originally intertwined with voodoo and witch doctors. It was George Romero’s landmark black and white feature Night of the Living Dead (1968) that introduced the idea of zombies being the flesh eating undead.

Romero continued his zombie series with four further Living Dead films: Dawn of the Dead (1978); Day of the Dead (1985); Land of the Dead (2005); Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2010). Each film features civilisation falling apart as the world is overrun by zombies but none are direct sequels to each other in terms of characters or storylines. The entire series is gore-tastic and gets two half eaten thumbs up from me.

Romero’s co-writer on the original Living Dead film, John A. Russo, wrote a book, The Return of the Living Dead, which was also made into a film in 1985. This time, the zombies have a taste for human brains, and a further four sequels were spawned, all of variable quality. A scene in Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) depicts a zombie dressed in Michael Jackson’s Thriller costume being electrocuted and hilariously recreating the iconic choreography.

Of course, Jackson’s famous long form music video, directed by John Landis in 1983, has probably been seen by more people worldwide than all zombie movies put together. In the video, the living dead arise from their graves to dance and sing to Jackson’s music. That’s far more frightening to me than any brain eating zombie.

The zombie world is not without controversy. Fans were upset when Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2005) featured running zombies. The argument is that as reanimated corpses, zombie ankles are probably too decomposed and unstable to sustain running. I guess that rules out my Zomba™ latino dance exercise program for the undead.

The excellent post-apocalyptic films 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007) also feature zombie-like creatures. A debate still rages over the internet about whether these films can be considered of the zombie cannon. In my opinion, they can’t be included, as the creatures depicted are actually infected living people who can starve to death if they don’t feed.

Zombies have also slowly made their way (walking and moaning) into other motion picture genres. The action horror franchise Resident Evil (2002-2010) features Milla Jovovich fighting hordes of zombies. Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992), Andrew Currie’s Fido (2006) and Zombieland (2009) are laugh out loud comedies. Even the romantic comedy isn’t safe. The excellent Shaun of the Dead (2004) was the world’s first “zom-rom-com.”

Reportedly in pre-production, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should hit our screens in 2013. I can’t wait to see literary heroine Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters battle the walking dead.

My favourite zombie movie title has to be the rather subtly named Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! (2007). Surprisingly, it focuses on an unorthodox speech therapist helping King George VI overcome his stammer.

But seriously, zombies are now firmly a staple for modern film audiences. Why shouldn’t they be on our small screens too, especially in a dramatic series as acclaimed as The Walking Dead? With the plethora of free-to-air and pay TV channels out there, surely someone should purchase the rights and air it before some of the more technically gifted amongst us obtain it by “other means.”

Classic ABC Filler Music Videos

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 23rd November 2010.

In my column last week, I took a trip down memory lane, or in my case, Olola Avenue, Castle Hill, and reminisced about my favourite ABC kids afternoon programs from the eighties. That little adventure awoke another remnant of a memory.

During the late seventies and eighties, the ABC wasn’t the slick operation it is today. There were no promotional ads for upcoming shows, and so the couple of minutes left between programs were filled with early music videos. These videos ran repeatedly whenever there was time, and so I guess over many viewings, they became the basis of my love for music, or at the least, one hit wonders.

All of these music videos are burnt into my brain. I remember the tunes, the words, and pretty much every detail of the music videos. If only I knew the names of the songs.

A little research online gave me the names and artists of each music video, with the exception of one elusive clip. This one was an instrumental, kind of a sea shanty, and the video featured a bunch of women doing some sort of traditional dancing in a white room, while the musicians looked on. Ten points to you if you already know the answer.

And now, direct from 1980 or so, via my rather poor memory, are those pesky music videos that eluded me for so long.

Bright Eyes was the theme song from the 1978 animated film Watership Down, based on the Richard Adams book of the same name. Art Garfunkel, of the little known musical duo Simon and Garfunkel, performed the song in his famous falsetto. The song was composed by Mike Batt, who was also responsible for discovering Katie Melua and writing The Wombles hit novelty albums.

Even today, Bright Eyes haunts me. The book is depressing and sad. The tune is depressing and sad. The video, which features cute animated rabbits happily hopping around fields and then being caught in snare traps and dying, is depressing and sad. As a six year old, the sombre nature of the music video was certainly not lost on me, and I’d often be found sitting in silence, thinking about “those poor Bright Eyes rabbits.”

Love Is All was a popular single from the rock opera concept album, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshoppers Feast, which was composed by Roger Glover, of Deep Purple fame. With glass shatteringly high lead vocals from Dio frontman, Ronnie James Dio, the animated music video features a cavalcade of animals singing and dancing.

On review, the video is not just animals singing and dancing. The video has serious psychedelic overtones. That’s not just a frog playing a guitar leading the animal parade. That’s a frog that turns into a shrub which then sprouts five singing frog heads. I’m sure some serious drugs were involved in the making of the album and video. Not that I’m complaining. Anything is better than the dead rabbit song.

OK, so I’m sitting in a car with a close friend chatting about these mysterious videos. I mention the elusive mystery one and she pops up with the answer immediately. “Oh that’s Portsmouth, by Mike Oldfield,” she says. Sure enough, there was the video on YouTube, just as I remember it, except for the multiple musicians watching the dancers. Only Mike Oldfield appears in the clip, playing different instruments in different shirts, obviously over multiple takes.

And thus another one of my life’s great mysteries has been solved. If you know of any other music videos from that era, drop me a line via my website. And whatever you do, avoid Watership Down.

After-school ABC TV in the eighties rules

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 16th November 2010.

