Monday, 8 February 2016


From March 1985: the next in my acquired collection of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN... Issue 20.

In the space of a few months, DOCTOR WHO had gone from a venerable broadcasting institution which almost everyone (including, I'm sure, the production team) assumed would have an automatic renewal to a show that was fighting for its life. The 1985 Cancellation Crisis started as outright cancellation but was quickly spun as an extended hiatus. 

This is, I have to say, a pretty iconic cover and a stark departure from the normal DWB house style. 

As a viewer back in 1985, I was inclined to agree with the BBC assessment that the show was looking more than a little weather worn. It was more like to to make you roll your eyes (or snigger) than shock or surprise... except when it went to inexplicably dark places which failed to reflect its status or scheduling as early Saturday night viewing. Of course, in retrospect, I know that it would get a fair bit worse before, belatedly, it rediscovered itself and became (at its best) a cracking little drama. Which was, of course, the moment the Corporation finally lost interest. 

Typically, the BBC failed to comprehend that the decline was of their own making. Another organisation would ask "How did we allow this to go wrong... and how do we fix it?" whereas the BBC just somehow blames the programme itself. With better management, GRANDSTAND and TOP OF THE POPS could still be the significant programmes, brands and assets they once were. 


From 1980: Another Star Age Essential... the novelization of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Alan Dean Foster didn't return (in person... or as George Lucas) so Donald F. Glut picked up the gauntlet. 

I guess it would be hard for anyone not around during the Star Age to appreciate just now important these things were. The gap between theatrical release and TV premiere was something like three years so, unless the movie was deemed worthy of a pre-release, you had an awful long wait until you saw it again. Books, stills, comics and soundtrack albums really were the only ways to piece together the big screen experience. 

Friday, 5 February 2016


From February 1985: the next issue of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB) that I recently acquired: issue 19.

In today's multichannel and multiscreen world, any TV producer would be more than a little chuffed with nine million viewers. It must have been hard to imagine that, by the end of the season, the show would have been all but cancelled and fans fighting for its survival. Although individual episodes and stories in subsequent series were sometimes excellent, the show always felt like it was living on borrowed time for the rest of the run. 

The sub heads are a little unfortunately positioned me thinks. 


From 1977 (although this printing hails from the following year): the novelization of STAR WARS (latterly A NEW HOPE).

Credited to George Lucas, it was actually penned by Alan Dean Foster (at least Larson shared the credit on the Battlestar and Knight Rider novels he didn't write) and published ahead of the film itself (spoilers!) because, like the Marvel tie up, it was seen as essential to boosting the profile of the film in the run up to the release. 

I've not read this for decades (this isn't my original, I found it recently in a secondhand book shop) despite the numerous reprinting but it was an essential part of any Star Heroes collection back in the Star Age.

Like the Marvel adaptation and, a bit later, the radio drama, this played fast and loose with the final     screen version because it had to be written and signed off far in advance of picture lock on the film itself.

Foster had a two book deal with Lucas and also penned the print sequel SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE (another mainstay of the SF shelves in WH Smith throughout the early 1980s) which, when commissioned, was envisaged as a potential low cost screen sequel. The cash rolled in and Lucas was able to discard it in favour of a more ambitious second act. 

Thursday, 4 February 2016


From November 1984: the sixteenth issue of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB).

The campaign to see the partially-shot-and-subsequently-abandoned SHADA completed didn't pay immediate dividends (and DWB soon decided they didn't want Producer JNT to have any involvement with any aspect of the show... even after it was cancelled) but it was eventually completed (on a budget of £5 or thereabouts) in the next decade when new bridging material was shot, for a VHS release, to bridge the gaps between the completed location work and partially finished (before a strike Halted shooting) studio sessions. 

The VHS only specials were overseen by JNT (calm down DWB!) and this, along with the "years tapes" remain one of the few releases and projects not revisited in the DVD era. Payments to the estate of writer Douglas Adams may have helped nix any proposed projects. 

Clips from SHADA were recycled for THE FIVE DOCTORS (ensuring Tom Baker's partial participation) and the rushes were subsequently shown at the BFI. They vary from the quite good to the cringey.   


From 1988: the first issue of London Editions' BATMAN MONTHLY UK reprints. With free pin badge still just about attached. 

LE must have thought they were on pretty safe ground with this one. The Caped Crusader had always, along with Superman, enjoyed the highest profile of the DC heroes. That profile was particularly high thanks to what seemed like near-constant reruns of the 1960s TV show in the UK during the 1980s. 

The show popped up a lot across the ITV network, sometimes as a standalone programme and sometimes buried in a larger format like LWT's partially networked NIGHT NETWORK offering. 

Breakfast time operator TV-am had been using the show for a while as part of its weekend schedules, usually as part of the marathon kids show WIDE AWAKE CLUB. When a 24-hour ACTT technicians strike turned into a protracted lockout (followed by dismissal), the broadcaster used the Adam West show (along with FLIPPER, HAPPY DAYS and various already on the shelf animated series) to pad out their 6-9.25 schedule. 

