Jul 14

Does the name Leif Garrett ring a bell? It might if you were around during the late ’70s, and were witness to the phenomenal rise and sudden fall of one of America’s forgotten child stars.

Leif was a cute kid who used his Norwegian-American good looks to full effect, first as a child actor in a string of American TV shows, then as a moderately successful recording artist. Like many Australians, my first glimpse of sixteen year old Leif was on Countdown in 1978, as I watched – with a strange mixture of loathing and envy – the video clip for his first single, a soulless, colour-by-numbers re-make of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA”. (If that’s young Leif doing the falsetto in the chorus then I’ll eat my surfboard.) Nevertheless, it climbed all the way to #2 on the Aussie charts and was the 12th highest selling single in Australia for 1978. Here it is:

Garrett’s musical career continued in this same vein – insipid cover versions of hits from the ’50s and ’60s, along with a brief disco phase  - for a few more years, until eventually he was let down by his failing looks and inability to mime his way through his many TV appearances. Here’s Leif in 1979, during his boy-man transitional phase, performing “Moonlight Dancin’”:

Garrett’s star rose again briefly in the early ’80s, with a minor role in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders. This is actually a very watchable film, and featured early performances by a number of up-and-coming “Brat Pack” stars – Estevez, Lowe, Cruise, Dillon, Macchio, Swayze et al.

But this would be Garrett’s swan song. Like many other child stars of the ’70s, personal troubles ruined his career. The spectre of drug and alcohol dependence loomed over poor Leif from a young age. His best friend was left a paraplegic as a result of a car accident in which Garrett was driving while intoxicated. By 1990 the phone had stopped ringing. Attempts to break back into the music industry in the late ’90s stalled almost immediately.

Amazingly, the rise of reality television and a misty-eyed nostalgia for all things retro have led to a resurgence of interest in former stars such as Leif Garrett. He has appeared in recent years on Fear Factor and Ty Murray’s Bull Riding Challenge, as well as other shows in the “Where are they now?” mold. But the monkey is still firmly on his back, with recent arrests for possession of cocaine and heroin resulting in a short jail term. Here’s one of Leif’s more recent publicity photos, courtesy of the LAPD.

Jun 4
That’s Incredible!
icon4 Jun 4th, 2009 | icon2 Weekly Retro Classics | icon3Comments Off

Does anybody remember this show?

Yes, it’s That’s Incredible!

Anyone who watched TV in the early ’80s will remember this programme – it was certainly compulsary viewing in our household. It focused not only on your run-of-the-mill “beard of bees” type stunts, but also had a paranormal bent, with regular appearances by psychics and whatnot.

And how about the hosts? I’m pretty sure I had a thing for Cathy Lee Crosby at the time. I suspect John Davidson had a thing for himself. Third wheel Fran Tarkenton is there to make up the numbers.

If you cast your mind back a few years earlier you may remember another of my favourite shows, Thrill Seekers. Presented by Chuck Connors (star of the US TV Show The Rifleman, and not to be confused with Chuck Norris), this show is perhaps the earliest example of the TV stunt genre. It originally ran for a couple of years around 1973-74, but I probably saw it as re-runs on Australian TV during the late ’70s.

Thrill Seekers was geared towards your typical daredevil/stuntman type activity – jumping a motorbike over a row of cars, falling from a building while on fire, and so on. I have always remembered the opening monologue, which Connors repeats at the start of every show – he reminds us that there is a special kind of person in this world, a person who has no fear; in fact they like to confront their fear, or in Connors’ immortal words, they “chase it, challenge it, and lick it.”

I could find only one clip from Thrill Seekers, it’s about big wave surfing, but you can watch just the intro to get a feel for Connors’ style of delivery. Notice how he glances off screen every few seconds to read his cue cards. (Actually, the surfing footage is pretty cool, so watch on if you like that sort of thing.)

Amazingly, there is almost no information about this show on the net. The Wikipedia article is exactly one line in length, there is bugger all on YouTube and not much else.

