Cracking the Code is a BBC documentary series about genetic engineering, presented by Dr David Suzuki.
The first episode on this tape is Designer Children and looks at the fairly recent advances that allow parents to use in-vitro techniques and genetic analysis to select only fertilised eggs which are free of certain inherited conditions like cystic fibrosis.
The first case study in the programme follows an American couple (you can tell they’re American because we first meet them riding horses with their children) who come to London to try a the new technique.
The doctor in charge of the procedure is none other than Professor Robert Winston who, for once, is actually working, and not presenting a television programme. Here, he reassures the parents that their baby will almost certainly not be born without an arm.
The third episode here is Freedom in the Genes. It starts with a dramatic scene where the young David Suzuki comes face to face with his older self, as the elder Suzuki recounts how he spent three years as a child in an American internment camp, simply because he was of Japanese ancestry.
What follows is a look at how much effect our genes have on the kind of person we turn out to be. It’s the Nature vs Nurture debate.
The programme visits Twinsburg, a town which hosts an annual Pageant of the Twins, attracting identical twins from all over the world.
After the programme, there’s information telling you how to obtain a complete script of the programme. I really wish that somebody would find all these transcripts that the BBC has of their programmes, and put them online. It would be enormously interesting.
After the programme, there’s a teaser trailer for the start of Oliver Stone’s Twin Peaks wannabe Wild Palms.
Then, a brief extra programme from the 10×10 series of short films. The Traveller tells the story of what would happen if a shiny-faced androgynous alien fell to earth. In a Little Chef on the M6. Or something.
This tape is the first TV broadcast of Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields. Excellent, harrowing, important.
So what does it say about me that the things I remember most vividly about this movie are John Malkovich talking about using lemon juice to stun oysters, and the scene in the embassy where they try to put together a fake passport so that Dith Pran can leave the country with Schamberg? I’m probably just blocking out the horrors. No, that can’t be it – I remember Julian Sands as well, and thinking how luck it was that he has two stupid middle names that made his passport suitable for making a fake passport for Pran.
Oh, and I still think using ‘Imagine’ on the soundtrack at the end, in the film’s “Daddy! My Daddy!” moment is cheesy and unnecessary. Weren’t Sigur Ros available?
Not much in the way of extras on this tape. There’s a trailer for a documentary series, The War in Korea, then, the start of Daniel Barenboim playing a Beethoven piano sonata, during which the recording stops.
This tape opens with the end of a documentary called Seven Ages. Then there’s a trailer for Brass Tacks, looking at society’s responsibility for its dogs.
Then, we have The Jerk, Carl Reiner’s comedy that made Steve Martin a big movie star. I like it a lot, but I saw it after I’d seen films like Roxanne and LA Story, so I’m not such a big fan of Steve Martin playing stupid, because I’m much more of a fan of playing smart.
But there’s such a density of jokes in the movie that you can’t help enjoying it. I’ve always liked M. Emmett Walsh’s random sniper.
The director himself also cameos as one of the people affected by Navan’s spectacle device.
Then, there’s a brief musical interlude until programmes from the Open University begin.
This interlude lasts almost ten minutes. I’m manfully resisting the temptation to post it all here.
Then, there’s A102, the final programme in the Arts Foundation course. Culture & Society in Victorian Britain. I must admit I’m disappointed. Although Professor Arthur Marwick is pleasingly bewhiskered, I had hoped for some particle physics or fluid mechanics.
Brond was a three-part drama from Channel 4, starring John Hannah in his very first TV appearance. It co-stars Stratford Johns in the title role, and James Cosmo (lately of Game of Thrones) as Primo.
And that is about all I can state about this show with any certainty.
Oh, it has three parts.
Hannah first meets Brond pushing a young child off a bridge.
By the end of the series, I still have no clue whether this actually happened. Brond seems to be either the Devil, or a malevolent figment of Hannah’s imagination, or a shadowy agent of the establishment. The show doesn’t wish to make this, or anything else, clear.
It’s moody, and dark, and surreal. But I don’t think I’m quite smart enough to really divine the actual meaning of the story.
Isn’t John Hannah young?
By popular request, and for as long as Youtube deigns to keep it up, here’s episode one.