Viewers liked the changes and ratings remained healthy. Although its perfectly possible audiences were just watching to see what technical mishap would strike next. With little or no technical staff left, it fell to management and non-union support staff to grapple with specialist broadcast technology. For months it looked like the station would fall off air at any moment. 

Then, of course, LE knew that the BATMAN movie was currently filming at Pinewood and was already generating some buzz. That anticipation exploded as the release date approached and the film's logo and merchandise became ubiquitous. 

LE were initially careful to select reprints which, whilst not as campy as the strip became in the sixties, weren't to far removed from the tone the general public expected from the character. Despite the mainstream press hype surrounding THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, this new launch was not the place to reprint it. 

As the UK public warmed to the darker tone of the cinematic Dark Knight over the next few years, the editors started to select darker and more contemporary strips to reprint. 

The heightened interest in the Bat Universe allowed LE to expand with a series of specials usually focused on one particular character. The SUPERMAN and BATMAN titles survived the expansions and contractions of the LE line (say hello, and goodbye, to HEROES, DC ACTION, ZONES and SHOCKWAVE) and the merger with Fleetway. The Supes book always looked the weaker and had its frequency reduced. Relaunches followed and both characters eventually found themselves sharing the same title. The writing was on the wall. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2016


From October 1984: More on the hunt for WHO's missing episodes in DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB) issue 15.

Clearly pleased with their own success, DWB also deemed to share their advice on fanzine production. I wonder how many fans were inspired to have a crack after reading this issue?


From 1984 (or, possibly, 1983): the cover of the BBC ANNUAL REPORT AND HANDBOOK, spotlighting BREAKFAST TIME (the still was, presumably, taken in the gallery of Breakfast Time's Lime Grove studios, one of several different centres in West London dotted around the Shepherd's Bush area).

The BBC Annual Report was a statutory requirement for the publicly funded Corporation beginning in 1927. The BBC Handbook, originally a separate publication, began a year later. The two were merged in 1973 and this arrangement continued through to the last combined edition in 1987. 

Print copies of the Annual Report continued into the new millennium. The handbook was replaced by SEE FOR YOURSELF, an extended TV programme (first aired in 1987) that covered all aspects of the BBC's operations in a self congratulatory but called-to-account fashion. The annual programme continued for several years (sometimes accompanied by a RADIO TIMES supplement) before being quietly abandoned in the early nineties. Ideal for media geeks, it left its intended audience cold. 

Tucked away somewhere I have a copy of the 1938 (I think) BBC Annual Report (a lucky book store find) which, amongst other gems, predicts the overseas services might be important in the year ahead in the light of increasing tensions in Europe. They got that right. 

The IBA, of course, published their own version celebrating the accomplishments of Independent Television and Independent Local Radio. Ideal for finding out how many VT machines your local ITV outpost owned. 

Monday, 1 February 2016


From September 1984: the 14th issue of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB) with a headline story focusing on the quest for missing Doctor Who episodes dumped from the BBC's own archives but possibly still buried in the vaults of overseas broadcasters.

This was from a period before DWB had declared that WHO Producer JNT was public enemy numero uno, so he was clearing still willing to grant interviews with a publication which, arguably, later tried to destroy his career and reputation. 


From 1989: Leonard Nimoy is interviewed by Terry Wogan on WOGAN.

This weekend, British radio and television lost one of the true greats. Probably the greatest.

For me, Terry Wogan was the BBC. There was never a time when he wasn't there. When I was very little, mum would listen to his BBC RADIO TWO breakfast show (the first time around) every morning. His voice became part of the breakfast routine... along with the Weetabix.

And I loved his early undemanding telly game show excursion BLANKETY BLANK. Especially when mic-worrying Kenny Everett and nice-but-dim Lorraine Chase were on the guest list.

I never knowingly saw his late night TV chat show but I must have seen hundreds of episodes of the three-nights-a-week chatathon from 1985 onwards. I almost certainly saw this one. I can legitimately claim to have been there for David Icke and George Best. Although I can never claim to have set foot inside the hallowed halls of the BBC Television Theatre on the verdant Shepherd's Bush Green. But, now that I pass it every day (now the SB Empire), I wish that I had.

And, of course, there was the EUROVISION SONG CONTEST and BBC CHILDREN IN NEED. Two definitions of event television. And Terry was synonymous with both.

Plus, of course, there was AUNTIE'S BLOOMERS (the in-house Television Centre florists was the soundalike Auntie's Blooms... until changes to the corporation buying policy put such purchases beyond the reach of the all-powerful internal charge code) and a myriad of other projects.

I was lucky enough to work with him in a small capacity on a couple of occasions and I found him to be a true gentleman. They say "never meet your heroes" but I felt honoured to do so then and equally so today. 
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