Growing up in the eighties, I have vivid memories of racing home from the school bus every afternoon to make sure that I didn’t miss a moment of the ABC’s early evening programming. Now this was well before pay TV where kids (and stoners) have access to cartoons all day every day. There was only one timeslot each day for the latest Japanese anime series followed by an endlessly repeated BBC show.

I recently attempted to revisit some of my childhood favourites to see if they still held appeal. The results were disappointingly mixed. Perhaps I should’ve left my rose coloured glasses on.

At four thirty, my afternoon TV fest usually started with a dubbed Japanese cartoon. My favourite was Star Blazers, a space opera that focused on the journey of the starship Argo and its crew to Iscandar, a planet with the resources to save Earth from the evil blue skinned Gamilons. Star Blazers was one of the first animated series to have major storyline arcs and an episodic structure. In my head, the show ran for months and months. In reality there were three seasons with a total of seventy seven episodes.

I bought the season one box set this year. I made it through two episodes before the box was put on the shelf for eternity. The show is humourless and overly dramatic with terrible voice acting. Just add Kate Ritchie and you’d have Cops LAC.

Other animated shows from that timeslot include Astro Boy and Voltron. The latter was a daily toy commercial and it certainly worked on me. Between my brother and I, we had the complete set of lions that joined together to form Voltron, a giant robot warrior. If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t try to prevent JFK’s assassination, I’d go back and tell my ten year old self to keep those Voltron (and Star Wars) toys in their boxes. Mint toys from that era are worth a fortune.

At around five o’clock, the BBC shows would start. Metal Mickey was a sitcom that starred a man in a giant robot costume. Every episode would end with a “hilarious” disaster where the very clumsy robot would accidentally smash through Styrofoam walls to blatantly canned laughter whilst the catchy theme jingle played. The show is available on DVD in the UK but after catching a few clips on YouTube, I decided against paying big bucks to watch an expressionless robot who occasionally says something funny. Insert your own Kate Ritchie joke here.

Doctor Who was on perpetual repeats in this slot too, usually from the Tom Baker era and in my mind, usually The Ark in Space story. You know, the one with the dodgy giant space caterpillars. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to sit through that one, but I’ll never look at bright green sleeping bags the same way again. I really enjoy the new Who, but I probably could live without another journey to the alien planet where the balsa wood walls shake every time you walk past them.

The Goodies and The Kenny Everett Video Show also usually aired just before Peter Russell-Clark’s Come and Get It, a five minute cooking show that signified the end of the kiddie programming for the evening. I still adore Tim, Graeme and Bill. I own several Goodies DVDs and could probably watch their exploits on repeat and find something new to laugh about each time. I’ll also perform the Funky Gibbon song on request.

The Kenny Everett show was an interesting choice. It’s a racy sketch comedy starring a gay comedian featuring the sexy and nubile Hot Gossip dancers. What perfect programming for kids. Actually, that might explain an awful lot about my sense of humour, and my dancing. I look forward to putting a few Kenny Everett DVDs on my Christmas wish list.

OK, so my tastes have changed a lot since then but at the time, these shows caught my imagination and probably influenced my growth, or lack of, somehow.

Classic Songs + TV Ads = Shite

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd November 2010.

There’s nothing quite as crushing for a music fan than finding out that one of your favourite songs has been crudely converted into a jingle, hawking the latest triple double heart stopper burger or the like. What’s even more terrible is that a whole generation of children will only recognise the classics as “that song from the toilet paper ad.”

When I was growing up, I discovered and came to love the music of my parents’ generation by scouring through their record collection. When they were out I’d examine every detail on the gatefold sleeves before very carefully placing the needle on the vinyl, being especially careful not to scratch the record. This is how I discovered artists like Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, sitting beside a tinny record player, following along with the lyrics over and over until I knew them by heart.

Dad also had two cassettes that he had on constant rotation in his green Carolla, Abba’s Arrival and a random Beatles compilation tape that I’ve never found in any official discography. I don’t care how much you remaster and clean up these albums, Dancing Queen and Hey Jude sound best to me through two mono car door speakers.

 That’s how great music should be discovered, not through a television ad.

One of the worst offenders this year certainly has to be the insurance ad that mutilates Moving Pictures’ What About Me. Prior to it being slightly tarnished by a Mr Noll, this was a timeless Aussie ballad with great lyrics and melody. How could one improve on this? Why not add horrible whiney lyrics sung in embarrassing ocker accents? I’d like to file a claim. Your ad sucks.

Brian Wilson is a musical genius who composed “teenage symphonies to God”. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys is and will be my favourite album for all time. I’m sure Brian will be spinning in his grave or at least his sandpit if he heard the ad which features a bunch of overly excited salespeople prancing around to Good Vibrations. OK, so he’s not dead but you get my point. You know how the ads feature some customers who watch on with unimpressed looks on their faces. I’m pretty sure they aren’t actors. I’ll pay cash if you just stop.

 English ska band Madness produced some timeless pop classics in the eighties including Baggy Trousers and Our House. How pleased they must be to know that their perennial single It Must Be Love now features in an ad for nappies. A wonderfully romantic song that captures a beautiful moment in the human experience is now reduced to babies and bottoms. I’m sorry, but the nappies aren’t the only things being pooped on right now.

Writing of nappies, I’ve also noticed that MC Hammer’s You Can’t Stop This, which itself sampled Rick James’ Superfreak has now been converted to a jingle that features the line, “Stop, potty time.” OK, it’s far from a classic but even the man who composed the Addams Family rap deserves better treatment than this.

 Of course, I understand that there is big money in licensing these songs and songwriters and artists need to make a living. I just hate to see wonderful aural creations of art be trashed just to sell me some funeral plan insurance.