Episode Two – this one complete with adverts for technical reasons.
And here’s Episode 3.
Before episode 3, there’s a trail for The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross.
After the final episode, there’s a trailer for the Barbara Taylor Bradford serial Hold the Dream. There’s also a trailer for Wired, the C4 music show.
Then, the start of an episode of Who Dares Wins.
The tape finishes about 5 minutes in to the programme.
Lufthansa – because apparently their planes are actually cranes
After the first (actually the second) episode, there’s a brief glimpse of a Doctor Who trailer with William Hartnell before recording switches, and we get the end of The Clothes Show. Not something I’d normally be interested, but at least they’re using The Sun Always Shines on TV by a-Ha, the greatest pop song ever recorded.
There’s a strangely serious trailer by Mavis Nicholson for Open Air. Then episode 3, followed quickly by episode 4.
After Episode 6 there’s a festive trailer for Wogan.
After this, a Charity programme, Lifeline, starts, but the recording stops there. Underneath, something quite unexpected and interesting. It’s a round-table discussion from The Media Show, British Film Special featuring Stephen Woolley, Richard Attenborough, Michael Apted, Lynda Myles, Judith Williamson, Hanif Kureishi and Michael Wearing (producer of Edge of Darkness).
In the second part of the discussion, presenter Muriel Gray bemoans the lack of British movies in the multiplexes, and says the films people are most excited about are usually from Hollywood. Then she asks the guests what was the last film that really touched them, adding “I’ll bet you the things that have really moved you will have been American”.
Attenborough rather undermines her argument when he names Terence Davies’ Distant Voices, Still Lives which he had seen just a few weeks earlier.
The critic Judith Williamson makes an interesting comparison between Distant Voices and Top Gun, saying they are both highly visual films which tell a story visually (although she admits she only likes one of those films).
She also complains that one problem British films have is that people don’t understand that “a screenplay is not a play, and it’s not a novel, and it’s not just people saying stuff. There are so many words in British films.” Hanif Kureishi bristles at this. “How terrible that people would actually, in films, talk intelligently to each other.” Having seen some of his work, I do fear that he was precisely the kind of writer Williamson was complaining about.
Muriel then asks why the British industry is not making films aimed at teenagers. Kureishi’s answer is “I think because producers and film directors in Britain are too intelligent to make films for teenagers.”
Well done, Hanif.
Judith Williamson once again sticks up for the audience, pointing out that they often go to genre films, which do say things,but not in the way that a typical, stuffy British film does.
Michael Apted takes up the baton, accusing Attenborough, when he was running Goldcrest, that the movies he made were elitist. Apted argues that you have to make the populist fare to generate money so that the industry grows, and all sorts of movies can be made.
Another gem from Kureishi, after Lynda Myles says that there should be more ‘hooligans’ in the industry, then citing Blue Velvet, Something Wild and Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown as the kinds of films we should be trying to make, he opines “I think Lynda’s absolutely right, I think standards are much too high in the British Cinema and we’ve got to do our best to bring them down.”
Rather sadly, this discussion gets cut off before it ends, but it is really quite interesting, so here’s what I have recorded (I’ve removed a section of clips from the start of the second half which didn’t add anything to the discussion).
We travel back to the glorious year of 1988, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who with the story Silver Nemesis.
It’s not one of my favourites. Coming so soon after the superb Remembrance of the Daleks, and consisting of basically exactly the same plot as that story, Silver Nemesis really disappoints as the anniversary story. Comedy Nazis, comedy skinheads, and a ‘cameo’ appearance by an actress who only the producer has ever heard of, rendering her scenes as a total non-sequitur.
In fact, the whole serial is a non-sequitur. Before it aired, there was a lot of publicity about how this story would reveal some great mysteries about the Doctor, but in the event, it chickens out of doing anything more than having Ace ask “Doctor? Who are you?”
The story as told by the writer himself is that he was going for a pitch meeting with the script editor and producer, and didn’t have any story ideas, so at the meeting he said “What if… The Doctor is… God!”
Yes, that was the extent of his imagination.