Does anybody else remember Thrill Seekers?! Let’s keep the dream alive, people!

Mar 19

Rach and I have just finished watching the hilarious British TV series Nighty Night. Check it out if you like your comedy dark. One of the great things about the show is the musical soundtrack, which includes a stack of classic eighties pop and heavy metal songs.

One song in particular that features throughout the series is called “Lavender” by UK progressive rock band Marillion. (If you watched The Young Ones you’ll remember Neil’s request to “play some Hawkwind, or Marillion.”) One of my mates in high school – let’s call him Eddy – was a massive fan of Marillion back in the mid ’80s. I recall Eddy having their record Misplaced Childhood, and playing this track to me. “Lavender” was one of only two UK top ten hits for the band – check out the video, it’s superb:

How cool was that?! The vocalist is a mysterious character who goes by the name “Fish”. He was born Derek Dick, so you can see why a change of name was required. He’s also Scottish, hence the kilt and sporran.

There are a few other comments which need to be made about this song and video. Firstly, I believe – and please correct me if I’m wrong – that this is the only pop song ever to include the lyric “dilly dilly”. In fact, the main lyrics of the chorus are taken from a 17th century poem, “Lavender Blue“. (Now to find a pop song that has the lyric “hey, nonny nonny”.)

I could write several posts just on the hairstyles of the band members. Incredibly, the bass player appears to have at least two hairstyles going simultaneously, including the rarely seen “supermullet”. Lead singer Fish is clearly deep in denial of his early onset male pattern baldness. Those few wisps at the front aren’t fooling anyone, buddy. Not to mention the twin rat’s tails, something to which all young men aspired in 1985.

Sadly, Fish parted ways with Marillion in 1989, citing differences personal, musical and follicle.

Feb 7

Like most kids, when I was young I liked to get in two solid hours of television between getting home from school and having tea. I have fond memories of those afternoon TV shows, which were mostly re-runs of American shows from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Let’s see if your memory is as good as mine.

You’ll almost certainly remember Flipper, which featured the exploits of Sandy and Bud Ricks, single-parent dad Porter, and their friendly dolphin Flipper. The show was set and filmed in Florida, utilising the surrounding ocean and beaches, as well as some of the least convincing green screen work you are ever likely to see:

Here are the opening titles with original theme music. (In later years this was replaced with a jazzy, Dean Martinesque version of the same tune.)

OK, so we started with an easy one, but do you remember Salty? Salty was very much in the mold of Flipper; two young boys with a tragic backstory – the death of their parents in a hurricane – find solace in the companionship of a freakishly intelligent ocean-going mammal, in this case a seal, which they name Salty.

Sadly I couldn’t find the opening titles for Salty, just a brief clip from the show. The young boy at the start, Tim Reed, is played by Clint Howard, brother of Ron Howard, a.k.a. Richie Cunningham. There is something sinister about this clip that I can’t quite put my finger on.

OK, so we’ve done dolphins and seals, let’s move onto the land with the next one, Gentle Ben. The eponymous Ben is a large American black bear that is befriended by young Mark Wedloe – coincidentally, played once again by Clint Howard. The pair live with Mark’s parents in the Florida everglades and zip along the shallow water aboard one of those flat boats with the big propeller at the back. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the opening titles, which I am thrilled to have found. I have often questioned people my age about this show and usually get blank stares. I was starting to think I may have imagined it.

Hmmm, now here’s something odd. The Wikipedia entry for Gentle Ben implies that the bear, Ben, was in fact a man in a bear suit. This to me seems incredible. Look at those opening titles again – that is one convincing bear suit! My memories of the show are of course vague after nearly 30 years, but my belief has always been that Ben the bear from Gentle Ben is the same Ben the bear as appeared in Grizzly Adams. But the Wiki states, quite pointedly, that “there is no connection between the bears”. Smells like a cover-up.

So, did you remember all three of these TV classics? If not, shame on you. What the hell were you doing every afternoon between four and six o’clock? Homework? Playing outside? Pffft.

