You may remember last year there was a programme on BBC1 in which six ageing celebrities, Lionel Blair, Maggie Smith, Kenneth Kendal, Sylvia Sims, Derek Jameson and Dickie Bird, took part in an experiment where they were effectively transported back to 1975. Everything they ate, drank, listened to and watched on television was from that year (although the food wasn’t strictly speaking from 1975). So it was eyes down for Bless This House with a Vesta beef curry on the lap.
I only know this because I happened upon the show by accident. I had just cooked my (non-Vesta) evening meal and was scanning the TV guide in search of something to stare at as I chewed. In this I am usually content with a re-run of Minder or The Sweeney, or perhaps the more recent Rebus, but on this occasion I could see nothing worth watching – until I came across The Young Ones, which was just about to start.
That would do. The anarchic adventures of Rik, Vyvian, Mike and Neil caused a storm when they were first shown in the early eighties and, although somewhat dated now, this would be ideal TV dinner TV. You can imagine my disappointment therefore, when I tuned in only to find the televised experiment featuring those old fogeys mentioned above.
Demonstrating an astonishing lack of imagination, those who devised this show decided to give it a title that had already been used by another TV programme. They could easily have called it The Real Young Ones, or perhaps The Not So Young Ones, or even The Old Ones so viewers could tell the difference, but no, they opted for the confusing choice of a word perfect copy; a repeat of an existing title.
This was not the first time I’d suffered this kind of disappointment either. I had a similar experience when I tuned into The Tube on one of the minor channels, hoping to see a young Jools Holland and Paula Yates. If I was lucky, I thought, it might even be the first ever edition on which the Jam performed Beat Surrender. I didn’t get that but in a way I did get Going Underground and even Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, for The Tube turned out to be a fly-on-the wall documentary about the London underground. Ten out of ten for imagination, guys.
And don’t get me started about the time I sat down in keen anticipation of watching a re-run of a dark crime thriller from 1990 starring Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern, only to find a TV series about a vet in South Africa (the clues are there, folks ;))
Contrast this with the aforementioned Minder and we see a different class of title creation. With episodes such as National Pelmet, The Beer Hunter, Senior Citizen Caine, Waiting for Goddard and A Star is Gorn, it is clear that almost as much thought went into writing the titles as the actual script. That extra effort was certainly appreciated by this viewer (A Star is Gorn still raises a chuckle).
Back in the current climate of throwaway TV though, those who decide the titles of shows will no doubt continue to revel in their blandness, passing up the chance to devise something creative because it requires a little application. Instead they will happily continue to serve up lame duck titles, so don’t be surprised to see the adventures of a young sea cook on a sailing galleon (Master Chef), the search for Britain’s best dad (Top of the Pops) or a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the staff and passengers at Newcastle Airport (Queue? Aye).