Clearly, the programme pulled way back from that, but the programme at this time was trying to paint the Doctor as much more than simply a Time Lord, hinting at great secrets in his past, but it never got the chance to complete on the ideas, because the show was effectively cancelled after the next series.
Still, they were prescient enough to put in hints that only paid off in the new series – here’s Ace sporting a fetching fez.
After the last episode, we switch to LWT, for An Audience with Victoria Wood.
After this, there’s a trailer for programmes at Christmas. Then this recording stops, and underneath, there’s part of The Nine O’Clock News. Among lots of dull stories, an incredibly young-looking Jeremy Bowen.
After the weather and South East news, there’s an advert for Radio Times featuring Barry Norman.
Then, the start of an episode of The Visit, the documentary series, talking to Dr Sheila Cassidy, co-founder of a hospice for the terminally ill.
After this, recording switches to LWT for a bit of weather.
Then we have Beyond Belief. A live programme, presented by David Frost, purporting to want to test claims of the paranormal. So who would he get to co-present such a programme? An expert in testing paranormal claims, like James Randi, or Ray Hyman? No. It’s this guy.
Yes, it’s Uri Geller, spoon-bender extraordinaire. Hardly a disinterested party.
To make matters worse, the other co-presenter is “the country’s leading psychic healer,” Matthew Manning.
He hopes to heal someone, with a demonstrable change in someone, live on air.
Uri’s first stunt is an old party favourite, the lifting someone from a chair by your fingers. It’s something loads of people have done, it’s a well known effect, but of course Uri has to try and make it into something supernatural. “I believe… This is my theory, that the pyramids were built like that.”
He’s also really rude to the person in the chair. He starts off saying “I actually need someone really heavy. I don’t want to use the word fat, but…” then he points at his chosen target. “You look… come on, get up. come on.”
Then, at the end, “At home, if you try to do it, don’t put a thin person on the chair … Always use someone really heavy.”
Then, in an attempt to present some scientific angle, Frost says “We’re delighted, in the interests of scientific scrutiny to welcome Britain’s, if not the World’s, most respected, prolific writer on the paranormal, Mr Colin Wilson.” Now, I have a certain fondness for Mr Wilson, since his novel The Space Vampires was used as the basis of the film Lifeforce, a ludicrous but entertaining Quatermass-inflected Sci-Fi/Horror film from director Tobe Hooper. But his non-fiction writings were definitely on the credulous side of the spectrum. He even wrote a book about Uri Geller, and I can guarantee that if it was critical of Geller, he would not have been booked for this show. So not, perhaps, such a coup for scientific scrutiny.
The other scientific guest is a big improvement. Dr Friedbert Karger is a physicist from the Max Planck institute. He suggests an experiment you could perform to see if the weight of the subject is actually reduced, as Geller claimed, just by putting the whole setup on a weighing machine. A suggestion ignored by Frost, as I think he had a little trouble with Karger’s accent.
Next, Matthew Manning does a similar demonstration, supposed to prove the power of positive thinking. He does the trick where you push (or try to push) someone’s arm down, while they try to resist. To make the demonstration more entertaining, they do it on Panther of the Gladiators.
Next, Uri does what he claims is the biggest psychic experiment ever. He shows four symbols on screen, then he chooses one, and attempts to psychically send the symbol through the TV to the home audience. Then they ask the audience to phone the number corresponding to the symbol they think was chosen (on a premium rate number, naturally).
Here are the four symbols, as presented on screen. Concentrate very hard, as you might still be able to detect a faint psychic residue even from this screengrab, years after the experiment took place. Which of the four symbols was Uri sending with his mind?
I’ll reveal the answer later in this post, so no peeking.
After an ad break, Geller does his usual ‘fixing broken watches’ schtick. He tells the studio audience and the audience at home to get out their broken watches, or cutlery or keys. He even says “wind the broken watches and broken clocks up” which almost guarantees that some of them will start, even if only for a short time.
Naturally, some of the watches, having been shaken up a lot, and even wound, started ticking, so Uri really milks this, running around the studio to talk to the various audience members whose watches have started. There’s even a bent key and a bent spoon. Uri keeps both of these, and later on, he brings them out again saying ‘Look, they’ve continued to bend’.