Dec 30

Watching the cricket yesterday Rach and I commented on the high level of security surrounding each player as he comes in to bat. Presumably this is to provide protection from overzealous fans. Not so in the old days, when it was common for spectators to invade the ground at the end of play, or even during a match.

Those of you with a few grey hairs may remember the famous incident involving Australian fast-medium-pacer Terry Alderman at the WACA in 1982, when a scuffle with an English fan during a pitch invasion resulted in Alderman dislocating his shoulder and missing a year of cricket.

Watch the video of the incident below. The fan clips Alderman around the ear and then takes off. He is quickly caught – Alderman is a fast bowler after all – and wrestled to the ground. That’s none other than Dennis Lillee who jumps in to give the offender a good going over, aided by Aussie opener Graeme Wood. Where are the police when all this is going on?! Rod Marsh wanders over, notices Alderman is injured and signals for assistance.

I think it’s a bit rich of the commentator to chide the Aussie cricketers for defending themselves. “It’s a job for the police, not the players. The players are to play cricket and cricket alone, and the police are there for protection.” What police, you dimwit?!

Anyway, Terry Alderman couldn’t play cricket for a year after this, at a time when he was 26 years old and had recently been named Wisden Cricketer of the Year. In 1985 he chose to take part in an unsanctioned “rebel” tour of South Africa, a decision which cost him a further three year ban from the Australian Cricket Board. However, he did return to play for Australia in the late ’80s, retiring in 1991. He is now part of the ABC Radio cricket commentary team.

In case you were wondering, the 1982 WACA test against England fizzled to a draw.

Jul 22

Chimpanzees are humankind’s closest living relative.

Through the work of devoted scientists such as Jane Goodall, we know that apes are highly intelligent, and share many of our human traits, such as joy, sadness and, indeed, violence:

Go ahead, make my day – Chimp Eastwood

One thing that is certain is that apes know how to act, something which Hollywood was quick to take advantage of.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 3

1970 was a good year. I came into the world, and a film called Airport was released. This movie about an attempted hijacking of a passenger jet made $100 million at the box office, and re-ignited a film genre that would rule the big screens throughout the seventies. The modern disaster film was born.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 27

Before there was The Bill, there was Cop Shop. One of the great televisual pleasures of my childhood was settling down on the lounge, bowl of ice-cream on lap, for my twice-weekly dose of this hard-hitting Aussie drama/soap.

Cop Shop had everything a good cop show needs. Hard-arsed detectives. Bumbling Constables (anyone who says Reg Hollis is not a blatant copy of Roy Baker can go and get stuffed). Crotchety old desk Seargent. Cops with principles and cops who can be bought. Comedic relief (Gil Tucker as Roy Baker is a modern Chaplin).

And then there are the crims. No gay basher or payroll robbing thug in Melbourne stood a chance against this crack group of law enforcers. No sooner had the balaclava-wearing, sawn-off wielding crook stumbled out of the bank when up would screech a late model Kingswood, and out would pop a couple of pissed-off, brown-suited detectives, guns at the ready. Next stop Pentridge.

And then there were the policewomen, notably the lovely Paula Duncan (cor blimey) and in later seasons the buxom blonde sex-kitten Lynda Stoner (as Gareth Keenan would say, “Look at those!”). Here are the two crime-fighting femme fatales side by side – or is it two early ’80s soccer mums set on revenge?

The great thing about Cop Shop was that you would get a new story each episode, but also catch up on longer-running plotlines. We saw the cops at work and at home. We got to know and love (or hate) them. We saw the cops having family troubles, we saw them fraternising with saucy ex-strippers. We saw them gunned down, buried and mourned, only to rise from the dead for the next TV Week cover. It was great.

The show also served as a training ground for new, young actors. Anyone who couldn’t get a bit-part on Cop Shop clearly had no future as an actor in this country. Mel Gibson appeared in early episodes alongside fellow NIDA graduate Steve Bisley.