Next, they introduce four people who are going to be the subject of Manning’s “healing” – four people with various physical restrictions on their movement – usually the inability to raise an arm above a certain height. They are then taken away to a quiet room, so Manning can work his magic.
“The breakup of the Soviet empire had many consequences and one of them was the discovery of our next guest, Boris Tulchinsky”
Boris is blindfolded, then he leads Colin Wilson around in order to locate one of nine objects placed on plinths (“That’s a very hard word, plinths” opines David Frost) chosen at random. This is an old mentalism trick that Derren Brown has done plenty of times. This is coupled with the blindfold. He’s blindfolded, then he has a hood over his head. Why the hood? It’s so you can’t see when he tilts his head back and looks out from under the blindfold.
In fact, when he first puts the blindfold on – you’ll notice that he puts the blindfold on, not the audience member – he even tilts his head back to make sure he can see. Right there on stage.
After the break, there’s a brand new car up for grabs. Uri sends a mental image of “a striking location” where the keys to the car are hidden, and viewers have to write in with the right location, for a chance to win the car. There’s no follow-up to this, of course. I have a vague memory that the answer was Big Ben, but that might just be me remembering my initial guess. However, Big Ben was mentioned in the show earlier, so I wonder if they were putting a couple of subliminal clues in there, and letting the size of the TV audience provide the chance of someone guessing the correct answer.
Then, it’s back to ‘healer’ Matthew Manning, who has had some success with his subjects, as a couple of them can, indeed, raise their arms higher up than they previously could.
Although other successes might possibly have been a bad idea.
Then, Frost asks Friedbert if he has an explanation for the ‘healing’ – at which point he outs himself as at least a partial believe, because his wife is a healer, so he accepts the healing at face value, because of his personal experience. Hmmm.
But let’s not dismiss Friedbart, because his greatest moment is yet to come.
Colin Wilson’s view is standard believer – “I think the energy is in the psychic ether.”
Now comes the finale of the show, Christina Thomas, who is a firewalker.
The presentation here is top notch. Matthew Manning cracks an egg into a frying pan lying on the coals, and cooks the egg. This really does sell the idea of the heat, better than any boring temperature meter.
Then Frost banters a bit with Christina, rather stiltedly, and she does her walk, perfectly successfully. There’s more banter. Then Frost throws to the studio, to Friedbart, to see if his pathetic science can explain the miracle we’ve just seen.
“I think this is explainable by physics. This is something else than that what we have seen before. Because the heat conductivity and the heat capacity of the live coal is very low, and therefore I think everybody could go over these live coals.”
Colin Wilson is unimpressed – there’s a quick shake of the head. But Christina, next to Frost outside the studio, is nodding her head, because presumably she’s led umpteen firewalking sessions where the whole point is that anyone can do it, albeit, from her perspective, by using inner focus and positive thinking, presumably.
But Frost is unconvinced (having, it seems, done zero research himself for this show). “Everybody could? You don’t mean that, do you? You couldn’t do it could you?”
But Friedbart isn’t backing down, because he’s done the maths. “I could do it, yes” he replies. “The please come and do it” says Frost, adding “I think we can get a two minute overrun for this” – because this is a live broadcast.
Friedbart, who is still inside the studio, walks out, as Frost fills with Christina. She assures Frost that anyone can do it because we’re all so powerful, yadda yadda yadda.
Then Friedbart arrives. He explains how there’s a psychological trick going on here, because the radiated heat is so great that there’s a natural fear of the heat, but the conductance is not so high.
he then whips off his shoes and socks, and runs across the coals. purely using the power of knowing stuff and understanding things.
Christina makes a valiant attempt to woo it up again, saying “I don’t think you have to explain it, if you begin explaining it, then I’m not sure it works so well.” But I think this counts as a slam-dunk for science. Especially when they let Christina ramble on and on, and she starts talking about “regenerating cells that are maybe deteriorating, that are maybe even cancerous”. Jeepers.
And that’s the end. Frost wraps up by basically saying that it’s all true.
Oh, and in case you care, here’s how the television audience voted on the four symbols. Did you get it right?
Of course, Uri’s secret symbol was the star.
Here’s the whole programme, in three parts.
Next on the tape, there’s a short film showing as part of Channel 4’s ‘Red Light Zone’ – presumably one of their occasional pervy seasons, like their infamous Red Triangle experiment. Blue is a strange short. It stars David Cronenberg, better known as a director, here playing the manager of a carpet wholesaler. The film juxtaposes his humdrum workday with clips from an old porn film narrated by the actress in the clip, reminiscing about her brief career in the saucy film industry.
After this short, recording continues with another of the Red Light Zone programmes Chicken Ranch, about a legal brothel in Nevada, an early film from documentary maker Nick Broomfield.
After this film, there’s a trail for a Jane Asher film, Closing Numbers. Also a trailer for the Cheltenham Festival racing.
Then, there’s an episode of The Word – with a title sequence that’s verging on the pornographic. I’m not a Word afficionado so I’ve no idea if that was the standard sequence at this time.
And as if the title sequence was bad enough, it’s some kind of crossover with It’s A Knockout, so Yewtree Monster Stuart Hall features heavily. Also featured, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Craig Charles.
The tape finishes partway through this programme.
Air Canada – Mike McShane
Crunchy Nut Cornflakes
Audi A4 – an interesting ad, as it plays against the prevailing image of the city trader, painting him as annoying git as he drives the Audi, then revealing he was taking it for a test drive, and he didn’t really think it was for him.
We have a couple of tapes together now, with identical labels, so I might end up repeating myself a bit. Apologies.
Before the first programme, there’s a trailer for Gaby Roslin’s travel show The Real Holiday Show. Also a trailer for Wanted, a Channel 4 reality show about tracking the contestants around the country.
Then, an episode of Caroline in the City, Lea Thompson’s sitcom. My memory of this is that it was short-lived, but Wikipedia claims it ran for four seasons.
This is a Thanksgiving episode, and is written by Bill Prady, who now runs The Big Bang Theory.
After the show, a trailer for Jo Brand Through the Cakehole which also manages to advertise lots of other Channel 4 shows at the same time.
Then, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall trails TV Dinners – another ‘real people put on dinner parties’ programme, it looks like.
There’s a trail for the Nigel Hawthorne drama The Fragile Heart. And a trail for Secret Lives: Errol Flynn.
Then, an episode of Friends. The One with the Two Parties.
Next, a trailer for Night Shift. And a trailer for The Madness of King George.
There’s a trailer for Equinox, about numbers. “Are numbers the secret answer to Life, The Universe and Everything?”
At this point, Channel 4 is deep in its ‘Circles’ phase, which never really caught on, after the iconic ‘4’ logo. Here’s a particularly melancholy one, with Dermot Morgan.
Next, an episode of Frasier, Chess Pains.
After this, recording switches, and it’s Caroline in the City again.
Afterwards, another trail for Jo Brand, NYPD Blue, ER on Saturday nights. Then a different trail for Hug Fearnley Whittingstall’s TV Dinners.
There’s a trailer for Brookside. Then a trailer for The Deer Hunter.
Then, something I’d forgotten. Channel 4 would occasionally let their continuity announcers out.
Next, Friends, with the episode The One with the Chicken Pox. Co-starring Tom Selleck and Charlie Sheen.
After Friends, a trailer for The Madness of King George. Then a trailer for Women with Balls – a documentary about woman rugby players.
Then, a trailer for Travels with my Camera: Back to Bradford.
Then, another Frasier episode, Crane vs Crane.
Then, a trail for The Deer Hunter again. And Brookside.
After the ads, a trailer for Equinox: Kaboom!. Then a trailer for Secret Lives: Jeremy Thorpe.
Then, an extra programme – Rory Bremner – Who Else.
After about 20 minutes of Mr Bremner, that recording stops.
Woolworths – East 17 – Hits
Our Price – Babyface – The Fuse
Vauxhall Corsa Vegas – Ruby Wax
HMV – Dodgy
Tunes – Darth Vader
Our Price – Gabrielle
The Island of Doctor Moreau – a trailer conspicuous by the almost total absence of Marlon Brando – because he apparently spent much of the film with a bucket on his head.