Cop Shop was a Logie-winning, crime-fighting machine. But tragically after a mere 582 action-packed episodes the series ended in 1984 due to – you guessed it – declining ratings. Ah, the fickle hand of public opinion. Now, sadly, Cop Shop is almost forgotten. I couldn’t even find it on DVD, which these days is saying something.

Someone has been kind enough to put a few clips on YouTube, but unkind enough to disable embedding, so I provide here links for those who wish to reminisce.

Here are the original opening credits from 1977.

Here are the updated opening credits from 1981, featuring the delectable Lynda Stoner.

And finally, the opening credits from the show’s last year.

May 22

It is with great disappointment that I inform you, my loyal readers, of a recent attempt to compromise the editorial independence of this fine publication. I won’t mention the culprit’s name – you know who you are. But let me make it clear, no amount of intimidation could ever persuade me to include a discussion of Kingswood Country in the Weekly Retro Classics series.

For starters, take a look at the ridiculous opening titles from 1981:

Furthermore, the writing in Kingswood Country was abysmally bad. The writers apparently dug up some old Love Thy Neighbour scripts and replaced “sambo” with “wog”. The show was a televisual abomination, the pointless and predictable storylines ripe with racist and sexist humour. This was a programme clearly intended for the most mindless and easily pleased members of the viewing public. The fact that I myself watched it religiously as an eleven-year-old only confirms this. (Secretly, I wanted to be Craig, the Bullpitts’ medical student son, whose raison d’etre is simply to bonk a succession of ever more buxom babes.)

However, script quality aside, I must pay tribute to the marvellous Ted Bullpitt, a towering character who ranks alongside other legendary cinematic creations such as Ben-Hur, Spartacus and Jesus Christ. That Ross Higgins was passed over for Oscar nominations time and again is criminal. Higgins possessed an Olivier-like ability to captivate an audience, often simply by wandering around his loungeroom with a longneck in one hand and a pewter beer mug in the other.

Not unexpectedly, a lot of people tuned out of Kingswood Country when Ted traded in his beloved Kingswood for the more upmarket Commodore. When Ted’s wife Thelma left on an extended cruise, never to return, it was a death knell for the series. Maturing viewers such as myself began switching over to more intellectually stimulating shows such as Cop Shop and A Country Practice.

Incredibly, a spin-off titled Bullpitt! ran in the late ’90s, with Ted – the only character from the original series – now in a nursing home. Who the fuck watched this?! I hear a one-off special is planned for 2010, consisting of a single 90 minute shot of Ted’s gravestone. Ratings should be through the roof.

Anyway, I’m off to wash Neville the Concrete Aboriginal.

[Jaye, leave yer money on the fridge - Ed.]

May 6

This morning I was reminded of a TV programme that I had not thought about for many years. This was a show so politically incorrect, and in such poor taste, that it’s amazing to think it was ever made. In fact, it was one of the most popular shows on British TV, running for 20 years right up until 1978. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Black and White Minstrel Show.

Even if you were fortunate enough never to have seen The Black and White Minstrel Show, you can probably guess what it was about; white performers, in blackface, singing and dancing. Apparently this form of entertainment was very popular in the first half of last century – for white people, anyway. In Britain it was part of the tradition of music hall, and in 1958 it took the logical step to TV screens to become one of the most popular television “variety” programmes of the era.

My memories of The Black and White Minstrel Show are of watching it on Sunday afternoons in the late ’70s. At the time I wasn’t particularly struck by the overtly racist, offensive and stereotypical portrayal of black people – I just thought it was boring as batshit. For an eight-year-old it was absolutely the last resort for televisual entertainment. God only knows what was on the other channels. (Of course, in Newcastle in 1978 if you didn’t like what was on NBN then it was pretty much tough shit.)

By the late ’70s attitudes towards racism were changing and the show was canned. A theatrical production continued, however, right up to 1987, when the shoe polish came off for the last time.

We are fortunate to have a few clips available for viewing – the one below is a delightfully incongruous Brazilian rumba/calypso/opera routine. What the fuck were they thinking?

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