Radio Rentals – Rent a PC. I have no recollection that this ever happened.
Childline – Today’s Top Artists Unite for Charity. Thankfully, I didn’t spot any Yewtree tainted characters…
Coast to Coast is a great TV movie. Written by Stan Hey, who wrote several great shows, often with Andrew Nickolds, it’s the story of John Shea, an American returning to Liverpool where he spent much of his youth, who meets Lenny Henry, a local with an almost convincing scouse accent who wants to set up a mobile soul disco. Lenny has the equipment, Shea has the record collection. It’s a match made in heaven. Lenny says “I always wanted to be an American.” “I always wanted to be black” replies Shea.
They even have some stylish transport.
Business is slow to begin with. There’s a tense gig for a wedding in Kirby (complete with very pregnant bride). When an angry guest hassles them for easy listening music, then says “I lost my baby today” Shea replies “Well you know the saying, you’re not losing a daughter you’re gaining a son.” This doesn’t placate him. “She’s me girlfriend, dickhead, not me daughter and she’s carrying my baby.” Cue a big fight.
Then Pete Postlethwaith turns up as Lenny’s wide-boy friend Kecks. It was he who sold Lenny the ice cream van, and when it breaks down they ask him to fix it, which he does, after they do him a favour by carrying some packages up to his flat.
They soon find out that Kecks has stolen printing plates for counterfeit notes, and hidden them in their van. He pays them to take the plates down to Essex to deliver to a friend of his. This is not without peril, since he stole the plates from some very bad people, played by veteran heavies Peter Vaughan and George Baker.
So now we have a road movie, as Shea and Lenny travel across the country, at first incognito, but when Kecks’ mutilated body is discovered, they suddenly become prime suspects, pursued by both police and the heavies.
They have to ditch the ice cream van, so they buy a car from Bobby Knutt, whose used car inventory is adorned with every car-related double entendre under the sun.
When they meet Cherie Lunghi, who’s running a small hotel/pub, Lenny tries to impress by pretending they’re musicians.
Have you ever heard of Earth Wind and Fire?
Oh yeah, meet Wind, why don't you?
But it’s Shea she really likes, and he reveals to her that he’s actually a US Air Force pilot, and he’s currently AWOL from his base.
There’s a charm and whimsy in this film that really works. Lenny’s joking and banter contrasts nicely with Shea’s laid back, laconic manner. And the story around them is peopled by interesting characters. The police, investigating the mutilated body are just a step away from the Keystone Kops, and there’s a press conference that’s dangerously close to a Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch.
Shea’s double fugitive status is sorely tested when they give a lift to a chef from the US airbase at RAF Mildenhall, played by Al Matthews, and he invites them to perform for the troops.
But he relaxes enough to join the army band in a rendition of Drift Away. He’s a bit flat, but makes up for it with energy. But stalwart BBC go-to American Mac Macdonald (off of Red Dwarf) thinks he looks familiar.
Needless to say, since this isn’t a modern ‘edgy’ programme, things work out fine for the pair, eventually, as they reunite nine months later after Shea has served time for his AWOL. It even sets up for a possible sequel, but that never happened.
Plus, is this the least convincing caption and establishing shot in the world?
Rather oddly, the film actually has reel change markers in the corner. I don’t remember seeing these on a film made for TV before, so I wonder if this print was originally shown in a cinema.
The big circle in the top right indicates the end of the film reel
After this film, there’s a look forward to programmes on Monday, then BBC2 closes down and the recording end, revealing underneath, what?
Yes, it’s Poltergeist, or the end of it, anyway. So here’s a puzzle. This tape immediately succeeds the tape containing a full recording of Poltergeist. So they would have been recorded at a similar time, almost certainly the same broadcast. Now, I often had two VCRs going, so I can only presume that I recorded Poltergeist on two VCRs simultaneously, and recorded over one of them.
I don’t know what picture this paints of me in 1986.
After Poltergeist there’s a trailer for Bergerac, ‘New in 87’.
Then, Annie Nightingale introduces Late Night in Concert, featuring Suzanne Vega, from a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Here’s the introduction.
It’s a lot of her early hits, and she does Tom’s Diner as an encore.